We need a new Christopher Columbus. The problem is we don’t really have a world where new explorers who want to venture into the unknown easily come about. This is because we lack the ability to truly explore the next great frontier (i.e. space), a consequence of our lack of commitment to creating a culture that is passionate about exploration.
Sure, it is true that we can launch rockets into space and use our telescopes to view our universe like never before. We have the ability to study black holes from the comfort of our own planet and can drive remote control cars around on the surfaces of other planets. In fact, one of those recent joy rides seemed to reveal that our neighbor Mars might be able to support or has supported life as we know it. This isn’t really “exploration” though. This is doing what Galileo and Copernicus did in more sophisticated ways. The great explorers of our past didn’t really care what was out on the horizon as much as they wanted to just see what nobody else had ever seen. We need a new Christopher Columbus today.
The new frontier is (and has been for like 50 years) space and we should be dedicated to exploring it in the same ways we have always explored things: by sending people out in vessels only to send back information about the strange new things they saw on their journey. We aren’t doing this because it is not a national priority. We currently do not see value in reviving what has always been true about the human spirit, reviving our need to explore. This might be because the world only has a small tolerance for global S&T projects. Currently, it would be easy to argue that we would rather spend our dollars and our time trying to figure out a grand unified theory of nature. I am not saying that the 1.1 billion spent on CERN by 21 nations is a bad thing, I am actually saying that it would be great if we were doing more things like this and one of them should be getting people to space.
I felt it was appropriate that on Columbus Day to write about exploring new frontiers. This is something we not only should be doing, this is something we need to be doing. It is in our DNA. The reason we are not is because it is this kind of S&T policy that is not a priority of the United States people and leaders. We are the only true leader in today’s world and if we made this a priority, others would follow. We need a new S&T policy priority dedicated to exploring the new world, to exploring the last frontier. We need a new Christopher Columbus.