Did you know that a UDRI senior research scientist worked on the Curiosity mars rover? Well now you do.
However, you probably don’t care.
I’m not trying to sound condescending. The fact of the matter is that Americans are losing interest in space
Which begs the question, what happened to us? Our space program used to be a source of national pride. Now
it’s often considered just another “over-funded” government bureaucracy. (Though anyone who believes this
may need to check their definition of “over- funded”).
Take a look at how popular culture has treated space flight. In 1966, one of the coolest programs on TV
was “Star Trek,” a show about a bunch of Americans, a few aliens and even a couple of commies working
together to explore a fantastic universe of adventure and special effects. The plot was as simple as that.
Today, the same show is the stereotypical pastime of characters like The Simpsons’ “Comic Book Guy.”
Some argue that without competition with the Soviet Union, Americans had no reason to be interested in
space exploration. Perhaps that was the case in the 70’s, but it’s a poor excuse for today’s apathy. The root of
the problem is that we’ve stopped trying to explain why space flight is so freaking awesome.
The advertising geniuses at NASA dubbed their latest rocket design the “Space Launch System.” This title
is an extremely boring oversimplification of what this rocket actually is. When complete, it will be the largest,
most powerful rocket ever built, with a maximum of five engines and a total lift capability of 130 metric tons.
To put that into perspective, that’s like strapping 22 elephants on top of a 384 foot tall, 6.5 million pound fire-
breathing dragon and launching them into space.
What about the International Space Station? Just a bunch of boring scientists living in space, right?
Wait – they’re living in space? Think about what that means. Every living human being in the universe has
their feet on the ground right now, except for six very lucky people who are eating, sleeping and working over
200 miles above the Earth. They see the sunrise and sunset 15 times per day as they hurtle around the planet at
4.791 miles per second.
Talk about a dream job.
We have the same scenario with the latest Mars lander. Of course it’s not exciting when you say we “landed”
Curiosity on Mars. But what if I told you that a one-ton car-sized robot parachuted into the Martian atmosphere
like a Navy SEAL and then was lowered to the surface by a rocket propelled hovercraft sky crane? As utterly
insane as that sounds, it actually happened – and the engineers at NASA made it possible.
Despite these feats, it seems like nobody cares. Where did the passion go? How did our collective perspective
of space exploration go from “Star Trek” to Trekkies?
We need to care about space exploration. There are the usual arguments that we must compete with other
nations, or that we should seek out evidence of life on other planets. But when it comes down to it, space
offers humanity a golden opportunity to start over. All of the problems we have here on earth – the politics,
the fighting, the scrambles for money and power and all of the other evils that make our society tick – seem
meaningless when faced with the void of space. It is a place where we can forge a new path, together. Without
public support for the space program, that path will never be trekked.