NASA’s ‘Curiosity’ is slated to land on the Red Planet on August 6th. From the perspective of an explorer/innovator, this is indeed fascinating, and a true demonstrative step towards a future capacity to send a manned ship or probe.
From a public pragmatist perspective, the question of justifying funds for this mission during our current financial climate is distressing. As a marine professional, this is all discouraging, especially given the major cuts to our NOAA Undersea Research Program and Ocean Exploration programs – it is going to take divine intervention, more than just curiosity, to reinvigorate a federally supported focal point in the ocean sciences and exploration – right here on Earth!
I am all for space exploration and this recent Mars mission, as it does indeed fuel the exploration fire and keep that inquisitive pursuit in check and on the front line. What concerns me is not understanding where in the chain of communications – from in the field, to program managers, to administrators, to policymakers, to lobbyists – organizations like NASA to so much better than organizations such as NOAA.
We’ve all heard the fun facts; ocean is 95% unexplored, etc and so on. These are true and compelling, but where is the public appeal? I can honestly say that I have seen these unexplored frontiers firsthand, their promise, and potential, yet still struggle to find a home for this excitement and productivity (indeed tangibly, and proven to be, valuable) within the public sector. This is a trend that is going on amongst my colleagues and peers as well, and is a constant uphill battle.
I believe it comes down to a communication gap – and a big one at that. So, the challenge remains – identify the true value to humanity and its greater good in ocean exploration right here on Planet Earth. Does life on Mars matter – indeed it does, but we must not overlook our immediate horizons. At the rate we’re going, with our blinders on, we will end up losing far more than we will ever gain as time continues to slip by.
So yes, look up; but also look out, and down, and beneath. There remain more questions than answers.