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The Search For ET

I follow the Mars rovers and the other poking sticks we send out into space pretty closely, primarily because the idea of finding extraterrestrial life, or evidence of it in the past, is pretty exciting. With that said, part of me wishes we would stop doing it, something I’ll get to in a minute.

I would like to see us doing more things just for the hell of it, and I think that our movement towards principally science missions is part of the reason that science education has to some extent gone down the tube. It sounds like a contradiction, and it very well might be. My reasoning is that a lot of this stuff is boring. Consider why we went to the Moon…

We went to get some samples, set up some experiments, sure, but mostly we went there to beat the damned Russians, the rest of that stuff was secondary in importance. We would have gone even if we couldn’t have taken so much as a disposable camera. Yet, the space race and the public interest that went with it touched off massive interest in science and technology. I think its something like a mouse trap. You can build the best mouse trap ever, but if you don’t put bait in there, you aren’t going to trap many mice.

Lets go back to the Moon. Lets go to an asteroid. Lets send up mini space telescopes that the public, schools, etc, can play with. You set out the bait, and you’ll catch mice. When they recently drilled into a Mars rock and found the inside to be grey (not oxidized) that was cool, they found many of the ingredients inside that pointed to a much more habitable planet in the past, but not life, just a world that could have maybe harbored it. Frankly, that’s pretty boring stuff. It’s certainly bait, but it’s bait for scientists and those with some interest to begin with. We need something more exciting to lure in those people that need catching, not those who are already caught.

I said that I wish we would stop looking for ET, not because it’s not an exciting prospect, but because I couldn’t find my wallet this morning. I checked all my pants pockets, the washer, dryer, my car, backpacks, the driveway, my dogs bed, my shoes, my bed, the refrigerator, the freezer, the microwave, my business, even the garbage. I eventually found it, in the cargo pocket of the shorts I was wearing.

That last part, where I found it, isn’t relevant, but we are looking for a our “wallet” in a place with practically infinite pairs of pants, cars and driveways, most of which we will never under any circumstances even be able to search. Simply put, we are spending a lot of time and resources looking for something we are quite frankly very unlikely to ever find, even though we are all but certain it is out there somewhere.

Search for life, send robots, send space probes, do all of that, but put it a little lower down the priority list. If we could capture once again the excitement of the 60’s and 70’s, it would be an investment that would keep public interest high enough not only to increase interest and support for pure science missions, but also keep people from looking at multi-billion dollar robots that to laymen are pretty much just a power drill with an easy bake oven strapped to a RC car, and asking, “why?”

I don’t have all the answers, and maybe I’m totally wrong, but discovery is captivating, the journey is often several orders of magnitude less so.

Columbus discovering the new world! Wow! Exciting! We don’t hear much about the spoiled food, the illness, the injuries, the near mutiny, the burials at sea, stagnant bilge water, excrement covered lower decks, sailors hanging their asses over the side of a pitching and rolling ship to… well you get the idea. The Victorians filled that depressing void by asserting that his crew, and everyone else, thought the world was flat, they were worried about falling off the edge! AHHH! Exciting! The only thing is, it was never a really widespread idea, this flat Earth. St. Augustine wrote all about the Earth being round, as did many others before and after him. It’s a much more exciting story than that of sailors squatting over the side of the ships and having that which they expelled catch back up to them and the ship bobbed up and down.

You catch mice with cheese, but you catch people with combination of bitchin’ and awesome.

But maybe I’m wrong. All I know for sure is that we are spending more on education then ever before, and we are getting less and less education the more we spend.

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