May 25th 1961 or precisely 55 years, 3 months and 7 days ago; in a historic address to the US Congress, President John F Kennedy set an unprecedented space exploration goal for a nation.
A goal that would challenge, push to the limit and test the very spirit and ambition of mankind.
An ambition that not only made the manned lunar missions possible but also unleashed a number of tech advances taken for granted today.
“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project…will be more exciting, or more impressive to mankind, or more important…and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish..”
– US President John F Kennedy
Laptops, virtual reality, 3D graphics, modern solar cells, global positioning system – all were a result of this space race. Many decades later, humanity has made great progress in space. However as a space faring civilisation our accomplishments are relatively modest. Modern day visionaries like Elon Musk are working on grand ambitions to get colonies on Mars. Even though the path to get there is laced with failure. Only today I learnt of Space X’s Falcon vehicle being destroyed, incinerating a new Facebook built satellite with it.
Loss of Falcon vehicle today during propellant fill operation. Originated around upper stage oxygen tank. Cause still unknown. More soon.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 1, 2016
I think funding space exploration is a fundamental issue.
No country is spending a huge amount of money on Space exploration and with the exception of SpaceX the private space exploration is still very nascent.
I wonder why. See the chart here from Wiki. It is astounding – even NASA, the largest in the pack spends less than 1% of US GDP on space. In comparison, venture capital backed companies received a total of $68 Billion in funding in 2015 in the US alone and… wait for it… the US military defence budget was a whopping $600 Billion in 2015!! That is inconceivable to me. I guess in today’s capitalist world, space exploration does not yield a sufficient ROI. What about second and third order ROI of a much aggressive space exploration policy? JFK had the vision to see these, why don’t we?
I believe as a civilisation we need to set ourselves much bolder goals, and a much stronger vision. We should colonise planets, send out manned deep space missions and invest heavily in space propulsion technology. I know there are many problems on earth, almost too many. It is hard to divert precious time and resources to something that may not have immediate value or applications.
Time is witness that inward looking civilisations, however advanced for their time have perished in history books.
We have got to be different, we have got to work together and inspire the new generation of scientists, engineers and young citizens. I do believe though that in order for this status-quo to change, we probably need a turning point – it may not be a far fetched imagination that our civilisation will not set our differences aside unless we face a more fundamental reality of our existence in the Universe.
Lets hope that reality unites us sooner than later. Thanks for reading, and in words of Spock –
“Live Long… and Prosper”