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  • Writer's pictureMichael Jones

Why We Must Explore

Updated: Sep 28, 2019

Exploring Is In Our DNA

Are We Spending Too Much on Space?

Over the past few days reporters and the public have been asking NASA tough questions about the cost vs. benefit of the Mars Curiosity mission. This is not a new question. But there are two answers to this question that bear careful thought.

Both answers are of equal weight. First: Exploration, of anything, is always a good thing. Never in the history of humankind has spending on and doing exploration been a bad thing. We cannot see into the future to know what magical and profound things we will learn in our quest for the unknown. But we do know that exploration is in our DNA. Stop exploring and we stop growing and maturing as a species. Taking a long-term view of our planetary home, choosing to stay here and give up our spacefaring ambitions will utterly doom life as we know it. Someday a cataclysmic event such as a large comet or asteroid impactor will extinguish most life on our world. Put in planetary science terms it would be an ELE, extinction level event. This is not an “If” question, this is a “When” declaration.  It could happen without much warning, certainly in the case of a comet hitting Earth. Comets on a collision course have a troublesome habit of  sneaking up on us, detected too late to do anything about changing their orbit to avoid a strike. Comet Kohoutek gave us a few months warning from detection to closest approach.  It was first spotted on March 7th 1973 and skimmed by uncomfortably close 7 months later. It was the size of the Hawaiian Island of Kauai. It was a world killer. The fact that we are still here is simply a matter of sheer luck.  7 months does not give us enough time to do anything about an inbound impactor. If we colonize the moon and Mars, at least the human race would survive a strike on the home world. But we are not there yet.

Exploration drives every human enterprise. First we explore, then we colonize close to seeing this happen. But, we have to understand why this quest is so terribly important. Science literacy will save us. Science illiteracy will drive us to extinction.

The next time some science illiterate TV reporter asks “aren’t we spending too much money sending robots to Mars,” you’ll know the right answers.

Food for thought:

NASA budget for the Mars lander Curiosity     - $2.5 billion spent over a decade

Last year’s U.S. expenditure for potato chips  - $7 billion

Last year’s U.S. expenditure on cosmetics      - $7 billion

2007 U.S. expenditure for cosmetic surgeries - $13 billion

2011 U.S. expenditure on video games           - $15.6 billion

(Total NASA budget 2012)                                -$18.7 billion

Cost of ice cream consumed last year in U.S. - $20 billion

FY 2011 Federal Welfare Budget                    - $495.6 billion

August 7, 2012

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