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The loftiest purpose of space travel is to ensure the survival of the human species; having all of us living on one planet is just too risky. Science fiction author Robert Heinlein said it best through his Lazarus Long character:

When a place gets crowded enough to require ID’s, social collapse is not far away. It is time to go elsewhere. The best thing about space travel is that it made it possible to go elsewhere.

Sooner or later, some event or combination of events is going to cause the complete collapse of the house of cards that is modern civilization. The list of potentially catastrophic events is long, strange, and growing constantly. These events fall into two categories: natural and human-caused.

Natural Catastrophic Events

  • asteroid impact
  • supervolcano eruption
  • return of the ice age
  • global pandemic
  • bombardment by hostile aliens
.

Human-Caused Catastrophic Events

  • global war
  • scientific research gone awry
  • famine
  • resource depletion
  • ecosystem collapse
  • financial system collapse
.

In addition to ensuring the survival of our species, space travel provides an escape route for individuals or groups who are dissatisfied with their role in society. This desire for a fresh start is what impelled people to migrate from Europe to North America in centuries past. Here are some of the reasons why I might want to leave Earth:

.

Escaping Persecution

I may need to escape racial, religious, or political persecution. If my group and the government are implacably opposed to each other’s existence, wholesale emigration off-planet has benefits for both parties. I’d far rather move to a space habitat than be forced to live in a ghetto, imprisoned, or killed. If space travel is cheap enough, the government may even be willing to foot the transportation bill.

.

Seeking Wealth

Space is a great place to pursue economic opportunity. There’s a whole lot of everything out there: energy, resources, and room. We’ll never use it all up or fill it all up. Our galaxy alone contains hundreds of billions of stars, and the observable universe contains tens of billions of galaxies. That’s more than enough to provide everyone on Earth with their own personal galaxy.

.

Craving Solitude

I treasure privacy and independence. I don’t like having to share a planet with all these other people. If I live in my own self-propelled space habitat, I’ve got room to breathe, peace and quiet, and privacy. If my neighbours bother me, I can just move somewhere else.

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Saying Goodbye to Boredom

Space colonization represents an ever-expanding frontier. It offers me the opportunity to live a pioneering, adventurous life. Forget working for The Man; I’d rather be a homesteader on Mars or a prospector in the Asteroid Belt than a worker bee trapped in a cubicle on Earth.

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