Space exploration by humans is still an incipient activity but we have to thing whether we will recklessly do to other planets the same that we did on our own, or are we going to be more careful.
Mistakes are part of our nature; we assume that making a mistake for the first time is somewhat forgivable, but repeating it one or more times, especially after we learned what we did wrong would be quite a different thing. There are many reasons to go to other celestial bodies; one day we will begin living in the planets and moons of our solar system and even beyond. Once interstellar travel becomes possible - and it will - humans will spread thorough our galactic vicinity, but for what?
Are e going to act like a horde of savages? As a plague that destroys everything in sight? We don't want to see ourselves in that light and in order to have a better opinion of ourselves we often thing that our philosophy, intelligence, culture, art, technology and science make us different from locusts or some sort of viral disease, but that is really yet to be seen. We will soon find out, immediately after the first human settler begins to live in an asteroid, moon or planet other than ours, and while some people may think that this is a far-fetched idea proper of science fiction or something likely, but only in centuries, let me remind everyone that one of the Wright brothers lived long enough to see a nuclear bombs dropped from aircraft and rockets capable of taking things into space. Before his life came to an end.
Maybe we will even need to travel to other planets in order to find solutions to problems such as contamination and depletion of our Earth, the need for more natural resources, to fight overpopulation and even to guarantee the survival of life as we know it. We are still bound to one single planet in a single solar system; if something of cosmic proportions would happen, then thousands of millions of years of evolution would have been in vain. As far as things go now, we are the caretakers of life, or at least, Earth's life, and that's a responsibility. Humankind has the potential to produce both Hitler and Einstein; it is up to us to decide. We can behave as civilised individuals or as utter savages. Technology doesn't make us immune to savagery and perhaps, on the contrary, could potentially make us more savage than the people of our prehistory because technological wonders can turn us blind to our defects by presumption and give us more destructive power. This is something that we should constantly remind ourselves about because our presumptuous nature makes us believe that scientific, technical and economic development makes us better per se, without any need to connect that with our ethical, spiritual and moral development: In the so-called "Developed World" it is often assumed that political and social institutions work better than similar ones in the "Third World," but events such as those surrounding the financial crisis that erupted thanks to sub-prime loans and other alchemistic "financial products" proper of the most "developed" world that now are causing bankruptcies and the betrayal of customer confidence among first-rate banking institutions speak otherwise. It has been assumed as popular wisdom corruption was seen mainly in second-rate societies but the biggest scammers in history, like Mr. Madoff, were not precisely born in the slums of Sao Paulo or the dubious suburban areas around Kampala.
A simulation of an interstellar exploration mission, to study life on an exoplanet.
There is a fundamental reason to explore the universe: it is enormous and our curiosity cannot coexist with an unknown infinitude indefinitely. But more than technology to get there, everywhere, we need a proper mindset. We cannot assume that we are Gods but we should leave our double-standard humility behind as well. As far as we know, according to what logic dictates, and until we find otherwise, we are the ones that need to take care of what we discover and find. So far we have seen no angels and no little green or grey beings, it is up to us.
What do we want to do with other planets? That's a question that we must answer to ourselves before travelling there in the same way that we think about what kind of holidays we want to have before taking a plane to reach our destination. Only members of hordes just go straight ahead, not thinking or caring about what lies ahead. The technology required for practical deep space travel will arrive. It is a matter of time until the present obstacles are surmounted and in a way similar to the invention of the magnetic compass and the construction of oceanic vessels allowed our ancestors to travel around the globe, humans will travel to the stars one day, and we can do our part now even if we don't live enough to see that: there is a lot to be done both technically as well as ethically. We need to make sure that we become good, polite travellers.
Synthetic vision on the pilot's panel onboard the Nerkabtu simulator, constructed using the Orbiter Space Simulator software (click here to expand.)