Daniel Angerhausen believes that fundamental research is essential, especially in the current crisis. Still, he wonders if we shouldn’t extend the idea of sustainability into the infinite reaches of outer space.


Copyright: ethz.ch – “A space telescope, please – but a sustainable one, if possible”


It is one of the great questions of humanity: “Are we alone in the universe?” Our generation is the first in history to have the technology capable of finding life on other planets. But at the same time, we are the generation facing the greatest challenge in history: keeping the Earth habitable for our civilisation. It is the only planet in the universe where we know for sure that life exists.

As temperatures on our planet rise and extreme weather events become more and more frequent, our team at ETH is planning a mission to search for life among the stars. I am often asked whether we have our priorities in order; whether it makes sense to spend so much (tax) money on space exploration when we have other problems on our planet to solve. But I believe there is no contradiction: fundamental research is one of the most important investments we can make in the future – especially now in these times of crisis. But we researchers also have to do our homework when it comes to sustainability.

Here’s my example: The main goal of the upcoming space mission external pageLIFE (Large Interferometer For Exoplanets), which I’m working on at ETH, is to systematically search our galactic neighbourhood for planets that could contain life. LIFE will search for warm and rocky planets within a radius of about 100 light years and test their atmospheres for biosignatures such as combinations of oxygen and methane. Thanks to this new generation of telescopes, we will be able to find out if there is extraterrestrial life in our cosmic backyard.

Research is money well spent…

There’s a lot to be said for sticking with space exploration. It’s not like we’re shovelling millions of dollar bills into rockets just to burn them up in orbit. A large portion of the funding for scientific projects, especially at universities and colleges, goes towards training young researchers. Most of them will leave academia after graduation and make a positive contribution to society in a variety of ways.[…]

Read more: www.ethz.ch

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