I have never understood why space is the one area where we as Americans have never put our money where our mouth is. We spend our hard-earned money on the products we like the best. We donate to the Red Cross after disasters. We do our best to help keep PBS afloat. We shove money at the ASPCA so that those Sarah McLaughlin commercials don’t hurt as much.
But for as much preaching as we do about the wonders of space, we don’t care that our government, which is supposed to reflect the will of the people, is financially crippling the organization that helps us understand and explore those wonders.
Luckily, there’s Bill Nye (the Science Guy) to the rescue.
Four days ago, he, as CEO of The Planetary Society, filmed an open-letter to the President asking for help funding the Planetary Science department of NASA. In it, he is intelligent, eloquent, and inspiring. He reminds us that very recently, the entire world watched as America did something right for a change and dropped a REMOTE CONTROLLED CAR, held aloft from a crane HELP UP BY ROCKETS onto the SURFACE OF MARS. He points out that we are currently looking for LIFE ON OTHER PLANETS like the MOONS OF JUPITER AND SATURN.
And, most importantly, he stresses that this work has the chance to CHANGE THE COURSE OF HUMAN HISTORY.
I know that because of cinematic treasures like The Green Lantern and Alien Vs. Predator we have become a bit desensitized to the majesty of space, but it really is, in the literal definition of the word, wonderful.
It’s the one thing that unifies us as humans.
For millennia, Man has looked up, seen a black sky and an infinite amount of stars, and contemplated his place in the universe (even if he didn’t know exactly what those blips of light were). I mean, there’s nothing like looking at a tiny speck in the sky and knowing its hundreds of light years away to make you realize that, to quote Joe Rogan, “we are talking monkeys on an organic spaceship flying through the universe.” And who didn’t, at least a child, wonder what it would be like to shoot off into that great unknown?
Space is this amazing (final?) frontier that is simultaneously both incredibly humbling and incredibly empowering.
It’s why the video of a man jumping from the stratosphere has almost 5 million views on YouTube. Even a few small steps from one man can mean a giant leap for mankind. When we accomplish something never before done, we “raise everyone’s expectations of what’s possible,” to quote The Science Guy himself. Plus, as Matthew Tiscareno, a senior research associate at Cornell, explains, “Planetary science gets less than 10% [of NASA’s budget], but it’s a part of NASA that does more than any other to inspire the public. Planetary science gives the agency a lot of bang for its buck.”
And what we learn while solving problems for space travel can be applied to problems at home.
Engineering, technology, biology. These fields have all benefited from discoveries made by Planetary Science, and they’re just the ones my layman brain could think of. Investing in space exploration means investing in all of its related fields. Now I haven’t run the numbers — in fact numbers scare me — but I do know that if we cut our defense budget in half, we’d still be spending 3 TIMES as much as the next country. I have a hard time believing that we can’t find a way to scrap a few tanks or missiles or something from the budget to accommodate programs that might help Barack follow through on his promise to have a man on Mars by 2030. It seems like it would be money better spent anyways.
Mr. Nye implores that space travel is one of the few things in life that is “inherently optimistic.” The fact that we saw a big white thing in the night sky and figured out a way to PUT A PERSON ON IT reminds us that anything is possible. And not sound too crotchety, but it feels like we need that optimism now more than ever.
So do something that takes like 43 seconds out of your day, click on this link, and do your part to help save Planetary Science.