Imagine you’re high: you’re 238,900 miles from Earth. From here, your entire vision is the green, blue and white of your home planet. You look beside you, and you can see the stark white of the lunar landscape. Now you’re higher, and you can see the whole of the Earth. From here, you can actually feel how fragile, how inconsequential our little planet is. It makes you cherish it even more. Life is special.
Now zoom out even further. 3.7 billion miles from home. You look behind you, and you see a pale blue dot, a mote of dust, just suspended in a beam of light. Everyone you ever met, everyone that you never met, billions of invisible interactions you missed. It’s all right there, on that pale blue dot. It’s a humbling experience.
Europa is somewhere near you. One of the many moons of Saturn. You remember that this is where humanity first found extraterrestrial life forms. You chuckle to yourself. You wonder how humanity could have ever wondered if we were alone in the entire universe.
Now you’re 120,000 light years away. You can’t even see Earth anymore. Instead, you just see a dim glowing band across the black expanse of space. That’s Milky Way, our galaxy.
2.5 million light years away. You’re in Andromeda Galaxy, one of our neighbors. Along the way, you’ve seen beautiful things. Clouds of stars, glimmering in every spectrum of color you could imagine. Asteroid belts, with rock and ice clashing and shattering into tiny pieces. Serendipitous events occurring at a rate so tiny, it could have been said to not have occurred at all.
You’ve seen horrifying things, too. A black hole, the remnants of a dying star. You see another kind of a death of a star, a super nova. When the entire density of the planet compacts, then explodes outwards in a single explosive burst, with energy as high as the amount the sun will emit in its entire lifetime. This is a violent death for a star. But this is also the beginning of us. This is where we came from, because the building blocks of life are made of atoms that were produced in the heart of this planetary explosion.
Now you’re 46 billion light years away. You’re really starting to know the universe now. You’re starting to know yourself, for the first time. You’re reaching the edge of the known universe. Finally, you’re starting to see the boundary of human understanding …
There. This is why we need to keep advancing as a species. This is why NASA needs to get the funding it deserves. This is why we need science-literate politicians. This is why we need to invest in good science. Because that is what we will be able to experience, or at least the future children of humanity. Can you imagine how amazing that would be? It would be fucking awesome.
I could also have talked about the fact that funding in curiosity-led science led to the discovery of some of the most fundamental technologies we have today, like transistors, which is the basis of information technology and the modern economy. I could have talked about how watching rocket ships land on the Moon inspired generations of scientists, engineers and technologists that pushed us forward.
But no, I don’t need to talk about any of that. Because reaching for the edge of the universe, reaching for our full potential as humans, to see what lies beyond, to satisfy the urge of the explorer, an urge that will always exist inside of us, is worth striving for as a species.
Let’s see where curiosity takes us. Let’s go.
Edit: My friend informed me that Russia is allocating $50 billion in space spending through 2020, while the budget for NASA in the U.S. keeps declining. And the GDP of the U.S. is eight times that of Russia. Come on.