Pinto: Why you should care about investment in space technology

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Pinto: Why you should care about investment in space technology

Yoni Pinto, Columnist

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In the past few days, reports of a $1 billion investment by Google Inc. and Fidelity Investments in Elon Musk’s SpaceX has been making headlines. According to these reports, Google is planning to make this investment specifically for a project that will use satellites launched around the world to beam Internet to the ground.

The possibilities of such a project are quite extensive. Ranging from connecting people in rural areas to the Internet to offering new ways of speeding up Internet connections in large metropolises and anything in between, this idea can be revolutionary. However farfetched this project may seem, the truth is that we do have the technology to be able to implement it today.

Unfortunately, public interest in space exploration seems to have subsided.

When Curiosity landed on Mars in August 2012, I was ecstatic. It wasn’t the first time a capable machine had been put on Mars, but it was a great achievement nonetheless – it’s never easy to put something on another planet, especially the way NASA did it with Curiosity: The rover was lowered to the ground from 60 feet above by a “sky crane,” after slowing down from an entry speed of 13,000 mph.

Unfortunately, that excitement after the landing was confined to a few friends and me. I remember telling people minutes after the landing what had happened, how amazing this achievement was, and all I got was, “Yeah, that’s cool,” or “We’ve done that before, so what?” I’m not even American and I was proud of NASA that day. Why weren’t other people?

Right now, the only thing that can explain the subsided interest of people to space research and exploration is the fact that people do not understand the implications of it.

The SpaceX project is a very specific example of how research in space technology can directly affect completely unrelated people. But in addition to that, there’s also the case of spinoff technologies.

Spinoff technologies are products and discoveries made directly because of research done in space-related research fields. Anything from developing astronaut suits to insulation for the space station to emergency fire extinguishing systems aboard a launched space vehicle create technologies that could be used here on Earth in so many other ways.

There are a lot of examples: Engine research of a new fuel injection system directly influenced the creation of a new fire extinguishing hose that uses less than 15 times amount of water to extinguish fires six times faster. Memory foam was a direct result of crash cushioning systems research in the ’60s. Aircraft anti-icing technology, better tires, widespread use of solar cells personally and industrially – these are all results of research in space technology.  

These spinoff technologies are all extremely influential on people around the world. They have directly contributed to bettering the lives of people on Earth. Then again, this is just an argument I would use to convince you about the benefits of space research. Even though space research improves the lives of people everywhere, that’s not why I think it should be pursued.

Curiosity is one of the most human qualities. Yes, everyone does have basic needs they need to fulfill, like food, water and shelter. However, once those concerns are taken care of, curiosity comes into play. People live by asking and answering questions.

Space is the place of the ultimate questions: What’s out there? How did we get here? Are we alone? Can we go anywhere else?

There’s only one way to answer these questions: by researching and exploring the universe. The Earth might be where all we know has taken place, but ultimately it is a tiny speck of dust in the cosmos. In the search for the answers to our ultimate questions, we have to look beyond Earth and try to research and explore the realities around us.

Yoni Pinto is a Weinberg sophomore. He can be reached at ybpinto@u.northwestern.edu. If you want to respond publicly to this column, send a letter to the editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com.

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