…there are only three drivers — not more, not less — three drivers that account for the most expensive, ambitious projects humans have ever undertaken.
One of them is the praise of deity or royalty. That’s what got you the pyramids. They’re basically expensive tombstones. That’s what got the cathedral and church-building of Europe. That was a period where huge fractions of societal investment went into those activities. There is less of that today, so that’s not really a useful driver to think about how we might transform the 21st century.
Another driver is war. Nobody wants to die. That gets you the Great Wall of China. That gets you the Manhattan Project where we built the bomb. That gets you the Apollo Project.
Why did we land on the moon? We landed on the moon because we were at war with the Soviet Union and when we found out they were not going to the moon and they didn’t have the technology to go to the moon we stopped going to the moon. That should tell you that we did not go to the moon because we’re explorers and we’re discovers or we’re ambitious.
We went for military reasons and when the military reasons evaporate so too does your vision statement.
Another driver, the search for economic return, nobody wants to die—nobody wants to die poor—that’s what is responsible for the Columbus voyages, the Magellan voyages, Lewis and Clark. So if we’re going to go to Mars and if war is not the driver—because it could easily become the driver if you get another space race with someone we view as a military adversary. I wonder who that might be. But if peaceful heads prevail then war is not the driver available to you. Let’s check our list. Well kings and gods are not sufficient in modern times to undergo heavy projects such as that. What’s left? The promise of economic return.
You can go into space, transform society, change the zeitgeist of your culture, turn everyone into people who embrace and value science, technology, engineering and math, the stem field. Whether or not people go into space or serve the space industry they will have the sensitivity to those fields necessary to stimulate unending innovation in the technological fields and it’s that innovation in the 21st century that will drive tomorrow’s economies.
Any frontier in space now involves biologists. We’re looking for life. Chemists, geologists, physicists, mechanical engineering, electrical engineers, aerospace engineers, astrophysicists, all the traditional sciences and engineering frontiers are captured in any ambitious goal to explore space. We can recapture those times and reinvent America. We’ve already invented America once before. It’s ripe. It’s ready and it’s willing I think, to be invented again.
Neil deGrasse Tyson
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