It was July 20th, 1969 and I was eager to arrive home. I was just a kid and me, my parents, and a visiting cousin, were on our way home from my grandparents’ house. I always had a great time at my grandparents’ house, about 400 miles away and always hated leaving and would often arrive home feeling the letdown, but this time, the letdown was pushed well back due to my anticipation.
You see, I’d always, even as a kid, been interested in astronomy and space exploration. And that day, July 20th, 1969, human beings were landing on the Moon!
We got home in time to watch the landing on live TV and I can still feel the emotions I felt that afternoon, 45 years later.
Since then, while there’s been some activity, it seems to have come in spurts, with long hiatus’ in between. And not just us, either. We’ve done, collectively among the few, but recently growing, space-faring nations of the world, manned activity in low and middle Earth orbit, but little else in terms of space exploration, with the exception of interplanetary probes.
I believe we could have done more by this time, especially in regards to returning to the moon. It’s not that we didn’t, or don’t have, the technology, but that we’ve let red tape and politics trip us up. Politics, in the form of governments, until recently, not allowing private companies to venture out into space, often cutting space exploration budgets in favor of other “true” pork-barrel projects, and a “not invented here” policy regarding listening to those who would know better how to keep us in space at a lower cost and who have the vision to see that, in the long, long-term, space exploration can benefit in more ways than we think. And of course, the red tape, where everything has to be filled out 10 times over, even though we live in the computer age where everything can just be copied and transferred, and mindless regulations, as well as good regulations that are enforced in a mindless manner.
So what are the benefits of exploring that great “empty” vacuum? Well, there are planets and asteroids, and gasses and other things out there that can do much for us.
In terms of science, the universe is a living chemists lab. Astronomers and other scientists are seeing things with ever advanced instruments that give us new answers as to how various elements work and also provide proof, or discredit, of the theories we have today. Being there in person, we could learn much more much faster. I read an article recently where a scientist said that a team of astronauts could do in a week on Mars, what all of the robots we’ve sent, such as Soujourner, Opportunity, and Pathfinder, have done in all the years they’ve been there!
In terms of resources, the solar system alone may be a vast storehouse of all kinds of mineral resources, just waiting for us to go out and get them. Instead of getting coal and iron, and rare metals from here on Earth, with all of the environmental and cultural issues involved, imagine if we could get it from some lifeless asteroid or moon instead!
And of course, there’s the question of life outside of Earth. It may be life as we don’t know it, but I think we would recognize it if we discovered it. And while it wouldn’t initially affect the individual on Earth, it would answer some big questions about how rare or common life is and would let us all know that Earth is not as unique in being a life-bearing planet as we at first thought.
But at least one question has been answered. We can reach other worlds.
Recently, private companies, such as SpaceX, have been coming into play, with a good measure of success. Also, more nations have sent people into space on their own and are talking about going to the moon in some cases. I wish them well and hope that the advent of private space-faring companies and more space-faring nations, along with the discovery of a growing number of planets outside our solar system, will renew greatly the interest in space exploration.
There’s much to be learned and had from that great “empty” vacuum we call space.
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