And Make Us Think About What is Possible
What price do you put on stimulating the imagination and scientific interest in someone? I don’t know about you, but I think it’s priceless. Certain events in our history are enough to get us dreaming about the infinite possibilities that lie out there among the other planets and the distant stars and galaxies. Or course, those events did cost something in terms of money and human effort. There’s always a price, a cost, a tradeoff. The payback is knowledge, which comes with both costs, plus the chance to look at places we’ve never seen before. That’s the essence of exploration.
New Horizons cost around $700 million, and has certainly inspired people around the world. Worth it? I’d say so. We are supposed to be learning about our universe, using the brains and intellect that evolved along with our bodies. This mission just showed us a world that was long seen only as a point of light. It’s now a place with mountains and craters and icy “continents”, and a “plasma tail’ and a thin atmosphere, and a slew of moons.
Of course, many people have been celebrating the Apollo 11 landings and the first people to walk on the Moon. The entire Apollo program cost around $25 billion, and its scientific and cultural returns are priceless. We ALL learned something about the Moon, just as we’re all learning something about Pluto with New Horizons. And, about Mars with the missions there. And, about the other planets of the solar system from the many spacecraft we’ve sent out.
We live in an evolving solar system. It hasn’t stopped changing since its formation some 4.5 billion years ago. We’re part of the system, and only recently have we learned to look with scientific eyes at the places that exist in our little part of the galaxy. We’ve learned amazing things through our explorations using both ground-based and space-based instruments. And there’s more out there, if we’re not afraid to go for it.
Is knowing what we know about the solar system and the rest of the universe worth less than the cost of a football stadium? Is it worth less to you personally than the cost of a boutique coffee or a slice of pizza? Is it less important than buying a senator or a whole roomful of them at bargain basement prices? What price do you put on integrity and honesty, scientific curiosity, the urge to KNOW how all this universe works?
You know what MY answer is. Spending money on such exploration benefits people; it creates jobs, stimulates economies and careers, at the same time it teaches us our place in the cosmos. I’d say we got a hell of a deal when we started sending spacecraft out to explore the cosmos. They’re part of us, they’re our eyes and ears on the cosmos, and they are showing us what the universe is made of. Pretty darned good expenditure and use of our time, talents, and energies.
What will we explore next? Exoplanets? There’s more news about those coming soon. How about distant galaxies born in the fires of the first half billion years of the cosmos? Coming up with James Webb Space Telescope. Want to know more about the first stars? Our multi-wavelength observatories in space and on the ground are on the case. Each one of those projects is made up of equipment, sure. But, it’s the people who do the hard work of building, testing, thinking, and sharing the universe with the rest of us. THAT should be worth something to you as you gaze at the stars, look at the pretty pictures, and dream of exploring the cosmos. Shouldn’t it?