Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Piqued Curiosity

Yesterday was an amazing achievement for mankind. The landing of the Curiosity probe on Mars, without a hitch, is a testament for what we can achieve with science and as a people. It also has brought a bunch of folks out of the woodwork to complain about how much money was spent on the project. So in continuing what seems to be turning itself into a series of articles discussing waste, I want to talk about projects like this both as a writer and a scientist. 

First off, any money we spend gathering more knowledge about the universe is about as wasteful as using air to breathe or food to eat. While we could technically live our lives without understanding even our closest neighbors, the same could be said of antibiotics, air conditioning, and the Internet. But all of these things make life a whole hell of a lot better, and the technologies we garner from missions like this only improve life further. 

Now a word from my writer side. Speculative fiction, scifi, and hell even to a degree fantasy all rely on how much we know about the universe. All of these things draw on history at a minimum, and the more rich the history we can draw from, the more fuel that both the writer's imagination and the collective imaginations of your readership have at their disposal. Every mystery opened up by a probe like this, from the mundane instances of rock formation to paradigm shifting revelations about the origins of life are fair game for the writer to explore. 

All in all, achievements like this really show a positive and hopeful side of humanity that has is missing, especially in an election year. We hear all about how horrible our lives are and how X, Y, and Z are destroying life as we know it. But this, this is reality. This is a reminder that there are people out there who put this garbage in its place and accomplish something amazing.

It is difficult to see how anyone can think that such a thing is a waste without also ignoring everything such achievements have given us in the past. Remember that next time someone tries to sell you on how horrible and broken our species is. 

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