SPACE EXPLORATION – A PRIORITY FOR AMERICA

“The sky is the limit” – the words are used in everyday life, in the figurative sense, and refer to endless possibilities. The words are literally true, regarding space exploration. For centuries, great minds have sought to understand the nature and movement of celestial bodies in space, and their connection to life on Earth. Scholars have made observations, tested hypotheses, formed theories, and discovered laws. Some intellectuals have been celebrated for their findings about space, while others have been mocked for questioning prevalent beliefs of their generations. With the passage of time, mankind made tremendous progress in understanding Earth, and what’s beyond. The greatest of the discoveries have led to only one conclusion – that is, there’s a lot that we do not know yet. And it is exactly this realization that makes human beings move forward and strive to understand space, explore all that’s in it, and try to comprehend the vastness of creation. We know very well that the sky is really the limit. I applaud the Trump administration’s recent announcement that space exploration is a priority for America and that efforts will be made to boost our capacity to venture out into space, including sending astronauts back to the Moon and to Mars as well.

In modern times, the United States of America has led the way in space exploration. In July 1969, Americans were the first, in recorded history, to reach and set their feet on the Moon. The flight by three brave astronauts – Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins – set expectations for future explorations. In a press conference, Collins talked about future journey to Mars (Endnote 1). Since the historic Moon landing by Apollo 11 astronauts, ten more astronauts landed on the Moon. Gene Cernan, who was the commander of the last Apollo mission, said the following while leaving the surface of the Moon: “We leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace, and hope for all mankind.” Since 1972, Gene Cernan is known as the last man to walk on the Moon (Endnote 2). All of the 12 individuals who set their feet on the Moon are Americans.

Human curiosity and hunger to know what’s beyond our Earth has tremendously impact our society. Over the years, space exploration has been a popular subject in literature and motion picture. Authors have fantasized about life on other planets and filmmakers have dreamt about mankind’s journey to other galaxies, opening up the readers’ and viewers’ minds to the infinite possibilities out there in space. Some have approached with caution, warning that aliens may try to invade our planet (such as in the movie Independence Day), while others have portrayed higher dimensional beings as friendly to humans (such as in the movie Interstellar). Whatever the writer or filmmaker’s mind may conceive, there is a common message – there is a lot we do not know yet, and a lot that can learn from further exploration of space.

While books were being written and movies were being made, scientists have been going forward with their work, and achieving a great deal. Two most remarkable accomplishments in recent years, in my opinion, are the landing of Curiosity rover on Mars, and the New Horizons mission to Pluto. Mars has always been the subject of fascination. Named after the Roman God of War (Ares in Greek), it has remained a highlight in any conversation about space exploration. Humans were finally able to land a rover on the planet, as part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, to learn more about the red planet and determine if it can support life (Endnote 3). The New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt was launched in 2006 and the spacecraft flew by Pluto in 2015, almost after a decade since it began it’s journey. The spacecraft is the first man-made and controlled object, known to us, to venture this far out in space (Endnote 4). Pluto is known as Hades in ancient Greek myth – the ruler of the Underworld. In reality too, Pluto is a distant body in a cold part of the sky known to man. For human beings to successfully send an object to fly by Pluto and capture images and information is an exceptional feat. The spacecraft has not stopped, and is traveling well beyond Pluto, going further into space. These two missions simply reinforce the idea that the sky is really the limit when it comes to space exploration.

It is time for America to once again boost its efforts to learn more about the universe in which we live, and the administration of President Donald J. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence recognizes that. Earlier this month, the White House announced that American will once again pursue “manned extraterrestrial exploration”. Back in June 2017, President Trump “revived the National Space Council for the first time in 24 years” and announced that he will enact the “unanimously endorsed recommendations of the National Space Council to change the course of U.S. human spaceflight exploration”. America will once again send human beings to the Moon by working collaboratively with the private industry and other nations, and also explore Mars and the other bodies in the solar system (Endnote 5). I applaud the decision to prioritize such exploration.

In the complex world of domestic and international politics, constantly-evolving challenges and competing priorities make decision-making very difficult. Our country faces many problems, and our Republican leaders are working hard to successfully address those issues. But it’s also important to make sure that we continue to build up on our past and current achievements, and reach for greater milestones – and space exploration is what we should pursue.

Human beings are natural explorers. Christopher Columbus sailed across dangerous seas in search of new land, James Cameron dived into the ocean to explore Mariana Trench, Sigmund Freud devoted his life in understanding the depth of the human mind, and America sent astronauts and spacecraft far away in space. Exploration is endless, and I am proud that America is once again prioritizing strengthening our efforts to learn about the space and the celestial bodies. I am looking forward to many more achievements for America.

Endnotes

(1) https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/apollo/apollo11.html

(2) https://www.nasa.gov/astronautprofiles/cernan

(3) https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/overview/index.html

(4) https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/newhorizons/overview/index.html

(5) https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/president-donald-j-trump-will-make-america-leader-space-exploration/

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