Why we explore Space

On the XVI century, bold sailors would go out to the unknown sea, facing storms, hunger and mysterious diseases. Kingdoms spent an outrageous amount of time, money and human resources to make their boats go faster and further. All of this meant betting on science and engineering, gathering smart, hardworking people who would lead, learn, teach and behave well under pressure. It wasn’t always a matter of politics, war or commerce but rather the urge to know more about our surroundings, to spread our knowledge and simply experience the world as it really is.

At that time, the existence of other continents was, for many, considered a hoax. With only a few reaching the other side of the ocean, all that came back to most citizens were “crazy-new” stories that made the achievements hard to believe. Yet, they remained truthful. Once new land is at sight and new resources are within grasp, settling down is the next step. Soon the unknown becomes familiar, even for the common citizen, and sudenly it is time for a new adventure.

Space exploration is, in many ways, just like the Discoveries. The initial 50’s space race was undeniably motivated by politics, but let’s not forget that, by then, planet Earth had already reached the “familiar” threshold – planes and boats would get us around the world easily and there was no “new land” left to explore. That’s when looking up felt like the natural way to go.

The moon is the nearest planetary body, so going there first was quite obvious. Many thought we coulnd´t do it. Many still think it is all fake. Does this sound any bit familiar? Those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it. And planet Earth is part of the Solar System as much as a Portugal is part of the European continent, which, in turn, is part of planet Earth.

Ok. So space IS the final frontier (for now at least anyway). Yet, the budget and effort put onto Space Exploration has always been controversial . “Why not search for a cure for cancer instead?” they say. Well, both things – medicine and space exploration – are dependent on Technology and Science. So, when medicine develops, space exploration does so too. and vice-versa.  This is because studying “things happening in Space” will always need to be compared to what we know is “normal”. The only comparable option is thus “things happening on Earth”. So, whenever a topic is being studied in Space, the same topic, is, by default, being studied on Earth as well.

Thinking of the International Space Station (ISS), it is considered an indoor closed environemnt. It has a controled atmosphere, moisture, temperaure and air filtration. On Earth, hospitals are also considered indoor closed environments. Thus, understanding how the ISS ecosystem evolves (taking in special consideration the close interaction between humans and microorganisms), will automatically provide new knowledge on what can happen inside a hostpital. Another interesting example is the preparation of the Hubble Space Telescope. To see distant galaxies, a high-resolution, fine-detailed imaging technology was needed. When developed, it revealed to be an optimal application to breast cancer detection, Imaging the suspicious breast tissue more clearly and efficiently, using the same technology.

In science, and in life, everything is connected.  Space is not “there” anymore, like a far away, misteriously unreachable land. It is right here. Ready to teach us as much as we let it to. Each discovery will lead to another, and slowly we start connecting the dots. Soon, we will be able to look at the big picture. This picture will become familar. That´s when we move on to another adventure.


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