There used to be an era when almost every little boy or girl dreamed of growing up and becoming an astronaut. Today, kids aspire to be the next Snoop Dogg or Lindsay Lohan. In a world shadowed by turmoil in the Middle East and disaster in Asia, it seems like a fitting move to once again turn our collective attention to the stars, and not the kind that inhabit Hollywood.
In the midst of some of the most violent times in recent history, space exploration can serve us once again as a worthy pastime. Think of the space race of the 1950s and 60s, which played its role in taking exhausted minds off of the startling potentialities of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Sending a man to the moon in 1969 gave Americans a sense of accomplishment, having forced the Soviets to concede defeat and adding to the pride of Americans.
President Bush is expected to give NASA a 5 percent spending increase in 2006, up from this year’s $16.2 billion budget. Though commendable, it isn’t without opposition. With NASA being one of the few domestic agencies lucky enough to see a boost in funding, many believe this decision is a waste of precious resources that can be used elsewhere.
In case you haven’t been paying attention, NASA and its European counterpart, ESA, have been doing wonderful things lately. You know, the kinds of things that would amaze our parents’ generation but we too often overlook. They’ve been probing planets and investigating unchartered moons. Astronomers have recently learned things about far away stars that would boggle the mind, stars we’re not even capable of seeing in the polluted skies over Temple’s campus.
What do the words Opportunity and Keck Interferometer mean to you? The Deep Impact campaign isn’t referring to the time you parked your car on top of a hill and forgot to engage the emergency brake. These are all pivotal pieces of programs headed by NASA that are either already in existence or are about to commence. Their main goal is to search for extraterrestrial life or at least to further help us understand the foundations of our own.
The thought of life on a planet besides ours is tempting, especially with such hostilities here on Earth. The realities of war can be so mind-numbing that taking a break by expanding our horizons can help put us back on track. Exploring the great beyond can be used as a tool to better our own world and can ease the tensions of war-weathered souls.
NASA is giving us several reasons to avert our attention to the cosmos. Many people are aware of the twin rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, which landed on Mars around this time last year. The quest was deemed successful when the rovers were able to transmit various data and photographs back from the surface of the “red planet.” The photos proved thrilling, showing us that Mars at one time had a consistently wet atmosphere, capable of sustaining life. In mid-January of this year, Opportunity made another substantial discovery, coming across a basketball sized meteorite composed of iron and nickel, a makeup uncommon among those found on Earth.
In a mission that seems to be straight out of a summer blockbuster film, the Deep Impact spacecraft is slated to encounter its comet prey on July 4, 2005. What then? The spacecraft will eject an “impactor” that will punch a hole the size of a football stadium into the comet, coincidentally named the Tempel 1.
This will all be done in hopes of revealing some of the secrets about the formation of solar systems. Comets are considered the time capsules of space, holding ice, gas and dust dating back to the beginning of the universe, 4.5 billion years ago. Recovering this material will help scientists better understand how our surroundings came into existence.
It is once again time to look to the skies for inspiration, to help us find the renewed vigor needed in this struggle for a more peaceful world. Regardless of age or status, it is important not to ignore the mysteries of the unknown. Man may not make it back to the moon until 2020, but until then there are other exciting places that can be explored from planet home.
Jacqueline D’Ercole can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.