Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Justifying Space Exploration

A self-portrait of the Curiosity rover
on Mars. How do we justify this?
(NASA/JPL/MSSS)
I remember being on a family visit at one time when I was still in my early teens. We were settling down for lunch and the table discussions inexplicably veered towards the financial justification of conducting space missions by America and other countries.

The debate split the table into 2 camps for and against. Naturally, being citizens of a third world country, the latter camp was full to breaking point. Guess who was all by his lonesome self in the for camp. Moi!

I don't remember much details but what I do know is that for the first time in my life, I felt completely hopeless in the face of open scrutiny. How could an ignorant young chap justify such expensive endeavours that he doesn't immediately benefit from and yet loves as much as a young person would love, say, a rock star or a professional wrestler?

Time has passed and today America is running a one year old Mars rover. They're still spending on space exploration and still a superpower by any objective standard and we're still, *ahem* stuck in the mud. I should feel vindicated (and indeed I do) but an explanation is in order.

To that end, I have written a short reflection on this other blog of mine as a sort of delayed response to that old debate that I couldn't even hope of ever winning at the time. But we must remind ourselves that in the art of important debates, it isn't a question of winning or losing but a question of clearing the air and revealing truth. That is the sign of a true knowledge gatherer!