Chapter 9: The Final Frontier

In Chapter 9, when Carmen went to get Cesar after he ran up the tree from embarrassment, Carmen acknowledged something that sparked my research. She looked into the living room from the outside and said how strange it was to see it from this perspective. Which reminded me of something close to my thoughts, which was about viewing the earth from space. July 20, 1969, will be a date that our species never forgets; the day humans set foot on another world, in a place called the Sea of Tranquility. In the interview with Neil Armstrong, after he has returned from the space mission, he describes how his team was flying through the moon’s shadow and into the light. He said the “earth is beautiful, blue and beautiful… peeking out from behind the moon”. I love space, that’s no secret, but when we put the romantic zeal to the side, a question that enters the public mind all the time is whether or not we should invest in it?

When we look at the state of affairs of human society currently, it’s seems (key word being seems) hard to invest in it. When it comes time to make budget cuts, space exploration often finds itself on shaky ground. It is usually seen as a luxury item, like a cable sports package that we so desperately want but we don’t really need. When we think about the costs of our manned space flight, our telescopes, and our satellites, it is easy to see how those billions of dollars could have been used to feed starving children, or pay educators. It is also equally valid to make that same point of our obscene spending on military equipment. In regards to military spending, it’s important for people to know that America spent about $618 billion on military expenditures in 2013 alone. We spend the most compared to any other nation on earth. Of the next 20 nations that spend nearly as much obscene amounts of money on defense, almost all of them are our allies (Frohlich). Does that make sense? Luckily NASA has recently been given a hefty increase in budget, about 18.3 billion. In its previous history, its annual budget was limited to only a 100 million. Imagine what can be done with 18.3 billion (Dreier). Maybe one day I can finally design a building on Mars.

Going back to the question of “why space”, what has space actually done for the benefit of humans? Many say we should stay on earth and solve our problems before going out into space, I mean look at the environmental status of the planet. However, without space we wouldn’t have developed several life changing technologies. From the result of our fear of the Russians gaining high ground technologically, we developed GPS technologies. Where would we be without our GPS, navigation would be a complete nightmare. It has greatly improved the quality of our lives in that respect. The internet would also have not spread at the rate at which it has without the advent of satellite technology. Both are intertwined greatly, and we today cannot imagine a world without the internet. You wouldn’t even be able to read what I’m writing about without it. It’s what has allowed for such a level of connectedness and advancement that will help propel our species into the future. Other inventions that resulted from NASA research that change our lives in positive ways include: smoke detectors, enriched baby food, smart roads, improved ear thermometers, fast acting dental braces, protective paint, improved pacemakers, scratch-resistant glass, and shoe designs (smith). Another wonderful thing NASA happens to be undertaking is occurring in the NASA AIMS Sustainability center, where they are currently taking research we are learning from space and applying them to sustainable design practices here on earth!

There’s another reason, equally important that aspires to human imagination. What was unforeseen was the way human society reacted to Apollo. The Apollo project gave us the iconic image of the Earth rising over the moon, known as Earth rise. It gave us a picture of the world in a way that no one had seen it before. The countries weren’t color coded with boundaries. It showed our world as a whole. As Neil Degrasse Tyson puts it, “We went to the moon, and we discovered Earth. We discovered Earth for the first time” (Higgins). The events that followed were groundbreaking. In 1970, the comprehensive clean air act is passed. Earth day is birthed in March of that same year, along with the environmental protection agency. The organization, Doctors without Borders was founded in 1971. The name of that organization was a reference to the image that was published. The clean water act was passed in 1971. DDT, a toxic chemical used in farming practices was banned in 1972. That same year, the endangered species act and marine protection act was passed. Unleaded gas and the catalytic converter were created in 1973 (Roger). Around this time, there was campus unrest and a war in Vietnam. But we still took the time to think about Earth, this is space operating on human culture.

Neil Degrasse Tyson goes on to explain how these reactions are a response to a new perspective about what it means to be alive on this world that we all share. The way the people saw the events that resulted from the program galvanized the nation and it led to a complete revolution in society. Everything was future based, the homes of tomorrow, the cities of tomorrow, the food of tomorrow, etc. The cultural mindset was to enable people to make tomorrow come. This mindset sparked our advancements in technology because of people wanting to become scientists and engineers, the people who enable tomorrow to exist today.

