Friday, August 26, 2022

Why should we spend money to explore SPACE with all the problems on earth?

In these days the journey to the moon has returned to the fore and with it the apparently motivated controversies of those who legitimately wonder if it is better to invest that money elsewhere, such as medical research.

A similar question was also asked in 1970 to NASA’s then scientific director, Ernst Stuhlinger, by an active nun in Zambia. We were in the middle of the Apollo missions. Sister Mary Jacunda sent him a letter, asking him how it was possible to spend all that money on that senseless desire to go to the moon, while millions of people starved on Earth every year. 

The director was happy to answer her with a letter of which I transcribe the present story hoping for more clarity on why it is not only important, but fundamental to explore Space. 

Now, we don’t know if this story is true, but the meaning is relevant.

Here is the story:

"About 400 years ago, a count lived in a small town in Germany. He was one of those good nobles and used to give a good part of his earnings to his poor fellow citizens: they were very appreciated gestures, because there was a lot of poverty and the recurrent epidemics caused serious problems. One day, the count met a stranger. He had a workbench and a small laboratory in his house, he worked hard during the day to have a few hours every night to work in his laboratory. He put together small lenses obtained from pieces of glass; he mounted them inside some cylinders and used them to observe very small objects. The count was fascinated by what could be seen through those instruments, things he had never seen before. He invited the man to transfer his laboratory to the castle, becoming a special representative for the realization and improvement of his optical instruments.

The people in the city, however, became very angry when they realized that the count was committing his money that way without a purpose. «We suffer from the plague», they said, «while he pays that man for his useless pastimes!». But the count remained firm on his positions. «I give you everything I can», he said, «but I will also support this man and his work, because I feel that someday something good will come out of it!».

And in fact something good happened, also thanks to the work of other people in different places: the invention of the microscope. It is known that this invention has contributed more than many other ideas to the progress of medicine, and that the elimination of plague and other contagious diseases in many parts of the world has been possible in large part thanks to studies made possible by the microscope. By devoting part of his money to researching and discovering new things, the count contributed much more to providing relief from human suffering than he could have done by giving all his money to plague patients."


Today the world is still searching solutions to important issues such as hunger. climate change and lack of resources. However, think of the water purification filters that are useful in poorer countries, the satellites that study how to increase food production and those that prevent natural disasters, as well as satellites providing farmers in developing countries with advice on which foods to plant and when and where to plant them in order to achieve optimum results,  solar panels, TAC, fireproof suits and firefighters' respirators, first aid thermal blankets, artificial prostheses, hearing and dental aids, portable defibrillator, dialysis machine, freeze-dried food, line tracking system, infrared thermometers, hearing and dental aids, baby food, insulin pump... the cell phone we’re using right now... are just some of the thousands of technologies that have been developed through space adventure.

Space research is not in competition with other areas of science, but together with them they improve the quality of our life, even daily.

In short, it is one of the best fields to invest in the development of a society that wants to look to the future with confidence. 

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