July 29, 2004
James van Allen, Regent Distinguished Professor at the University of Iowa, is the noted discoverer of radiation belts encircling Earth. His seminal finding -- labeled the Van Allen radiation belts -- stemmed from the scientist's experiment that flew on Explorer 1, Americas first satellite to successfully orbit the Earth back on January 31, 1958.
He's written an article questioning manned space flight and I'm a little ticked off about it, so I'll be petty and ask him, "what have you done lately?"
"Almost all of the space programs important advances in scientific knowledge have been accomplished by hundreds of robotic spacecraft in orbit about Earth and on missions to the distant planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune," van Allen writes. Similarly, robotic exploration of comets and asteroids "has truly revolutionized our knowledge of the solar system," he adds.
Overstating the case I'd say, but there is some truth in that.
"Let us not obfuscate the issue with false analogies to Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand Magellan, and Lewis and Clark, or with visions of establishing a pleasant tourist resort on the planet Mars," van Allen suggests.
Why not? Columbus and the rest didn't explore for the sake of science. I have a lot of respect for this man, but he's got his blinders on about the benefits of exploring space. Life is more than scientific fact-finding.
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