Felix Baumgartner says, “Save the Planet” but says “No” to Planetary Science

Image from Wikipedia.

Oh, Felix, Felix.  What are we going to do with you?

“A lot of guys they are talking about landing on Mars. Because [they say] it is so important to land on Mars because we would learn a lot more about our planet here, our Earth, by going to Mars which actually makes no sense to me because we know a lot about Earth and we still treat our planet, which is very fragile, in a really bad way.

“So I think we should perhaps spend all the money [which is] going to Mars to learn about Earth. I mean, you cannot send people there because it is just too far away. That little knowledge we get from Mars I don’t think it does make sense.

“That is tax money. People should decide ‘are you willing to spend all this money to go to Mars?’ I think the average person on the ground would never spend that amount of money – they have to spend it on something that makes sense and this is definitely saving our planet.”  —-  Felix Baumgartner

Really?  Really?

Well, some might say the same thing about that little publicity stunt that you pulled earlier this year.  I won’t. I thought it was cool and I and others hail your explorer spirit.

Unfortunately, you fail to give the same credit to your fellow explorers.

Throughout history, short-sighted persons have contorted themselves to fit a foot in their mouth over the unforeseen benefits of exploration.

The government powers of his time called Columbus an “adventurer” and refused him a portion of their tax money for years until a forward-thinking Queen Isabella of Spain funded his expedition.  What percentage of the world population spoke Spanish then compared to now? The results of that effort, for Spain and for you and I, are now a matter of history and Columbus and Isabella are seen as visionaries…him for recognizing that there was something important for him to find, and her for taking a chance which expanded the role of Spain as a superpower on the world stage.

Then there was Thomas Jefferson…who made the Louisiana purchase. Some believed that the land he bought was a “wasteland”. You and I know better.  That act triggered early the financial successes that made this country a great nation.

I just finished watching the BBC documentary “Space Race“, where three super powers were so focused on developing ways to kill one and other with rockets that they all failed to see the benefits that could be had in having spacecraft that orbit the Earth. Looking back today we see what that handful of rocket scientists who pushed that effort forward meant when they claimed that such an ability would usher in a new age. The achievements of the space age that they started inspired other men…men like you…to do things with space that no one had ever tried. Still…even the dreams of those explorers fell far short of the immense technology revolution that their efforts have brought about.

From these short reminders of history we can learn the following…
1> That exploration always brings things into the world that weren’t there before.
2> That no one, not even the explorers themselves, can ever anticipate the multiple threads of change that those discoveries make in the lives and cultures of those that they touch.
3> That in spite of all of the legacy of wealth, power, and technology that branches out of exploration events, there is always a group of short-sighted meat heads who are willing to risk their reputations on the far-fetched prediction that the difficult and expensive exploration proposals of their generation will finally be the ones that turn out to be fruitless.

Open your eyes, man. You complain about the cost of the Curiosity Rover on Mars…2.5 billion dollars spread out over seven years. That’s chicken feed! Chump change! In 2011 our government paid that much in interest on the national debt every 1.7 days! You won’t impress anyone with your skills as an economist if you continue to demonstrate such a lack of ability to keep track of you decimal places.  😉

As for your “save the planet” argument, I share it, but what do you propose we spend that 2.5 billion to save the planet from? No, no…don’t answer that. I have a partial list:
1> Ignorance.
2> Illness (like AIDS, heart disease, lung cancer, and type II diabetes).
3> War.
4> Tyranny.
5> Poverty.
6> Starvation.
7> Thirst.
8> Stagnation.
9> Slavery.

Oh ya, and of course there are also those climate change and ozone hole things that soooo few scientists are working on these days! Maybe the smart people who helped you with your space jump were neglecting their duty to humanity by working for you instead of studying environmental science like all the other good, responsible scientists of our time!

Have you stopped to consider that some things about our planet can only be learned by comparison with somewhere else?

Have you stopped to consider how many of the variables that govern climate change can be eliminated by looking closely at the climate of another planet that shares the same heat source as ours?

Have you stopped to consider that finding (or not finding) new life on Mars might teach us a little something about life on Earth?

Have you stopped to consider that maybe looking closely at a dead world and how it got that way might help folks better appreciate how rare and precious their own little blue gem is?

Or do you delude yourself into thinking that even though advancements and discoveries in one scientific pursuit always seems to branch out into other ones, that for some unnamed reason that process will somehow stop at Mars?

Just like your jump, Mars exploration brings tears to the eyes of the old and fires the imaginations of the young.
Just like your jump, Mars exploration pushes the envelope of what’s possible for all of humanity.
Just like your jump, Mars exploration will return in kind to whatever organization sponsors it.
Just like your jump, Mars exploration must solve new problems in order to succeed, and in doing so, adds to the wealth of human knowledge from which we all benefit in an ever-growing network of predictable and unpredictable ways.

And…just like your jump…the landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars, along with all of the other new achievements of 2012, will be seen as mere first steps in the years to come. Yet the explorers who achieved them will be listed among the other icons of history and science in the text books of tomorrow.  Richard Branson‘s idea that your jump can be repeated from 400,000 feet will be possible because you gave people ideas that will advance technologies and make what you call “completely insane” a reality.  Likewise, talk of the Moon, Mars, L2, and the outer planets wake up children who are now asleep and send them on science careers that may or may not lead them to space, but will lead them and our species forward.

The explorers of 2012 don’t know what they’ve started, but your grandchildren will!

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~ by Bill Housley on November 2, 2012.

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