At coffee this morning, someone asked why we were spending so much money on a mission to Jupiter that will take five years to get there and another five to return. She wondered why we couldn't spend all that money here on earth for our needs and requirements here. As you might imagine, that question launched a very spirited conversation with excellent points made on all sides of the topic. Most of my answers revolved around the joy of discovery rather than economic possibilities. Although I agree that the economic possibilities are extremely important, I deeply feel that we humans are capable and desirous of knowing and experiencing so much more than that. So, this excellent article in the July 01, 2007 Air & Space Magazine by Michael Griffin satisfied my need for more reasons for space exploration.
I loved the author's comparison of space exploration today with building cathedrals hundreds of years ago, of the wonder, awe, and curiosity about things unknown. Because building massive cathedrals took such a long time, most of those builders did not live to see their projects completed. In the same way, most of us now living will not be around to see the results of our space exploration. However, it gives me a wonderful feeling just knowing we might be accomplishing important work for the long haul of life here on earth for future generations.
"It is my contention that the products of our space program are today’s cathedrals. The space program satisfies the desire to compete, but in a safe and productive manner, rather than in a harmful one. It speaks abundantly to our sense of human curiosity, of wonder and awe at the unknown. Who can watch people assembling the greatest engineering project in the history of mankind—the International Space Station—and not wonder at the ability of people to conceive and to execute the project? And it also addresses our need for leaving something for future generations." (Michael Griffin)