Regardless of the path they took, there was ultimately a compelling reason to brave the unknown, to risk health and wealth in order to seek out a future greater than the present.
The final frontier is no different, and for the past 50 years a few courageous souls have been struggling to convince the masses of the need to visit the stars above, without much success.
Could it be that space is really not that important for humanity as a whole, or could it possibly be that we are attempting to revisit the cosmos for all the wrong reasons?
When Russia first launched Sputnik 50 years ago, our primary motivation for reaching the stars could be summed up in one word--ego. Since that first moment, Russia and the United States were in an epic "battle of the brains" in order to prove which country was the greatest nation on planet Earth.
Despite the fact that nationalism can easily whip up political and financial support, that support can also dry up very quickly. Once the US landed a man on the Moon, they found no need to continue with the lunar landings.
Satisfied at defeating our rivals, both America and Russia decided that visiting the Moon was no longer in fashion, returning back to the much more relevant games of the cold war.
Since nationalism was no longer in style, our reason for space had to change in order to keep up with the times. In order to give a more stable reason (long term wise) for humanity to dwell among the heavens, scientists decided that focusing on exploration as the key.
While exploration helped convince the public that space was important, it produced support that was often a "mile wide and an inch deep." Space became more of a passive experience, something always for either robots or "the next generation."
Without a human element attached to the cosmos, space unsurprisingly loses its emotional appeal. Unable to prove itself as relevant to the public, space agencies will have to constantly point towards past spin offs in order to justify their existence in the present.
Lacking a prime reason to exist in the future, tomorrow's children may one day decide to simply remove space as a priority for our culture, as health care, energy prices and other matters crowd out the cosmos from public view.
Having yet again failed to keep the publics attention regarding the stars above, a new motivation is sought out to keep "the vision" alive.
Since inspiring the public through ego and exploration did not seem to capture the media's attention, why not make space an emergency and use fear to convince them otherwise?
By sounding the alarm that humanity is in danger of wiping themselves out on our small world, space once again becomes the focus of the masses. Whether it is from nuclear war, biological diseases or an upcoming asteroid, the need to find a home beyond Earth quickly becomes a priority.
But just as quickly space loses appeal once the public begins to learn just how dangerous (not to mention expensive) it is to travel to another world, let alone build upon one. Unable to envision stepping foot upon another world themselves, the public will simply urge politicians to find more ways to combat asteroids, biological diseases, health care, etc., regardless of the cost.
While this may help ensure humanities survival, it will not help them expand beyond their earthen cradle towards their solar playground, resulting in another setback for those passionate about space.
But if using ego, exploration and making space a dire emergency can not convince the public on the importance of space, then what really can? Borrowing a phrase from a former President, "It's the economy stupid!
While economical reasons may not sound as inspiring or motivating as nationalism (aka ego), exploration or turning the case for space into some type of emergency, it will however silence the many doubting voices who oppose space in general.
After all, if there is money to be gained (honestly) from inhabiting the heavens, then why wouldn't you want to go there in the first place?
Whether the financial reasons are tourism, solar power satellites or even helium-3 on the moon, justifying space in a way everyone can relate to will make it much easier to promote.
While highlighting the economic reasons for space will not grab headlines like the previous three, it will find grass roots support among not only businesses, but governments as well (mainly because of the taxes). It will also help make the cause of space to seem "more Earthly," as it will be viewed as a near future necessity rather than something well beyond the horizon.
Our journey towards the final frontier is similar to running a marathon. While some may run for their own ego or health, ensuring a prize at the end can go a long way towards engaging the public, which will ultimately benefit everyone.
Updated: Images and extra links added.
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