The One Man has an interesting post (titled “Faustian Gore” in case the link breaks) on the nature of science up on his blog. He points out what he feels are some of the problems with today’s science and highlights what he thinks science should be focusing on. His list includes medicines and alternative fuels and is a good read.
There is, however, one thing in the list that caught me up short; something that had me dialing his phone number to yell at him (which would have been interesting as I was reading his blog at something like five this morning) before I realized that I had no counter argument ready, only an emotional response. So I sat down to think about it before calling up to yell at him. (And, no, I am not starting a blog war, or feud or whatever, I am being funny. I promise. Seriously. Look it up. This is comedy gold.)
In The One Man’s list, he includes the phrase “stop exploring outer space”.
A bunch of you who know me are now nodding your heads, thinking “ah, yeah, that would do it”. And you are right. This phrase caught me completely off-guard. My first reaction was akin to the reaction you might have if someone smacked you in the face. Especially if it was someone you liked and trusted.
So, I sat down to think about why this one phrase caught me so off-guard. I think I have an automatic emotional reaction due to the fact that I am a sci-fi geek born and bred. I love SF and spec. fic. and any other abbreviations one cares to give the genre dealing with the future and parallel realities and alternate timelines. The genre dealing with space.
Once I had that out of the way, and once I remembered that TOM is not given to forming strong opinions without at least some thought behind them, I decided to figure out why, rationally, I am in favor of space exploration.
First argument: A lot of modern life comes directly from the space research projects in the fifties and sixties. Everyday things like velcro and freeze-dried ice cream (Hey, you eat your desert and I’ll eat mine, ok?), and more unique items like artificial diamonds and modern robotics. Even hydrogen fuel cells come out of the space program; you can blame big business for the lack of them in modern cars, as the space agencies have been using them in rockets and probes for 30 years. Most of these things come out of the preparation to go into space, rather than the actual trips themselves, but that leads into my second point:
A lot of today’s science is profit motivated. Companies fund the research for products that they can sell. The pharmeceutical corporations are a great example of this. They spend millions on new research every year, but when was the last time you saw them give any of it away? Comparatively, space is still pure research. The commercial purposes are there, they just are not cheap and easy yet. After all, one of the big projects in astronomy recently has been the discovery and classification of extra-solar planets. Very cool, but very useless, for the moment anyway. There seems to be very little other, pure research left. Even vulcanology is funded on the effort to try to predict when volcanoes will errupt.
But I am ok with that. I do not think that every dollar spent on science needs to be spent on applied research or profit making experiementation. I am much more in favor of restructuring the patent laws to open up the fields of pharmacology to more players, thereby reducing the cost of medicines to the public.
Third, and last, I think the continuation of the exploration of space is one of the few things that can bring scientists together away from the boundaries of country and politics. The cost is so great and the risk so huge that nations must work together if they want to have any hope of true success outside the planet.
Ok. Those are not the most coherent of reasons, and I may have more to say on the subject later, but for now, I have a phone call to make.
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