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Spacecraft Earth

Last week I talked about cork. Did you know cork is also used by the space program? I think it's amazing that something we often walk on or pull from wine bottles has been used in heat shields to protect the shuttle and other spacecraft.  It just goes to show the great versatility of natural products.

Personally, I'm a huge space geek and love the idea that a product we've used here on earth for thousands of years can help take us to the stars. And did you know we are likely to take bamboo with us there as well? NASA is currently doing tests with bamboo and other plants to serve as oxygen producers in space stations while some engineers are considering bamboo as a scaffolding option in construction, just like it's used down here on Earth. (I also recently read a scifi novel that had carbonized bamboo being used as a meteor shield by a spacecraft-someday, why not?) This all reminds me of a bumper sticker I once saw:

EARTH FIRST!(We'll log the other planets later.)
All that got me thinking on a new way of looking at the Earth that's been proposed by some groups recently. The idea is that we should change our mentality and our approach to resource use. We should stop looking at the Earth the way we did as pioneers, as having an endless horizon with unlimited resources available to exploit. Rather we should consider ourselves on a spacecraft now, where everything is limited. Everything needs to be recycled, everything needs to be used to the maximum benefit and greatest amount.

On a spaceship, what you have there is all you get to use. You need to constantly recycle air, water, materials. You can't run down to the store to pick up a new pipe. What you have around you is all you have around you to use. We need to realize that our resources are limited-while trees are potentially endlessly renewable, it takes time and it takes space and it takes water…

In this spacecraft of ours, we need to work hard to maximize our recovery from the trees we have-less production waste. We need to get longer lifetimes out of our floors and other wood products. We need to recycle when we do need to replace something. We need a mentality change on how we look at the world.

I hope some day we do find a way to "log the other planets." I think it will be wonderful if natural products like cork and bamboo help take us there. And when we're there, I hope we treat that planet's resources as precious and limited, just as we need to learn to treat Earth as our fragile spacecraft carrying us through the stars.

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