Monday, February 23, 2015

Mars ? Progress?

On browsing the list of 100 candidates who made the shortlist for a proposed one-way trip that will carry 40 lucky earthlings to Mars, Nigerian writer Chibundo Onuzo was struck by what she described as adisturbing, misplaced and narrow-sighted rhetoric of progress. 

In 1999, the former president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, inaugurated the National Space Research and Development Agency. There was public outcry and understandably so. Nigeria’s per capita income that year was under $300. Four years later, Nigeria launched its first satellite at a cost of $13m. By 2008, NigComSat-1 was lost in orbit due to shoddy work by the foreign engineers hired to handle the project.

Prestige is no longer measured by how many of your citizens you can fling into space. National prestige is based on the wellbeing of your citizens, their access to healthcare, education, a balanced diet, running water, electricity and affordable housing. In south-eastern Nigeria, the roads are not paved, the electricity supply is erratic and infant mortality is high. Are my townspeople included in this great leap for mankind? Have their lives changed since the last alleged leap, Armstrong’s slow walk across the moon? They use candles in a world where there are light bulbs. Their children die of infection in a world where there is penicillin. Yes, sometimes, technology trickles down. You would be hard pressed to find someone in my village without a phone, but charging it, that’s another issue. By and large, modern science has never been in their interest or the interest of the 2.6 billion people without access to running water or the millions, who despite breakthroughs in agriculture and farming, are still starving in 2015. Much of scientific discovery is for the betterment, amusement and the curiosity of a lucky few in this world who are either born in the parts we call the first world, are middle class or affluent enough to afford it.

Humanity does not progress by jumping into space and leaving the cares of Earth behind. We move forward by creating a more equitable and compassionate planet for now and generations unborn.

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