Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Astronomy and fiscal responsibility

The crash of the Genesis solar explorer capsule reminds me of a rather touchy issue that has caused me to agonize for many years. Personally, I am very interested in astronomy, but I wonder if it is fair to society as a whole--or to the world--to spend so much money on somethng that is, ultimately, mostly of theoretical interest for those of us who are curious.

Space exploration unquestionably results in technology that can be transferred to applications. Although I understand that it is a controversial question whether the first Moon explorations are genuinely responsible for the advent of teflon, I suspect that other materials science and aviation contributions can be significant. I am less sure that these come about in a cost effective manner.

As suggested by a prior post, I am particularly interested in planets in other solar systems. I can remember the days before we knew that any existed, and I will be particularly interested if we ever find more Earth-like planets. Ultimately, with other budgetary priorities--and with the environmental consequences of the space launches involved--I am wondering if this is a too expensive indulgence.


Emi said...

There is also the question of whether it is appropriate for moneyed defense contractors--who clearly have ulterior motives--to fund astronomical research.

Recently I took a tour of the Steward Observatory Mirror Lab. The Lab is manufacturing sophisticated borosilicate glass honeycomb mirrors that, when complete, will be able to form near-perfect images of the far corners of the universe.

However, in return for funding the Mirror Lab has agreed to prepare a mirror for the defense contractor Lockheed-Martin, which intends to use the mirror for calibrating its satellites.

What good is it to develop technology that will allow us to see the edge of the universe, when the same technology may help us to destroy the earth?

Cynical Idealist said...

just wanted to say that my autistic son could name all the planets WAY before he could say "mom" or "dad". He is fascinated by the sky. I think you have natural born explorers in the world and then there are folks like me...who see plenty to explore right here on Earth. hahaha