Yo class! I gotta step in here again (grin!) and beat y'all up for not following my previous arguments in a previous post about where the money spent on "space" exploration really goes, and how it benefits us here on earth!
Let me reiterate so it is clear as vacuum (one C!) ! VERY LITTLE MONEY HAS BEEN SPENT IN SPACE, 99% OF SPACE EXPLORATION PROGRAM MONEY IS SPENT AND REMAINS ON EARTH AND 100% OF THE BENEFITS ACCRUE TO US ON EARTH. Yes, a few tons of space junk are orbiting the earth, and a few hundred pounds of metal and electronics gear have exited the solar system or landed on other planets (Venus, Mars, Titan), but if you compare that with the tonnage of metal and electronics that have been blasted into bits (along with human bodies) in Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, Iraq, Dafur etc. etc. serving no productive social purpose, and the amount of money spent on our OFFENSE and DEFENSE programs you will see that arguing against the tiny amount devoted to space exploration in the hopes that it might be redirected to social causes is like arguing that you should give up some of your salary so that the company you work for can give money to a charity while they continue to spend thousands of dollars every year on stag parties for their male employees. In other words, there are perverse uses of huge amounts of money that our government is spending, and there is incredible waste, but the public is told we should cut into one small part of the budget that actually benefits all of society (and lots of hard working engineers, factory workers, scientists, school kids etc.) rather than into the huge budgets devoted to destructive activities.
In fact the propaganda against the space program was designed because it is an easy target: most people are not given a realistic view of its benefits to them and it is easy to tell people that "space" is far away and removed from their concerns. It comes from a historical bias back in the days before Werner van Braun and the rocket scientists before world war II made it possible to actually send objects off the earth, and it goes back to a bias against people who dreamed of really seeing what was in the heavens when the Inquisition wanted to control people's interpretations of religious texts so that they wouldn't contradict the power of the old men who ran the churches in Europe. Remember that they threw Galileo in jail for looking through his telescope!
People in the past who insisted that it was technically feasible to touch the moon (a feat not achieved until 1969) were called, with spitting derision, "moon-touchers". The name in Latin was "Luna-tics" . Luna - moon. Tic - to touch.
Because of this history of control and oppression, trying to silence people who thought larger than those who sought to control and repress them, it was easy for the government after 1969, in the midst of the Vietnam war, without Kennedy's inspiring leadership, to try to shut down the space program and devote more money to the war.
Kennedy asked us, in 1961 "to go to the moon and do the other things -- not because they are easy, but because they are hard". His "other things" had to do with the social agenda of creating "The Great Society" that his vice president, Johnson, tried to implement after Kennedy was assasinated. Kennedy tied doing all the hard things together. He saw that if you shoot for the moon, you end up doing great things on earth.
I know you all know the adage "reach for the stars -- at the very least you will end up farther than you are now". When we only reach for what is nearbye, we never get very far because in every attempt we only get at most 75% of the distance we set for ourselves as goals. So our reach must exceed our grasp if we are to progress.
The problem with trying to solve problems on earth is that we simply don't put much effort into it. Before the space program was created we fought two world wars with devastating cosequences. We plundered and destroyed our planet and came to the brink of nuclear war. Then we began the space race with Russia. The race ended with us getting to the moon first and along the way inventing the personal computer and inexpensive photovoltaic panels, and clean stirling heat engines, and electric cars (the moon buggy was an electric car!) and fuel cells and clean hydrogen power (both used to power the shuttle and the space station) and water recycling and purification equipment and and and.... and at the height of the cold war with Russia our astronauts met their astronauts as friends in space while we were supposed to be enemies on earth. We successfully docked our spacecraft with theirs in complicated technical maneuvers that required great collaboration and communication across the globe from two warring countries. We celebrated together in on two joined rockets in space while politicians debated sending nuclear rockets to kill each other on earth.
Later, before the collapse of the soviet union, we sent astronauts to live with them on their space station, looking down together on the lonely, fragile, little blue gem called mother earth and vowing to protect it.
Today over 95% of the "space exploration" budget goes toward solving environmental problems on earth. We rarely send rockets our probes out of earth orbit -- instead, we observe the oceans, the forests, the land, the atmosphere, and try to correct the problems our politicians and business leaders got us into.
Think back to what you saw using Google maps and Google earth. Where were those pictures taken from? From space!
Think about the Ozone hole that is threatening our planet with skin cancer, blindness, crop failure and extinctions. How did we discover it? By looking down at the earth from space!
Think about global warming. How do we measure the loss of glacial ice in the polar caps and on Mt. Kilamanjaro, and the rise of sea level, and the frequency and direction of life threatening hurricanes and typhoons, twisters, tornadoes and dust storms? From space!
How do we discover new deposits of oil and gas and methane hydrates? By using remote sensing satellites in space!
How do we communicate via the internet and via our cell phones, and broadcast film and television and radio and all communications and news and entertainment across the globe at light speed? By using satellites in space!
What I am trying to point out is that our entire civilization now works because we constantly send rockets and satellites and telescopes and cameras and equipment and people into space. We monitor our crops and weather and predict rainfall and disasters and monitor toxic hazards and pollution from space.
And the more money we spend on space exploration, the more good we do right here on earth, because we keep finding out more and more about the nearest planet, the dearest planet that we can explore: the earth.
Only from space can we get in a glimpse what is happening on our entire planet. Only by comparing our planets with the other deadly lifeless planets with which we share the solar system can we get an idea of what the real risks of messing with our ecosystem are.
Venus: shows us the consequences of a runaway greenhouse effect. If we let global warming continue we will turn into Venus -- hot enough to melt lead! Venus was once like the earth. It is the same size and has volcanoes and plates tectonics like us. But something happened and too much CO2 and other gases accumulated in the atmosphere.
Mars: shows us the consequences of letting too much oxygen get fixed, letting the water freeze and letting too little Co2 accumulate -- cold, frigid desert planet.
Earth: Goldilocks' best bet -- not to hot, not too cold, just right!
Without this information we can easily push the earth past its tipping point.
Here is an entertaining video you should all watch to learn about the "Goldilocks' Principle":
And here is an article about it:
I hope this journey into the field of space exploration convinces you that there is no advantage to be gained from turning our backs on investigating the universe around us and many many risks if we are foolish enough to do so. The people who are the most passionately pursuing solutions to our environmental and social crises here on earth are often precisely those who have awakened to the perspective of how fragile our little blue planet is -- a perspective we could have only gained when we got far enough away to take pictures like this:
Let's hope we never turn this tiny little gem into the barren pitted surface that characterizes our moon and most of the other lifeless rocks that orbit our Sun!