Specifically, what about science for the sake of science?
I know my views are skewed, and I admit that. While I clearly don’t work as a scientist, I could…my degrees (with one exception) are all in the so-called “hard sciences” like physics and mathematics. Add to that the fact that nearly all of my writing is science fiction (mostly hard), and it colors my perceptions.
And that leads to the question for everyone else…
Should we spend time and money (and after all, time = money) on science that offers no immediate benefit?
Take the case of the search for old equipment landed on the moon discussed in this article…
While the article doesn’t even hint at how much this is costing, it can’t be free. Even if the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) is doing the search in its spare time, there are still costs associated with receiving the data, looking through it, and much more. There is no free lunch here.
The question for most people comes down to just exactly why we need to know where all this stuff is on the moon.
And the only direct answer I have is that I don’t know why we need to know that.
And that’s where the problem lies…
Human history has shown us over and over again that there is no such thing as “useless knowledge.” Sooner or later, everything we learn gets used. Most of the time, the use is something mundane. Other times, it’s pretty important. Like rubbing two sticks together fast enough and long enough will make fire.
But how can we tell, maybe centuries before the fact, that a particular piece of seemingly arcane information will be important one day?
I don’t know the answer to that one, either. Nor do you.
There are those who say that humanity should give up the idea of space travel. Some even take it to the extreme of saying we need to stop all space programs in general. Yeah…those same people use their iPhone to talk to their buddy in London as they walk down the street in Los Angeles. Guess what? If not for the space programs, that wouldn’t happen. Nor would about 95% of the other things we all take for granted today.
Way back in the early days of America’s space program, do you think that Werner von Braun even thought about an iPhone? The frightening part is that he might have, but odds are he didn’t. He needed a tool (small, reliable computers) to accomplish a task (go to the moon and back). He built that tool, and a few decades later, someone looked at that knowledge and decided to make a phone call.
So, as I said, as far as I can tell, there is no such thing as useless knowledge. Granted, some of it might only be good for playing Trivial Pursuit, but next week, who can say?
What’s your take?