The Future of Space Exploration, Page 4
We have to dream, and we have to be looking for something new to explore, to encourage us to invent new technologies, to encourage us to try to do new things. I don’t know that civilizations become great just by staying at home and growing corn and taking care of their families. Those are things that you have to do, but it seems to me we ought to do a lot more.
Planetary science is very small field. There’s maybe about two thousand planetary scientists worldwide or so. Every school in the country has a physics department, compared to like ten planetary departments. But to me, there’s an intangible aspect of science. It’s like art. How can you say what price tag it is worth for an artist to paint the Mona Lisa? Sure, you can auction it and claim that’s what the value is, but up front you don’t know what you’re going to get. So there’s some value in just: Let’s discover what’s out there, what the universe is, what it’s like, and what our place in the universe is. I think the role that plays in society is very similar to the role that art plays, in the sense that it’s that “Gotcha!” It gives you something extra when you look at the night sky.
People often think of science as producing things, or how we make the world better: How we get better seatbelts or better whatever, better frying pans. That’s actually a misconception of what science is. Spin-offs are useful, but if they really want those things they should put it directly into research on seatbelts or frying pans or whatever. The research, the knowledge in and of itself is beautiful, and I think that’s why we do it.