Scientific Exploration Important On Earth, In Space

In the New York Times’ “Scientist At Work” blog, Alexander Kumar, a physician and researcher at Concordia Station in Antarctica, examines the question of “why humans should venture out to other planets, and perhaps in the process create new problems, when we have so many problems on our own planet,” including HIV, malaria, tuberculosis and other “largely preventable and treatable” conditions. Kumar, who is “investigat[ing] the possibility of one day sending humans to Mars” for the European Space Agency, says he is “repeatedly asked … why the human race would invest its precious and finite resources (money) into space exploration?” He continues, “People have presented valid arguments both ways: those against, about depriving the bottom billion of our planet by diverting much-needed funding; and those in favor, for furthering mankind’s now-desperate need for discoveries and new life-saving technology through exploration in space.”

“A manned mission to Mars … could provide unforeseen benefits for mankind, from new technology to invention and innovation,” and the necessary “multi-trillion dollar investment could also certainly trigger economic growth,” Kumar writes, adding, “Malaria remains a political issue — quite different from a Mars mission — but requiring the same long-term planning, dedication to resolution and financial and human investment.” He continues, “Simple donation is not the way to reach Mars or the way to cure malaria, where all the mosquito nets in the universe will not prevent or eradicate it.” Kumar concludes, “To me, the greatest tragedy for mankind may lie in choosing not to strive or seek today’s scientific bounty of discovery, whether in space, on Mars or in sub-Saharan Africa” (12/3).