I'm not talking about "trickle-down technologies." I hate hearing the argument that we should spend a trillion dollars sending humans to the stars, because building the requisite technologies will create unexpected spin-off technologies that will benefit humankind on Earth. That's an awfully expensive and unpredictable way to create beneficial technologies, don't you think?
Personally, I don't think people will support heavy taxes for manned space ventures. There has to be a well-understood, practical reason for using funds that could be spent on infrastructure and education. Remember the lunar missions? There was all this "destiny" crap about being the first to send humans to the moon. They brought back rocks and we learned some things. But after that, it was just one more expensive, pointless mission to the moon after another. It was theater. And the sequels didn't fill the seats. People withdrew their interest and support and the program was terminated.
Now Atlantis has safely returned to Earth, and that program is over, too.
Well, while the Atlantis crew was in orbit restocking the space station, I had time to think about some valid Earth-centered challenges for NASA. I'm not a scientist. I'm not even a nerd. But even my rocket-challenged brain came up with a few ideas for using space technology with the sole purpose of directly benefiting humankind on Earth.
How about NASA programs for...
- Detecting and protecting against rogue asteroids that could collide with Earth? Mass extinctions may be cool for the evolution of strange new species, but they're never going to be cool for the human beings who are already here.
- Detecting and protecting the planet from solar mass ejections. I'm tired of the cosmos squinting at me and saying, "Well punk, do you feel lucky today?"
- Discovering ways to preserve our atmosphere. You know...that thin, fragile layer of air we breathe and can't survive even seven minutes without?
- Creating a way to collect and direct to Earth some of the intense energy of the solar wind. That's a tough one, but hooo! what a benefit, and a 100 times easier than traveling to the stars.
- Figuring out a way to remove all the "space junk" in orbit around the Earth. If one of those pieces slams into my Netflix satellite, I'm going to be so miffed....
And I'll tell you a secret. If you'd knock off all this "destiny" nonsense and propose programs that will benefit taxpayers in a direct, practical way - look to the future to solve some real serious problems - I guarantee you that your funding problems would be over.
Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength . (Permission to use photo purchased from fotolia.net)