Tuesday, March 20, 2012

How Much is the Universe Worth?

Neil DeGrasse Tyson recently asked this question in a speech: how much would you pay for the universe? He was referring to the recent funding cut that NASA took. He states that if one penny of each tax dollar went to fund NASA, we would surpass our wildest space dreams in a matter of a few decades.

One day, this concept is going to be one of those things that we talk about nostalgically, that people use as writing prompts for historical fiction novels. Right now, we think like this:

Can you imagine living in a country where women don't have the right to vote?
Can you imagine living in a country run by slavery?
Can you imagine living in a country where drinking alcohol was banned?
Can you imagine living in a country with vast tracts of unexplored land?
Can you imagine life without cars, or televisions, or phones, or heaven forbid--electricity?

And 67 seven years from now...

...Can you imagine living in country that wouldn't fund space travel?

And I will be 89 years old, cranky and obnoxious, living in a nursing home that orbits the moon, being interviewed on HoloSkypeOrbital by a 3D replica of my great-nephew who wants to do project on the history of space flight.

"My mother remembers them walking on the moon!" I would screech. "My mother watched the Challenger explode on a black and white TV! They didn't have space travel for real until I was about 52, even though NASA started hiring astronauts when I was only 23! Do I remember life without space travel? Of course I remember! My brain's sharp as a tack--do you even know what a tack is?"

"Let me tell you this, boy," I would interrupt as he sputtered to ask another impertinent question. "There's nothing more torturous than having the technology to do something but having those putrid politicians REFUSE to help do it! We were in an economic recession, them trying to tell women what not to have babies, worldwide religious clashes, the planet dying from carbon fuel poison, just out of a war on terrorists (terrorists are bloody hard to find, remember that, boy) and then politicians took money away from space travel! Can you believe it? Space travel! The only hope the people of the world had--just cut its knees right out from under it."

"What about the Dragon's fire? What about the descent of the Phoenix?" my great-nephew Gary will ask. "Do you remember those?"

"Naming all them spacecraft after mythical beasts won't give them no magical powers," I'll croak. "And of course I remember those! But you know what? Accidents happen. When they were inventing regular flights, with airplanes, you know what? People died. Amelia Earhart? Know who that is?" I'll shake my head. "Schools don't teach anything these days. She disappeared. Forever. Never seen again. More people died in car crashes back then than anything else. And murders! All over the place. But you know what? They still flew planes. They still drove cars. They still had babies. What's a couple of suborbital explosions? Sad, maybe. But they aren't the question."

"What is the question?" 

"The question is this: who are we and who do we want to be? Are we a nation of cowards and small-minded simpletons? Or are we a nation of intelligent visionaries with a backbone of steel and a work ethic of gold? Because that's what it took, Gary. It took intelligence, steel, and gold. Do you believe that?"

"Of course! We have space ships for people and space ships for mining and space ships for protection and space ships for research and we're mining asteroids in the asteroid belt and have a station set up on Mars!" He gets excited and begins to bounce up and down--because that's what kids do when they get excited.

I tap the top of the holo-monitor, the same spot where webcams used to be on a 2D monitor (now the hologram itself is the camera), and exclaim, "Now you tell me something, boy! Can you imagine living in a world trapped on the surface of the planet? In a country with a government who wouldn't fund space travel? Tell me--can you imagine a world without space?"

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