Straight Talk By Al Jacobs
Straight Talk By Al Jacobs

By Al Jacobs

The report from NASA was provocative: “Scientists find Earth’s ‘Cousin.’” The article that followed announced that scientists at Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, have found “another Earth-sun twin system” with the potential for “liquid water on the surface . . . that could mean life.” The planet is designated Kepler-452b; the source of this discovery is the Kepler Spacecraft, launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on March 7, 2009. During the past six years this project, which employs countless scientists and technicians, has been scouring the heavens in search of planets which may support living organisms.

Though this may seem enticing at first glance, a few details must be revealed. Our “cousin Earth” is not exactly next door and therefore ripe for discovery. It resides in the constellation Cygnus, approximately 1,400 light years distant. If we could launch a rocket toward it at 30,000-miles-per-hour—the same speed as our recent space mission to Pluto—it would take 31.2 million years to arrive. It goes without saying that if earthlike beings inhabiting Kepler-452b, possessing a technology comparable to ours, should wish to visit us, we’ll not see them for 31.2 million years. Nonetheless, the Kepler project, which has thus far cost $550 million, will continue to function as planned, with each successive “discovery” lauded as another important victory for science.

During the Cold War era there was justification for the space race. We were in competition with a hostile Soviet Union and the technological expertise we might develop could be a factor in guaranteeing our national survival. Here in the 21st Century this is no longer the case. Except for providing grants for selected beneficiaries and salaries for a lot of chosen people, it’s difficult to describe exactly what NASA’s 2015 budget of $17.4 billion actually does for the average American.

Just as there was a slogan which commemorated America’s success in the space program of the 1960s and 1970s, and which immortalized a generation of explorers of our solar system, you may be certain we will craft a slogan for our current involvement in the heavens. In all likelihood it will be: One small step for mankind; one giant leap for the gratuity.

Al Jacobs, of Dana Point, is a professional investor for nearly a half-century. He issues a monthly newsletter in which he shares his financial knowledge and experience. You may view it at www.onthemoneytrail.net.

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comments (1)

  • Al,

    After reading your latest installment, I think you’re better off sticking to writing about financial matters. To sum up your thesis, spending tax dollars on NASA or other privately contracted space exploration is a waste of money because the Soviet Union collapsed decades ago and is therefore no longer an existential threat to the USA. And then without bothering to google the NASA website to understand its current mission and active projects, you insinuate that NASA’s budget is nothing more than a boondoggle for NASA employees and other unnamed “beneficiaries”. Given that most of our understanding of the universe has occurred in the last thirty years (thanks to spectacularly successful missions including the Hubble telescope, the Kepler Observatory, etc.), I can only conclude that your opinion that NASA is worthless (or space exploration in general) is a direct reflection of your lack of intellectual curiosity about the universe in which you live. Fine, unraveling the mysteries of why we exist on this tiny water-covered planet in an unimaginably vast universe isn’t for everyone. But given that one of NASA’s emerging urgent mandates is to assist in developing a strategy and technologies to mitigate or reverse global warming before it becomes a geopolitical nightmare for our grandchildren to deal with is something you should consider.

    Sincerely yours,

    John Birk
    Dana Point

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