Thursday, October 08, 2009

Okay, so he's not a rocket scientist

I was fool enough, myself, to sit down with the television turned on in the room, again, while I was playing on the computer. I like a little background noise, after all -- otherwise, I hear the creaks and groans of a house and a dog and my own anatomy.

So, there I was, in a room filled with FOX News. No big. Except for the fact that Shepard Smith is demonstrating he is a journalist, not a rocket scientist (or even a reasonable facsimile thereof). And this is about rocket sciences. He's had a guest on, explaining the purpose behind the moon shot experiment, in which NASA has tossed an SUV-sized projectile at the south pole of the moon, in hopes that we may find, among the dust and debris kicked up by the impact, a little water.

If there is water we can mine at the pole of the lunar orb, there is a chance that we can expand our science and industry alike into space, giving us greater survival opportunities, as well as greater knowledge in general. If there is water up there, it means, among other things, the possibility of establishing a lunar station, lunar industrial centers, maybe someday even a small colony. Things needed for research and industry in zero-gee would be already up there, and we wouldn't have to spend huge sums of money and burn huge quantities of fuel (dare I add, contributing to atmospheric problems and other ecological issues?) to ship stuff up there to get the jobs done. That's generally viewed as a good thing.

Even if there is no usable amount of water, at least we will have more answers about the heavens and about our own place in them. That's generally viewed as a good thing, too.

But, at the end of Shep Smith's interview of his guest -- the one explaining clearly what the program was about, and what its benefits might be -- after the farewells and thank-yous were done, Shepard muttered, "I still don't see why we're spending on this, when there are so many other, more pressing ways we should be spending our money, like health care and unemployment and such."

Well, Shep, for one, this project has been in the works for many long years. It's already bought and paid for, long before the economy went into obvious crisis, and long before your invented crisis in the health care industry. The project was planned, the equipment assembled, probably about the first time you heard the words "anthropogenic global warming" and thought they tasted good on your tongue. To pull out now from the research project -- which may very well benefit us all in only a couple of decades -- would be to discard something which has already cost a few billion dollars already spent, and is near completion as of this week. That would be like making a fancy birthday cake, and then throwing it away just before you got the last candle lit, because you thought the money should have gone to buying a birthday scooter instead. You want to complain about waste?

For another thing, the point behind this sort of research is pragmatic. While most scientists enjoy research simply for the sake of greater understanding of the universe (a totally understandable goal, if you have the least portion of genuine curiosity about anything other than how your voice sounds when it comes out those little teevee speakers), they also find that discoveries in space have very useful applications for us groundlings. Everything from non-stick cookware to clean water technologies have come from our sending handfuls of brave individuals out there, away from Mother Earth. It continues to give us new information, new advances, new wonders and new applications every day. Research in space has saved lives. Is that reason enough for you to continue to look to the skies, in these days of crisis?

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