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.