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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Martian Faces and Space Arks: Why We Need to Invest in Space Exploration

“That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” These iconic words take us back to a time when America did big things. Big things that didn't entail a family size bucket from a chicken restaurant. While it’s incredibly likely that we only did those things because we were in a race against the Soviet menace, the fact remains that we did them. And while that was a frightening time in both American, and world history, it was also a time of hope that the future would be better than today. With the end of the space shuttle era (Yahoo! News), I fear that the dream of the space age is gone, and with it the hope for the future of mankind. Now, I don’t mean to be a fear monger, after all I’m not a politician, but I believe that one of the most important things that we can be doing with our tax money (and yes we should pay taxes) is to invest in the future of the USA, and Humanity as a whole, by financing human space flight and space exploration.

Now before you ask, “how does space exploration help me, or save humanity?” let me explain a few things. If you've ever used a GPS device to help you find your way somewhere, if you've ever used a laptop or smartphone, or if you've ever had a surgery aided by machines, you are most likely a beneficiary of human space flight. Do you like to build things using a cordless drill (NASA)? Send a "Thank You" note to NASA. Do you enjoy having your home's temperature stay constant(ish) despite the weather, or perhaps enjoy having a smoke detector? NASA called, and they said, "You're welcome," for your insulation (NASA) and smoke detectors (NASA). Ladies, have you ever had a mammogram? Guess who? NASA. Use a moisturizer or anti aging cream? Do I really need to say it? NASA! You get the point by now, but if you want to see some more, take a look at this handy site put up by the Marshall Space Flight Center, and if you're really super interested, take a look at this article on NASA's site by J.R. Wilson.

Now, the things that I've mentioned above are almost entirely superficial, with some notable exceptions of course. The real goldmine that we get from human space flight and exploration is knowledge. The potentially infinite expanse of the universe/multiverse provides an even larger palette of natural resources (Asteroid Mining) than our measly Human minds could even begin to fathom. And, without getting all EPA on everyone (I'll leave that to The Black Guy), Humans kinda suck at being responsible for planets. So, wouldn't it be great if we could go to different planets, preferably with our animal friends, in a kind of Star Trek meets Noah's Ark adventure of survival and awesomeness? What if we meet aliens, or detect life on an exoplanet (JPL)?

Atlantis' STS-135, the final Space Shuttle flight is, therefore, a very bittersweet time for me as a space enthusiast/Star Trek nerd, and should be a wake up call for America to get its respective s**t together. It's great to see DARPA (I love DARPA) lay out it's plans for a starship within 100 years (Innovation News Daily), and I hope that they succeed. But, as I'm an intentionally unhealthy person (thanks for that individual liberty, Republicans, geez) I won't be there to see it, and let's be honest, neither will you. And let's not forget that the collective consciousness of the American public is only about as strong willed as two days of 24 hour news coverage will allow it to be. Remember that time when we killed Bin Laden? Yeah, neither does most of America. We have a budget deficit to deal with, duh!

Might I suggest that, in the meantime, we could sure use the jobs that would be created by doubling down, nay, quadrupling down on space exploration (even in the private sector). Let's get started on turning the moon into a resort and a pit stop for Martian travelers, let's build a space elevator (How Stuff Works) before we use all of the petroleum that we need to put ourselves in orbit and to escape Earth's gravity, and let's go figure out what the f**k that "face" is on Mars.

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