Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Why spend money on space travel?

One need only look at the incredible number of financial issues facing us (everyone) these days to wonder whether we should even spend a dime on space travel. After all, the infra-structure is crumbling, there are sick and starving people all over the world, and so on.

And there is no shortage of people who write comments on various news articles complaining about this very misappropriation (in their eyes) of public funds. This recently came up once again on The Weather Network of all places … in the comments to an article on NASA’s tentative plan to capture an asteroid and pull it into Moon orbit for ease of study without the dangers of deep space travel.

In answer to yet one more comment on hunger etc, one person linked to a letter from 1970, written by Ernst Stuhlinger, then NASA’s Associate Director for Science in answer to a question from Sister Mary Jucunda, a nun based in Zambia at the time. It is a thoughtful piece and is something that should be required reading for every human being on this planet. There is no better way to get a bit of perspective than by reading someone who already has it and knows how to express it …

The letter is now in an article called “Why Explore Space” published earlier this year on a web site call “Letters of Note”, which is an attempt to gather interesting or important correspondence of all kinds together to make them available as general reading.

It is a very long letter and I certainly do not plan on regurgitating it here … you should definitely read the whole thing here:


But let me leave you with 2 things to ponder even before you read it …

First, a classic image of the Earth as seen from the surface of the Moon. This shows just how vulnerable we are as a species, living as we do on a relatively small ball of dirt with everyone on the planet sharing the same razor-thin atmosphere.

And second, my favorite quote from the letter …

Significant progress in the solutions of technical problems is frequently made not by a direct approach, but by first setting a goal of high challenge which offers a strong motivation for innovative work, which fires the imagination and spurs men to expend their best efforts, and which acts as a catalyst by including chains of other reactions.