A recent article in The Verge, a prominent website which covers the intersection of technology, science, art and culture, announced “NASA finds evidence of 10 new Earth-sized planets in our corner of the galaxy.” It goes on to say they orbit their stars in the habitable zone – “just far enough away to develop water, but not so far that they freeze.” The significance, of course, is that “these planets possess the potential for liquid water on the surface … that could mean life.” The likelihood water may exist on a planet, and thus the possibility of life forms, is the impetus behind this most recent effort. It’s this fixation on water which fuels the research enthusiasm. These discoveries are a part of the Kepler space telescope mission which employs countless scientists and technicians, and has been scouring the heavens in search of planets which may support living organisms.
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.
Nonetheless the quest for the origin of life goes on, and there is no bit of trivia too insignificant not to be cited as a basis for renewed endeavor. 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.