As far as we know, we’re the only beings in this part of the cosmos that have a tendency to look up in the sky and say, “Wow, that’s pretty!” This position of being the sole appreciator of the universe fascinates me. In the utterly metaphysical realm of ‘why are we here?’ I have to think that our unique purpose is to see things and appreciate them. If we don’t do that, who will?
And there is so much in the universe left to see and cherish, but how can we see it if we don’t try to go and look? And won’t the cosmos be unutterably lonely if we don’t? If all those countless stars are out there for any reason at all they must be beacons for those that can hold them in their imaginations and wonder about them. Call me silly, but I want to know how many good restaurants there are (you know, nice restaurants — not too pricey, decent variety on the menu, pleasant ambiance) in the three largest cities on the eastern seaboard of the second largest continent on the third planet out from Proxima Centauri. At present, we don’t know if there IS a third planet or even a first, never mind continents, cities or haute cuisine. And Proxima Centauri is the nearest star to us besides the sun.
I remember 50 years ago gazing at Chesley Bonestell paintings of what it might be like in orbit around the earth, on the moon, on Mars. Up to the first Mariner flybys of Mars we thought that Mt. Everest was the tallest mountain in the universe. Looking back on what we’ve learned in the last half century it is impossible to conceive of how much there is left to learn, to see, to photograph, to write poetry and music about.
If we don’t terraform Mars and set up a permanent human civilization there, I have no idea how we will ever get to the stars. The kind of engines you’re going to need to traverse interstellar space in a reasonable amount of time are not the kind of things you’re going to want to build on Earth. We’ll need space-based resources, manufacturing and experience.