July 20th, 2009 was the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11’s historic flight to the moon, where astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first human beings to walk on the moon. 40 years ago, space flight inspired such awe that astronauts were hailed as heroes and celebrities by men, women, and children alike. 40 years later none of us, besides the most avid space fanatic, would likely to be able to name one astronaut in service today.
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Despite the tragedies of Space Shuttle Challenger, and later Columbia, where the world is shocked into being reminded of the inherit dangers of sitting on 1 million gallons of rocket fuel, or re-entering the earth’s atmosphere at 1,870 miles per hour. We all see space flight as mundane because the vast majority of space flights since Apollo 11, have been mostly conducting seemingly routine scientific experiments. Now don’t get me wrong, I believe in the importance of science in space, but these experiments don’t exactly inspire awe in the general population like, oh say, a manned mission to Mars would. We also don’t have the fever of beating those damned Ruskies because they might go to space and blow us all up, which we had during the height of the cold war when Apollo 11 touched down on the lunar Sea of Tranquility.
Watching some fantastic documentaries (such as Discovery’s When We Left Earth) celebrating the 40th anniversary this week, I got to thinking about the importance of continuing space exploration. I hear many people decry the importance of NASA and space flight. Most saying that it is a waste of time, and more importantly money. I disagree with such assessments. I often wonder if people threw out the same criticisms of our European ancestors, who dared to explore on wooden ships to discover “the new world.”
In my humble opinion, space exploration is important not only to humanity’s curiosity of the great beyond, but it is also important for the future of the earth and all of us living on it. So here I will count down “Houston style,” my top 5 reasons why space exploration is important for the world.
5. Promote Science Education – The Apollo missions inspired a whole generation of kids who wanted to grow up to be astronauts, rocket scientists, and engineers. We all know that science education has been slightly lacking in the United States as of late. Don’t you think that NASA’s return to the moon, or more importantly the much anticipated manned mission to Mars will again inspire a whole new generation to reach for the stars so to speak? I do.
4. NASA’s Environmental Research – You would think that the guys who burn a million pounds of rocket fuel wouldn’t be the most environmentally minded people in the world, or out of the world as it may be. However, most people don’t know that NASA does a lot of good environmental research while they are up there looking down at all of us. NASA has done a lot of work in studying air quality, climate change, alternative energy, and near earth objects; which as we all know from the movies can destroy the earth any day now without warning, unless we have a group of oil drillers, a nuke, and Bruce Willis.
3. Eliminate Earth Over Population – The current earth population is almost 6.8 BILLION people. Arguably beyond the carrying capacity of the earth already. The big dream is space colonization. We need somewhere to put all these people, or we all might end up living in skyscrapers, see all animal’s habitats destroyed, and smog up the air beyond what is breathable (see: China).
2. Natural Resources – Related to over population, we are burning through the earth’s natural resources pretty quickly. Out in space there is virtually unlimited resources. It is all just a matter of collecting it and bringing it back, which granted will not be an easy task. Still… it is virtually unlimited natural resources! There will be no more excuses for hiking up prices on barrels of oil. (Although hopefully we will have moved far beyond oil by then).
1. Put Ourselves into Perspective – From space earth is really small. From space earth is really fragile. Sometimes I think it would be a good thing to put our place in the universe into perspective. I don’t go into your house light up a stogy, start pulling up your carpet, kick down your door, and then kill your cat. Yet, we as the human species have been doing that to our own home the earth for quite a while now. If we start seeing how small and fragile we are out there floating in space, maybe, just maybe we will not be so prone to abusing our one true home.
Blast Off! Here’s to the men and women who gave their lives to explore the great unknown. We cannot ignore the importance of space exploration, nor be complacent in it’s meaning to all of us. I hope space exploration can continue to inspire, educate, and provide for us in the next 40 years as it has the last 40 years.
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