Innovation

Ex-NASA astronaut says we must fix Earth’s big problems before we colonize other planets

Ron Garan wants to spread the "overview" effect to a larger audience.

NASA

Ron Garan, a former NASA astronaut that flew on missions in 2008 and 2011, has grand plans for humanity’s future.

He tells Inverse that humans should seek to colonize distant planets. But before that happens, he acknowledges the tremendous amount of work that needs to be done on Earth first.

“We need to spread human presence throughout the Solar System and beyond, but we need to do it as ambassadors of a thriving planet,” Garan says. “We can’t do it as refugees escaping environmental disaster.”

The comments come as figures like SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos call on humanity to establish permanent settlements in space. Musk has repeatedly claimed he wants to establish a city on Mars by 2050, while Bezos wants to build giant, floating cities in Earth’s orbit.

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Garan, who argues that humanity should build a Moon settlement before anywhere else, says that before humans blast off to establish futuristic cities on other planets, they need to fix some of the issues on Earth. If we can’t fix these issues, he warns, we probably won’t be able to develop sustainable settlements elsewhere.

“The number one goal is to turn around the negative environmental and societal trends that are developing on this planet,” he says. “If we can’t control the temperature of this planet by a degree...we’re not going to be able to create lasting human settlements on the other planets.”

“But also, any problems that we have not yet resolved, we are going to take with us to space. Any governance issues, environmental, societal, injustice issues that we have. We’re just going to take that stuff with us wherever we go unless we fix it here on Earth.”

Ron Garan, ahead of his second spaceflight in April 2011.ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images

Garan is a proponent of spaceflight and its effects on humanity. He was featured in the third edition of The Overview Effect, Frank White’s book on the shift in perspective that astronauts feel when they realize Earth is whole and alone, floating in the universe. Garan recently produced an NFT series around his time in space, showcased at the L.A. Art Show on January 22.

Indeed, Garan is not against expanding further into space. But the former astronaut says that the Moon should take priority over any other destinations.

“We need to build a permanent human presence on the Moon first,” Garan says. It’s a sentiment echoed by former NASA engineer Homer Hickam, the inspiration for the 1999 movie October Sky, when Hickam spoke to Inverse in October 2021.

But if humanity can’t meet the challenge, it could perhaps set an undesirable precedent for future expansion.

“I don’t subscribe to the idea that we need to colonize the Solar System so we can use up the resources of this planet and move on to the next, like a virus,” he says.

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