Word just in from NASA suggests that one of Saturn’s moons, Enceladus, may have an ocean below its surface, with hydrogen gas pouring into it from hydrothermal activity on the sea floor. It’s possible the gas could provide a chemical energy source for life, so suggests researchers on the project. And so the quest for life goes on, with no bit of trivia too insignificant not to be cited as a basis for renewed endeavor.

We have a problem: In addition to water, life also requires sources of energy to survive. With Saturn and its satellites some 887 million miles from the sun, with an average surface temperature –288 degrees Fahrenheit (–178 degrees Celsius), thus ruling out sunlight as the source of energy, we must relegate any carbon-based life forms to the subsurface. Whatever forms of life may be encountered will not resemble the creatures from Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds. Instead, they’ll be primitive and lackluster.

What’s the purpose of this continual pursuit into the cosmos? During the Cold War era there was justification for the space race. We were in competition with a hostile Soviet Union and the technological expertise we might develop could be a factor in guaranteeing our national survival. Here in the 21st Century this is no longer the case. Except for providing grants for selected beneficiaries and salaries for a lot of chosen people, it’s difficult to describe exactly what NASA’s 2017 budget of $19.0 billion actually does for the average American.

Just as there was a slogan which commemorated America’s success in the space program of the 1960s and 1970s, and which immortalized a generation of explorers of our solar system, you may be certain we will craft a slogan for our current involvement in the heavens. In all likelihood it will be: One small step for mankind; one giant leap for the gratuity.

Irrespective of revelations – or lack of them – the odyssey will continue. If nothing of consequence materializes, something will be conjured up and exploited, for as with any government program, perpetuation is the primary aim. It’s just such a project as this which bolsters the continuity of NASA’s involvement in an endless succession of studies and explorations which never end.