To view the perspective of investing in space, one must look at the grander scheme of things. We are so lucky to live in our age of great discovery. Humanity has spent most of its existence looking up at the stars and questioning them. Only in the last brief moments of human history have we been able to work out just a few of the answers. Groundbreaking discoveries, like the fact we know the Earth isn’t the center of the universe. Others include the heliocentric structure of our solar system, learning about the elliptical nature of planets, the nature of gravity, the existence of unseen planets, galaxies, light, the theory of relativity, and the Big bang (Teachey). This is our heritage. So many thousands of human generations lived and died with only inklings as to what existed beyond our atmosphere in this immeasurable universe. They brought us to this point and it is up to us to continue to pass on the torch. If we do not, the next generation will have to for us. But it is our responsibility to go as far as we can, so that the next generation can go even farther. When we think about putting aside spending for space, we should not see it as a handout, but as an investment; an investment in the expansion of human knowledge and ways of existing.

Carl Sagan argues that humans will go into space. It is inevitable, so long as we don’t destroy ourselves in the meantime. The reasoning behind this is for our very survival as a species. The most logical conclusion for our continued existence is space. Luckily our species is born curious and we need a frontier, we need to explore (Sagan). Technology will continue to adapt and become ever more sophisticated. Here is one of his famous speeches on the topic:

“Our remote descendants safely arrayed on many worlds throughout the Solar System and beyond, will be unified by their common heritage, by their regard for their home planet, and by the knowledge that, whatever other life may be, the only humans in all the Universe come from Earth. They will gaze up and strain to find the blue dot in their skies. They will love it no less for its obscurity and fragility. They will marvel at how vulnerable the repository of all our potential once was, how perilous our infancy, how humble our beginnings, how many rivers we had to cross before we found our way.” (Sagan)

I agree with his conclusion. Whether we want it or not, human technology will continue to advance forward at an ever quicker pace. We can only hope that the path our technology takes will lead to an overall positive benefit for human kind. In the words of Isaac Asimov, I also believe that people generations from now will look back at us in this developing point of human civilization and be amazed that we could have ever thought about turning our back to the universe.

Sources:

 

Web:

Dick, Steven. “Societal Impacts of Space.” 2005. NASA. (accessed Nov. 4, 2015) http://www.nasa.gov/exploration/whyweexplore/Why_We_09.html

Dreier, Casey. “A New Budget Deal and a Best Case NASA Budget for 2016”. Planetary Society. Oct. 28 2015. (accessed Nov. 4, 2015) http://www.planetary.org/blogs/casey-dreier/2015/1028-a-new-hope-an-ideal-nasa-budget-for-2016.html?referrer=https://www.google.com/

Frohlich, Thomas and Kent, Alexander. “Countries spending the most on the military”. USA TODAY. July 12, 2014. (accessed Nov. 4, 2015) http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2014/07/12/countries-spending-most-on-military/12491639/

Garber, Steve, Roger Launius, and Steven Dick. “Launching NASA.” NASA. FirstGov. July 25, 2005. (accessed Nov. 4, 2015) http://history.nasa.gov/factsheet.htm

Higgins, Chris. “Tyson.” Quotes Wave. RSG. Jan. 1, 2012. (accessed Nov. 4, 2015) http://www.quoteswave.com/picture-quotes/245781

Sagan, Carl. “Today in Science History!” 2006 Sagan quotes. S&M co. (accessed Nov. 4, 2015) http://www.todayinsci.com/S/Sagan_Carl/SaganCarl-Quotations.htm

Smith, Jim. “Space Age Inventions you Probably Use”. CNN. Nov. 4, 2007. (accessed Nov. 4, 2015) http://www.cnn.com/2007/LIVING/worklife/10/04/nasa.everyday/index.html?_s=PM:LIVING

Blog:

Teachey, Alex. “Why Go into Space?” Sagan’s Brain. Blogspot. Comment posted on Feb. 21, 2011. (accessed Nov. 4, 2015) http://sagansbrain.blogspot.com/2011/02/why-should-we-go.html

Book:

Sagan, Carl. Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. New York: Random House, 1994. 46.

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