by Bradley Knockel
Why do we care about astronomy and space travel? There are real problems here on Earth every day, so who cares about Mars, other stars, or what happened billions of years ago?
As is the case in any bold scientific endeavors, we acquire much useful technology along the way, which is great for our economy (especially in the long-term). The Space Race boosted our economy as a Mars race might one day do. The United States now enjoys expertise in satellites and materials engineering from NASA (Temper foam in some mattresses is from NASA!). If our country stops pursuing knowledge, we will no longer attract the smartest most-educated people that drive economies at their cores. If we ask anyone once affected by a bad economy, we will soon know that strong economies are important. The future economic powers must embrace science and technology in the present! Competing and cooperating with other nations, such as what occurs at the International Space Station, can revolutionize our research and technology!
Usually, the most important discoveries have been accidental. By trying to figure out everything that the universe presents to us, we might yet again stumble across something very profound or useful. Maybe we will discover a new energy source, means of transportation, or means of communication!
The technology we build to study astronomy could save us from the dangers discovered by astronomy. Solar flares, magnetic field reversals, asteroids, and even supernovae are all survivable. Even if we learn that an insurmountable danger is coming (such as the collapse of a false vacuum), how can we resist trying to predict the future?
In a billion years, the Sun will make life on Earth very difficult. In many billion years, the Sun might grow large enough to swallow up the Earth. Although far in the future, astronomy and space travel could allow our descendants to travel to other planetary systems before then. This all seems so much more possible when we see that private industry is now attempting to land on the Moon and visit Mars. Imagine being part of a spacefaring race that mines and colonizes the galaxy! Perhaps we will meet new life as we boldly go where no one has gone before.
A still more glorious dawn awaits
Not a sunrise, but a galaxy rise
A morning filled with 400 billion suns
The rising of the Milky Way
Astronomy satisfies our curiosity, and space exploration satisfies our desire to explore the unknown. Better yet, astronomy can sometimes grow our curiosity and sense of adventure! The universe is a big place! There are practically endless things to learn and discover!
Being the original science, learning about astronomy's history teaches us about our past and that progress can be difficult. Things like the Earth going around the Sun are not obvious but true, and we must learn how to accept scientific truth. The history of astronomy teaches us how to be on the side of progress rather than slowing it down.
Learning to do careful scientific thinking is valuable and helps in many parts of life such as voting and having a job.
Astronomy shows us that we are connected to ancient stars and the Big Bang itself since they gave birth to the energy and atoms in our bodies! Without matter winning over antimatter and without the density perturbations in the early universe after the Big Bang, we would not be here! Knowing our place in the universe helps to give life meaning by showing us that our every success depends on the people and world around us.
Astronomy shows us that space is violent and that life is fragile. We need to take care of our planet (renewable energy!).
Most of the universe is void blackness. The fun in our lives is precious, which Carl Sagan said well when discussing our pale blue dot.
I would not want to go through life without appreciating it. By learning astronomy, we can appreciate the beauty and diversity in the universe! Humans have always wondered at the sky.