NASA will launch a spacecraft into orbit in 2016.
The craft is intended to land on an asteroid and use a robotic arm to pull samples, in an attempt to better explain the solar system’s formation and how life began. Putting aside all religion and science arguments, let’s examine why this is a positive step forward for the United States and the world alike.
According to the NASA site, the mission is called Origins – Spectral Interpretation – Resource Identification – Security – Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-REx, for short.
This will be the first U.S. mission to carry samples from an asteroid back to Earth.
“This is a critical step in meeting the objectives outlined by President Obama to extend our reach beyond low-Earth orbit and explore into deep space,” according to NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, on the administration’s website.
“It’s robotic missions like these that will pave the way for future human space missions to an asteroid and other deep space destinations.”
According to the NASA website, asteroids are leftovers formed from the solar nebula that collapsed to form our sun and the planets. So they contain original material from the solar nebula, which can inform us about the conditions of our solar system’s birth.
That all sounds good, and maybe a little confusing to some, but why does this matter?
Well for starters, NASA has focused on low-Earth orbit rather than deep space exploration in recent history. Not to say it is not happening, as OSIRIS-REx is the third mission for NASA’s “New Frontiers Program.”
The first launch was in 2006, to explore the Pluto-Charon system, and the second will launch this August to become the first spacecraft to orbit Jupiter from pole to pole.
Deep space exploration can mean a number of things. One of the most important is expanding our understanding of how Earth’s conditions have allowed it to sustain life.
With this information, we may be able to examine other planets with more sound knowledge. This knowledge can be used on Earth.
Earth is a blue speck spinning around in infinite vastness. Our conditions are very fragile, and we see that climate change has clearly affected our environment.
No, I am not writing to lecture on climate change and the importance of going green. I barely recycle, and I drive an SUV. But I am writing to say that Earth may not sustain life forever.
Our natural resources are dwindling, as expected when the population is growing exponentially. Space, where all
of our resources originated has virtually unlimited resources.
With a population of about seven billion humans and growing, we are going to need somewhere to put people. If not, we could find ourselves building upwards (more than we already have), living on top of each other, and creating air that is unsuitable to breath.
One argument that I’ve heard is that we have enough problems on Earth, so why should we worry about space?
Well, that is a very self-centered argument, that can be likened to: “Well I have enough of my own problems, why should I worry about anyone else?”
I am not saying that Earth is perfect, but we cannot be so shortsighted to think the problems directly in front of us are the only problems we should worry about.
If we want the human species to last as long as it should, we need to make strides towards securing a future. Deep space exploration is key to reaching that goal.
Yes, deep space exploration is expensive, but our military spending could be cut in half and we would still be spending the most in the world.
That is a completely different argument, of course, but my point is that we can spare a few dollars in an effort to secure a future for the human race among the stars.