Flying To Pluto… Why (I Think) It Matters

Anyone who knows me is keenly aware that I have a snarky, borderline cynical side that’s quick to joke and poke fun. Those closest to me also know my serious side. This doesn’t make me special. On the contrary, I think it’s actually quite common. We all have different personalities that express themselves based on the situation and the surroundings. Today, I’m going to put on my serious pants and explain why I think it’s well worth the time and expense to explore outer space, specifically in defense of NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto.

We Are All Stardust

It is the most basic of reasons why we’re naturally drawn to explore space. It is our source, our home, our origin. Famed astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson said, “It’s quite literally true that we are stardust, in the highest, most exalted way one can use that phrase. Not only are we in the universe… the universe is in us.”

There’s some undeniable yearning to go home, to return, to get back to our roots. However you want to phrase it, humans are drawn together in a quest to understand where we come from and where we’re going. As children of the stars, we are all one, and there’s no better way to experience that transcendent unity than to gaze up at the stars above.

A little too new age for your taste? Don’t worry. There’s another benefit to our collective stargazing…

We Can Participate in Discovery

I’m not a scientist. I’m going to bet most of you aren’t, either. But anyone with a television or an internet connection has no doubt been following New Horizons’ trip to Pluto. We’ve all been in countdown mode for the past few weeks, as NASA released image after image in ever-sharpening clarity. There’s a reason we got hooked, eyes glued to our newsfeeds waiting for the latest updates.

No matter what your background or educational level, through the magic of modern media and connectivity, we can all participate in the discoveries… and we can do so on a near minute-by-minute, play-by-play basis. We’re no longer days removed from the action—we can watch it unfold as it happens. Sure, it’s passive participation, but never before have we all had such deep and expansive access to the information as it comes in.

What’s the benefit? Aside from the obvious excitement of discovery, it feeds our curiosity…

It Makes Us Wonder

There’s a downside to modern media. It can make us lazy, unimaginative, and disconnected. It’s paradoxical, but it’s true. The natural result of an ultra-connected lifestyle seems to be increased isolation, where we slowly but surely retreat into our digital identities. Exploring space, especially a relatively unknown region right here in our own galactic neighborhood (home), shakes us awake and allows us to wonder. It reminds us that we don’t know everything and that there are plenty of questions left to answer.

Big questions, too. The kinds of questions that make people stay awake at night and leap out of bed with furious excitement the moment a new idea is born. These are the kinds of questions that drove us to explore, and the further we expand our reach the bigger and more exciting the questions become.

Star trails over the European Southern Observatory (ESO) 3.6-meter telescope. Photo via
Star trails over the European Southern Observatory (ESO) 3.6-meter telescope. Photo via

Human beings are naturally curious, but we need to fuel that curiosity. Exploring space isn’t just good for science. It’s good for the soul.

1 Response

  1. Pingback : AreaVoices | Ben Hanson » To Boldly Go: 5 Future Space Missions to Get Excited About

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