In a project that would have seemed farfetched just a few years ago, China recently landed a probe called Chang’e-4 on the moon. The most recent news from the project is that some cotton seeds planted inside the lander have sprouted*, along with hopes in the space exploration community that the moon could eventually be used as a home base for future explorers. The idea is that rather than coming home to earth, future astronauts could simply grow the food they need on the moon.
You might say this project is about as far from our little island as possible, but I’d argue that island life and space exploration share many of the same strengths. For one thing, space missions are right to start thinking about plants early. Relying on imports for basic necessities is the main reason island living is so expensive, and any disruption in transport channels trickles down to every other aspect of life here. Chinese researchers started with cotton plants since those can be harvested to make fabric. According to reports, the Chang’e-4 also carried potato seeds and yeast, so clearly staple foods are another priority.
Whether on islands or in space, it’s clear that teamwork is crucial. As many of us have seen time and time again, island folks know how to pull together to help each other out. We share rides and water; we check to make sure our neighbors are okay after a storm; and, if we see someone stranded on the road, we stop and help however we can. The most successful space endeavor so far (21 years in space!) is the international space station. The five space agencies who partner on the project represent the US, Japan, Russia, Canada, and 22 European nations. No doubt all these countries’ governments have some serious disagreements, but they are able to put such conflicts aside for the good of the greater mission.
As futuristic as space exploration still seems, both island dwellers and space explorers do best when they rely on their history to guide their decisions. In our case, specialized local knowledge of everything from seasonal weather patterns to tourism trends help us make smart decisions in the day-to-day. In space, knowing which missions landed safely on Mars since Russia’s partially successful 1971 Mars 3 were key to the NASA’s InSight touching down on the red planet in November.
What else do space explorers and island dwellers have in common? Let me know in the comments.
*Too bad the dark side of the moon is so cold. The sprouts have since died.
A version of this column first appeared in the Jan. 17th edition of the Limin Times.