Keeping the orbiting science experiment platform up and running will benefit mankind for eons to come
By Matt Fitzgibbons | Saturday, August 18, 2018
The Roman Empire is still amazing, simply because of how much of the ancient civilization remains. The Coliseum, aqueducts, and hundreds of miles of roads are still standing more than 1,500 years after the glory of Rome was replaced by tribal leadership.
But there’s a reason people call the 1,000 years or so after the fall of Rome the European “Dark Ages.” Roman rule was replaced by anarchy. People simply forgot the importance of science and engineering.
They no longer knew how to build, how to read, how to govern. If it hadn’t been for a handful of Irish monks preserving Western history by copying Greek and Latin manuscripts, both Christian and pagan, we would know almost nothing about some of the most important civilizations ever to exist. But we do … because they had vision.
None of the tribal leaders who sacked Rome meant to destroy an advanced way of life and start a period in which generations would live and die in uneducated darkness.
But that’s what they did. It’s a useful warning for our own time.
Science is an amazing thing, and we’re in danger of taking it for granted. Recall that just a generation ago, humans looked into the heavens and dared to try to get there. It was difficult to get the science right. It was also dangerous; some men gave their lives in horrible accidents.
But eventually we figured out how to get out of Earth’s orbit. We even landed on and walked on the moon. After the lunar program, the next triumph was the Space Shuttle, a craft that could launch like a rocket, orbit like a satellite and land like a plane to be used again and again.
Today, the International Space Station (ISS) remains perpetually in orbit as it conducts scientific experiments around the clock and unites cultures that rarely see eye to eye on anything.
It is truly international in a very real sense. So far, 230 individuals from 18 countries have been aboard the ISS. Most were American (145 people), but plenty were Russian (46 people). Ask yourself, “What else brings our countries together these days?”
The ISS is an active teaching platform, helping humans learn how to deal with the rigors of space in preparation for our next stunning achievements. As we conduct experiments on board, visitors are sending back knowledge that will be crucial as humans reach deeper into our solar system. If we hope to go to Mars, we need to continued doing what we are doing on the ISS first.
Yet the future of the ISS is in doubt. Officials in President Donald Trump’s administration aim to pull funding in the years ahead.
“Current plans call for the space station to be operated through at least 2024, with the partners discussing a possible extension until 2028,” Space.com reports. “Afterwards, plans for the space station are not clearly laid out. It could be de-orbited, or recycled for future space stations in orbit.”
But there’s no reason to abandon this platform by any certain or arbitrary date. As long as science is advancing up there, it’s better to keep the station in orbit and in operation.
As Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said during a recent hearing on the future of the station, “Prematurely canceling a program for political reasons costs jobs and wastes billions of dollars.”
His colleague, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), agreed that the station should be maintained. What other program is uniting senators across the partisan aisle these days?
All told, the ISS costs only about $3 billion to $4 billion a year to operate. That’s not much in a $4 trillion federal government budget. It would certainly cost more to relaunch a space station if we were to stop operating this one and later change our minds. It would be far better to keep all of our options open for as long as possible and continue the science.
Rome is still with us in a very real way.
A team of Danish economists recently announced that the most prosperous places in Europe today are alongside old Roman roads. This indicates that the infrastructure of the empire is still delivering prosperity centuries later, and by all accounts it will continue to do so.
Of course, that’s because nobody uprooted most of the Roman roads. And we shouldn’t uproot the ISS program, either. It’s still incredibly useful to humanity, both for the science and for the way it brings us together. It can continue to do so for years, if not decades, to come … if we have vision.