Why should we continue to explore space?
Friday is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 1 fire that killed three astronauts. I wrote the following article a few years ago, but my feelings have not changed at all. Space calls to us, and we must answer, even when we know we will lose people along the way. We can minimize this loss, but we cannot eradicate it. If you ask any astronaut, I expect they would agree.
Today marks the second in a week of three tragic anniversaries in space exploration. On Jan. 27, 1967, we lost three astronauts in the Apollo 1 fire. On Feb. 1, 2003, seven astronauts died when Columbia broke apart upon re-entering Earth’s atmosphere. And Jan. 28, 1986, is when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, killing all seven astronauts on board.
All three of these events were horrible. All three were the results of unlikely chains of events that seemed inevitable afterward. All three sparked immense debate over the dangers and value of exploring space.
And all three should show us how important it is that we carry on that exploration.
There are two ways to look at why slipping loose the surly bonds of Earth is so critical. One is practical. Going into space has given us tremendous advantages in life. Global communication. Weather forecasting. Technology spinoffs that have generated vast economies. The list goes on and on. How many dangerous regimes have collapsed because we can directly see and talk to those being oppressed? How many lives have been saved by advance knowledge of crippling weather events? How much have our lives improved due to the wonderful technology generated? The money spent on space exploration has literally paid us back manifold.
We are a species of explorers. It’s in our blood, in our makeup. We crave to see what’s around the next corner, what’s over that hill, what’s next in our adventure. Sometimes we learn something massively important, and sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we come home to tell the tale, and sometimes we don’t. Exploration has fantastic rewards, and grave dangers. But fulfilling our need to explore is its own goal.
The practical benefits of exploration are our sustenance, but the adventure itself is the flavor. The price we pay for this, sometimes, is counted in human lives. And it’s a terrible price. But we must continue to explore because it’s a part of us.