While the process of science often grants us advances in engineering, medicine, travel, and a host of other inventions, but discovery is not primarily a means to technical advancement. We confuse technology with science to our detriment. Science has given us technology, to be sure, but science’s great purpose represents so much more than light bulbs, airplanes, and a newer, thinner phone model every year. Ultimately, science is a quest for understanding, a way of answering questions. And the questions of our place in the vastness of the universe are the grandest, most wonderful, and most rewarding mysteries of all.
Water has existed on Mars through the lifetimes of every man and woman that has ever walked the planet Earth, and until today, we never knew. We only found out because we went looking. We developed the tools, spent the money, trained the people, and laid aside other needs for a greater purpose. Through that process of discovery, we learned that our collective assumptions about just how unique our world is in the cosmos demand reexamination. If water flows across the surface of a neighboring world, what else is possible? Is there alien life close enough that we can reach out and touch it? We’ll only know if we keep searching.
Today’s announcement reminds us that we should make a choice to become more dedicated searchers, laying aside some other expenses to fund the exploration of the planets. The costs are considerable but the potential rewards are tremendous. We all have tools for raising awareness and promoting grassroots advocacy. Every retweet of a legitimate, interesting space science story potentially helps a little. Letters to representatives and government officials about the importance of national science and space program funding may help more, and votes for candidates who advocate peaceful space research are even more powerful. For the teachers, siblings, and parents among us, educating children on the history and wonder of space exploration paves the way for a society more appreciate of science’s benefits. A career in astronomy, research, space advocacy, or even exploration is the ultimate investment, a chance to become a pioneer in humanity’s first steps from this tiny planet into the vast, great unknown of a boundless galaxy. Whatever your contribution, I hope we bump into each other on the way to building a better tomorrow.
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