The billionaires’ rush to space may just be the solution to many of our problems but, like I pointed out in the first part of this article, which was published last week, space exploration has always been met with criticism despite how beneficial it has been to man. Just as it is easy to forget (human nature?) the huge benefits that have been derived through explorations, we are always so quick to forget that nearly 50 per cent of the explorers in the past century did not come out of their journeys alive. Mostly, every explorer will tell you that he/she was prepared to die in the process of achieving his dreams, if need be. Let it be known that they do not court death; rather, they are some of the most meticulous people on Earth, analyzing every risk and making sure that the odds of staying alive are always greater, because that is how the world gets to hear their stories. But they will accept it if a mistake or an unknown quantity claims their lives.
I know this much on a personal level. In the year 2000, when I decided to make a solo road trip from Lagos to London across the Sahara, my flag-off ceremony was held at the palace of the late Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero. The Emir had graciously arranged for a huge crowd to see me off with prayers and best wishes. On driving off, some of them followed me by motorbikes and cars. Getting to the outskirts of Kano, I turned into a gas station to fuel my car and extra fuel tanks attached to the 4×4 Suzuki Sidekick. While the petrol attendant was pumping the fuel, a very prominent Kano man alighted from his chauffeur-driven car and approached me with greetings. As we exchanged pleasantries, he said to me: “Look Chief, I am worried for you. I honestly do not know why you want to throw away your life driving through the Sahara. You do not have to do this; it is dangerous. I can give you a return ticket to London, if you cannot afford one and must go to London. Please, I beg you.”
I smiled and patiently explained to him that it was not just about getting to London, it was about the Sahara, and the things that had worried me about our world. He reluctantly left me but, with the frown on his face, I was convinced he must be wondering about my sanity.
I can only imagine that the same look must have been directed to Branson and his fellow billionaires as they chose to embark on these adventures. I recall meeting Sir Richard many years ago during one of his many visits to Nigeria while he was in the process of developing his Virgin Nigeria business. It was soon after my return from the second expedition across the Sahara. He learnt about me from the British High Commission and he requested to meet me. He was full of admiration for the spirit I exhibited, asking many questions. He then informed me that he was thinking of a similar adventure, ballooning around the world, crossing the Sahara on his way.
Many years after, he set out on this adventure but, unfortunately, his balloon came down prematurely, almost claiming his life in the accident.
Back home in Nigeria, his Virgin Nigeria business took off with great fanfare, but he soon waded into the quagmire of Nigerian-based businesses, the Nigerian Factor. Try as he did, our bureaucrats could not see beyond their immediate selfish needs. Having no patience for such nonsense, he sold his interest in the company and left.
I had to tell this story, which most people my age are aware of. Today, China has a rover vehicle on Mars. India has been to the Moon and back. The United Arab Emirates has a space programme that will lead it to Mars one day. If Branson were still here with his business, perhaps he would guide Nigeria to the space business.
For those who ask what use is there in taking tourists to space, I ask them, why do we go to Niagara Falls? Why do we go to the Eiffel Tower, to the Statue of Liberty? We go to these places for sight-seeing, appreciating the wonders of nature, and learning our history as human beings. But besides that, going to Space helps develop new technologies that open up new businesses, new forms of quality living.
Our Ozone layer is virtually gone, destroyed by greenhouse gases. The result is that we are being fried by the scorching sun more than ever in the history of the Earth. Jeff Bezos dreams of building heavy manufacturing industries that can make silicon chips and computerized parts in space. If that happens, we can take all emissions away from Earth. Elon Musk and NASA believe we can add Mars and the Moon to our habitable colonies, creating more holiday spots for the curious minded as well as alternative living planets. Perhaps, one day, we might collect all the methane we need from Neptune or Uranus. Branson believes anyone should be able to travel to space and more.
When I decided to also embark on my solo and then group desert expeditions, many also asked why and of what use it would be. Well, it may not have led to the discovery of Teflon and 5G technology but the experience and knowledge gained along the way inspired the establishment of Fight Against Desert Encroachment (FADE) Africa, an organisation that has championed land reclamation projects like the Makoda Wall of Trees in Kano and several other similar projects in different frontline states in and outside Nigeria. It has also encouraged other passionate environmentalists to pick up the mantle, meaning many more lives are better off today as a result than before.
I would like to end this with some big questions. Why are we Africans exploration-shy, but would prefer to copy the innovations and products derivable from the exploration of others? Why are our leaders reluctant to bet on our scientists and explorers? If we keep on copying and being risk-averse to research, we will never develop, and never catch up with the advanced nations.
There is so much more to explore. Looking at interstellar travel, scientists are currently exploring ways by which we can travel at the speed of light without transforming into dissipated energy. When that happens, we could visit other universes in a matter of days. Think about it. We will do that not in search of God, but to glorify God for the gift of knowledge to man.
What do you think about space exploration and the billionaires’ rush to conquer space?
I would love to hear from you.
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