To make humanity worth defending

Mars rover Perseverance

I won’t dignify them with a link, but I just saw a post that said something like; “We should not have space missions while there are problems on Earth.”

That’s the shortened version, but I’ve heard variations on that theme my entire life. Exploration and basic science have always suffered this kind of attack. I remember Maya Angelou, with the best intentions in the world, criticizing the space program because people live in ghettos, back in the ’70s. Even though we were right in the middle of the Vietnam war at the time. Even though all of our science spending today would be a jot alongside a defense budget equal to at least the next ten countries combined.

Science isn’t something you can turn on and off – it is a steady exploration across generations. This Mars mission has been well over a decade in the making.

And basic research pays off in unexpected ways. No one looking at the biology of extremophile bacteria in Yellowstone hot springs guessed that one day an enzyme from those bacteria would enable the giant DNA analysis industry that helps us fight covid among many other things.

But it is not only the unexpected benefits that justify basic science. As Robert R. Wilson once said of the large electron-positron collider at CERN;

“It only has to do with the respect with which we regard one another, the dignity of men, our love of culture… It has to do with: Are we good painters, good sculptors, great poets? I mean all the things that we really venerate and honor in our country and are patriotic about. In that sense, this new knowledge has all to do with honor and country but it has nothing to do directly with defending our country except to help make it worth defending.”

Robert R. Wilson, to the 1969 Congressional Joint Committee on Atomic Energy to fund the Lab’s peaceful high-energy physics research

You want to cut something? Look right past art, science, literature, music education, etc. and focus on endeavors that leave destruction in their wake.