In this book, Carl Sagan gives at first an overview of the then current state of the exploration of the Solar System (as it was in the mid-1990s when the book was published), and then debates the question whether we should try to send humans to Mars or not as a first stage of further exploring space with people rather than robots. This leads to speculation not only on the future of space travel and its vital importance, but also on the future of humankind as a whole.
I absolutely love astronomy because learning about the sky that humans have looked up to for thousands of years is just wondrous and, to go with what Sagan writes in this book, immensely humbling. We are nothing but a speck of dust in this gigantic universe, even the Earth and the Sun are just that, so maybe it’s time to think about surviving as a species because the odds are not in our favour if we continue like we have. Space travel should be the answer to this in the long run, because one day the Earth and even later the whole Solar System will not be inhabitable anymore.
This part of the book was my favourite, because Sagan explains what would have to happen in his opinion for humans to colonise other astronomical bodies and to leave the Solar System or even the galaxy. This is highly speculative of course, but it is a lot of fun, not least because Sagan makes a great argument for a way to accomplish it, while still acknowledging that in our current incarnation we would not be able to make it. We would have to evolve much further and it would take a very long time to achieve any of this, especially because he notes that “we have become powerful without becoming commensurately wise”, and that there is a high chance that humanity wipes itself out before evolving that far.
This was a very enjoyable read for me, because Sagan is a very good writer that knows how to argue a point. The topics he highlights are, for instance, the relationship of religion and science, how to justify the cost of space programs, or the dangers of some technologies and what to do about that. Although some information is outdated, it is also a very nice introduction to the makeup of our universe and particularly the Solar System. Overall, highly recommended.
CBR11 Bingo: SCIENCE!