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space (spās) n. 1. space beyond the atmosphere of the earth.

prag·ma·tism (prgm-tzm) n. A way of approaching situations or solving problems that emphasizes practical applications and consequences.

Monday, July 11, 2005

The Self-Esteem of Scientist

The AAS Statement on the Vision for Space explorationn is a lovely paper on how science needs to be at the center of the Vision. However they make a statement that makes my eyes cross.

Exploration without science is tourism.
So let us look at a list of "tourists" in the past.
  • Lewis & Clark
  • Christopher Columbus
  • Neil Armstrong
  • Ferdinand Magellan
  • David Livingstone
  • Vasco da Gama
  • Marco Polo
  • Ernest Shackleton
I find it interesting that Astronomers are telling us all what exploration is. Don't get me wrong, I love astronomy. It is not exploration, however. It is study, research, even just plain fun, but it is not exploration.


Scientist in general kept saying how important science is to any space exploration we do (or don't do). I am starting to think they have low self-esteem. Are they worried we are going off to other planets without them?


4 comments:

Greg Kuperberg said...

I agree that in the context of exploring the Earth itself, the aphorism from the AAS is overstated. Besides scientific exploration and tourism, there is also geographical exploration and commercial exploration. However, scientific exploration and tourism are the only kinds of exploration that NASA has ever done, or is planning now. So the AAS statement was correct as a description of NASA.

Columbus, Magellan, de Gama, Polo, and Lewis and Clark were geographical explorers. (You could even call it imperial exploration.) Shackleton and Armstrong, heroes though they were, were little more than tourists. Shackleton did a little geography and Armstrong did a little science.

No scientist I know is seriously "worried" about any aspect of space settlement, because they don't expect it to happen at all. Many scientists are disgusted (not really "worried") that NASA is still committed to tourism in the name of science.

The concept of imperial exploration -- your list points to the Spanish empire -- raises another interesting point. Yes, the US has its share of explorers and pioneers, but in that game it doesn't hold a candle to Russia, Spain, or the Vikings. These examples should show you that exploration doesn't always make you stronger. Sometimes, instead, you overextend and weaken.

Dan Schrimpsher said...

Hmm, Well you may be right about NASA, but now about what the President is proposing. (Permanent human presence)

Tourism- The practice of traveling for pleasure.

Settle - To establish residence in; colonize: Pioneers settled the West.

So perhaps the act of going to the Moon is tourism, (although I would doubt the settlers of the west would agree that the journey was for pleasure) but once you are there permanently (or at least quasi-permanently) it is a settlement or colony.

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Blog World said...

You don't take a photograph, you make it.
Ansel Adams- Posters.