In the hit, award-winning television drama, The West Wing, Sam Seaborn, a senior communications functionary at the White House, is questioned by Mallory O’Brien, a relatively minor character on the show on why he is so passionate about America’s mission to Mars, and why American citizens should spend their tax dollars on something that could potentially lose hundreds of millions of dollars.
In what is easily one of the best explanations for mankind’s exploration of space, Seaborn responds that there are a lot of hungry people in the world and “none of them are hungry because we went to the moon. None of them are colder, and certainly none of them are dumber ‘cause we went to the moon.” But O’Brien persists, “Do we really have to go to Mars?” Seaborn says: “Why? Because it’s next. Because we came out of the cave, and we looked over the hill and we saw fire; and we crossed the ocean and we pioneered the west, and we took to the sky. The history of man is hung on a timeline of exploration and this is what’s next.”
On Tuesday, when NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft made a Pluto flyby, and the scientists at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider along the Swiss-French border discovered another sub-atomic particle, the Pentaquark, the news could not have been better for the world of science.
Pluto is 7.5 billion kilometres away from Earth. Any single bit of information takes four and a half hours to reach Earth even at the speed of light. And yet, we made it there.
Exploration at both the most massive and the most infinitesimally small levels has been the cornerstone of humanity’s progress. It is this spirit of invention, discovery and innovation that has brought us this far. And it is this that will take us into interstellar space and beyond, and perhaps, back on Earth, get us closer to the Grand Unified Theory, or the Theory of Everything the holy grail of science. Enjoy the ride, for no other journey will be more exciting.