I sometimes hear people ask the following question:
Why should we care about space exploration when we have problems here on earth?
That is a question that, I admit, frustrates me. To me it is obvious why space exploration matters, but I thought it might be good to get some of those thoughts and reasons down in one place that I can refer to when I get asked that question, so here it is. Or at least some of it, anyway. Let's begin with this great video that gives some perspective on NASA.
I really like the points that are made in this video. As I watched it and thought about it, something occurred to me. There is much talk these days about reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and on encouraging the development of alternative energy technology. Yet at the same time we are cutting funding for NASA. This is extremely counter productive. Here is the reason why I say that.
Fossil fuels cannot be taken into space to run mission equipment and technology like rovers, for example. It just isn't efficient. You need to have another way to power these things.
Solar is one choice that works well. Hydrogen fuel cell technology might also be useful. What other options might we discover? What are the things that we haven't thought of yet?
If we were actively engaged in a major space mission, like a return to the moon or a trip to Mars, we would need to improve the current technology and develop new tech to solve problems that would have to be overcome to reach these goals. This burst of technological creativity would translate directly to advancements in technology to benefit the rest of us who live here on earth.
Practical application of space program technology over the years has led to advancements in medicine, communications, computers, materials science, physics, astronomy, imaging, and earth sciences just to name a few.
It also inspires our children to dream big and achieve big things. The space age inspired a whole generation of engineers and scientists of all kinds. What do we have to inspire our kids in science today? I try to show my own kids all the information I can about the history of space exploration and the things we have learned from it. But I have to wonder how they will be able to really see it as relevant to them when we (and our parents) have dropped the ball?
We let it go. We stopped dreaming.We left the moon and never went back. I have never understood that. It seems so short-sighted, but there it is. What can I do about it? How can I change it? The only thing I can think of is to try to help more people become aware of what we are losing. We are losing the future and the progression of our species. I also teach my children all I can and try to encourage them to be scientifically literate. Maybe they can pick up the ball again and run with it. I hope they will.
But even more than that, I hope we don't wait for them to do it.