Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Why Space?

I've been meaning to write this post for a long, long time (ever since APL's "song of ice and fire" concluded  - New Horizons, the mission to Pluto, finally made it on July 15th of this year, and MESSENGER, the mission to observe Mercury, hit the planet in April. Get it? Ice and Fire? Furthest from Sun and closest to Sun? OK, I'll stop explaining it now).

However, it has slipped my mind until now, when a co-worker asked me about why we were so excited about visiting Pluto, and what the point was of space exploration. So here's what my answer to that question would be, and you all can answer the "Why Space?" questions yourselves.

My Personal Interest: The summer between my senior year of high school and my freshman year of college, I worked at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Not only was it my first paying job (err, internship), it was the first time I'd felt like my computer science knowledge was useful, efficient, and saving me time (They had planned a data entry task for me that I managed to automate, taking a task that was supposed to take me six weeks and turning it into a task that only took two). Anyways, when I worked at Goddard, I was working on a project called the "Virtual Wave Observatory" ( It collects wave data from many different missions and allows you to conveniently search it in one place. I was amazed to find spectroscopy data collected on the day I was born - though I couldn't interpret the picture, the rainbow peaks and valleys tied to my birthday were indelibly etched in my mind. While an intern at Goddard, I also heard from a number of great speakers (most memorably for me, astronaut Piers Sellers, who dazzled me with his two step career - starting as a computer modeling analysts, and ending as an astronaut). One that struck me the most was a scientist who talked about seeing the moon landing and dreaming of the day when men would walk on Mars. So I've been hooked on space for a while.

The History and Research: Pluto was the last of the original nine planets that we hadn't explored. We explored Neptune over 25 years ago. They've been campaigning for a mission to Pluto for a long time, and we finally made it. This is kind of the last chance we have for history making. Why wouldn't you be excited? Also, this mission took us from a fuzzy, pixelated image from the Hubble Space Telescope to a high resolution, high definition image that shows the cool heart shaped mountain plain! Now we know more about the universe than ever before. I think that's worth it!

So, it's up to you to decide, "why space?". My co-worker dramatically announces, "FOR SCIENCE", which may be true, but you have now learned why I find space so exciting. YAY PLUTO! (A month late)

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