Why Explore Space? A 1970 Letter to a Nun in Africa

Ernst Stuhlinger (1913-2008)

Ernst Stuhlinger wrote this letter on May 6, 1970, to Sister Mary Jucunda, a nun who worked among the starving children of Kabwe, Zambia, in Africa, who questioned the value of space exploration. At the time Dr. Stuhlinger was Associate Director for Science at the Marshall Space Flight Center, in Huntsville, Alabama. Touched by Sister Mary’s concern and sincerity, his beliefs about the value of space exploration were expressed in his reply to Sister Mary. It remains, more than four decades later, an eloquent statement of the value of the space exploration endeavor. Born in Germany in 1913, Dr. Stuhlinger received a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Tuebingen in 1936. He was a member of the German rocket development team at Peenemünde, and came to the United States in 1946 to work for the U.S. Army at Fort Bliss, Texas. He moved to Huntsville in 1950 and continued working for the Army at Redstone Arsenal until the Marshall Space Flight Center was formed in 1960. Dr. Stuhlinger received numerous awards and widespread recognition for his research in propulsion. He received the Exceptional Civilian Service Award for his part in launching of Explorer 1, America’s first Earth satellite.

Dear Sister Mary Jucunda:

Your letter was one of many which are reaching me every day, but it has touched me more deeply than all the others because it came so much from the depths of a searching mind and a compassionate heart. I will try to answer your question as best as I possibly can.

First, however, I would like to express my great admiration for you, and for all your many brave sisters, because you are dedicating your lives to the noblest cause of man: help for his fellowmen who are in need.

You asked in your letter how I could suggest the expenditures of billions of dollars for a voyage to Mars, at a time when many children on this Earth are starving to death. I know that you do not expect an answer such as “Oh, I did not know that there are children dying from hunger, but from now on I will desist from any kind of space research until mankind has solved that problem!” In fact, I have known of famined children long before I knew that a voyage to the planet Mars is technically feasible. However, I believe, like many of my friends, that travelling to the Moon and eventually to Mars and to other planets is a venture which we should undertake now, and I even believe that this project, in the long run, will contribute more to the solution of these grave problems we are facing here on Earth than many other potential projects of help which are debated and discussed year after year, and which are so extremely slow in yielding tangible results.

Before trying to describe in more detail how our space program is contributing to the solution of our Earthly problems, I would like to relate briefly a supposedly true story, which may help support the argument. About 400 years ago, there lived a count in a small town in Germany. He was one of the benign counts, and he gave a large part of his income to the poor in his town. This was much appreciated, because poverty was abundant during medieval times, and there were epidemics of the plague which ravaged the country frequently. One day, the count met a strange man. He had a workbench and little laboratory in his house, and he labored hard during the daytime so that he could afford a few hours every evening to work in his laboratory. He ground small lenses from pieces of glass; he mounted the lenses in tubes, and he used these gadgets to look at very small objects. The count was particularly fascinated by the tiny creatures that could be observed with the strong magnification, and which he had never seen before. He invited the man to move with his laboratory to the castle, to become a member of the count’s household, and to devote henceforth all his time to the development and perfection of his optical gadgets as a special employee of the count.

The townspeople, however, became angry when they realized that the count was wasting his money, as they thought, on a stunt without purpose. “We are suffering from this plague,” they said, “while he is paying that man for a useless hobby!” But the count remained firm. “I give you as much as I can afford,” he said, “but I will also support this man and his work, because I know that someday something will come out of it!”

Indeed, something very good came out of this work, and also out of similar work done by others at other places: the microscope. It is well known that the microscope has contributed more than any other invention to the progress of medicine, and that the elimination of the plague and many other contagious diseases from most parts of the world is largely a result of studies which the microscope made possible.

The count, by retaining some of his spending money for research and discovery, contributed far more to the relief of human suffering than he could have contributed by giving all he could possibly spare to his plague-ridden community.

The situation which we are facing today is similar in many respects. The President of the United States is spending about 200 billion dollars in his yearly budget [more than $2 trillion in 2012]. This money goes to health, education, welfare, urban renewal, highways, transportation, foreign aid, defense, conservation, science, agriculture and many installations inside and outside the country. About 1.6 percent of this national budget was allocated to space exploration this year [less than .5 of one percent in 2012]. The space program includes Project Apollo, and many other smaller projects in space physics, space astronomy, space biology, planetary projects, Earth resources projects, and space engineering. To make this expenditure for the space program possible, the average American taxpayer with 10,000 dollars income per year is paying about 30 tax dollars for space. The rest of his income, 9,970 dollars, remains for his subsistence, his recreation, his savings, his other taxes, and all his other expenditures.

You will probably ask now: “Why don’t you take 5 or 3 or 1 dollar out of the 30 space dollars which the average American taxpayer is paying, and send these dollars to the hungry children?” To answer this question, I have to explain briefly how the economy of this country works. The situation is very similar in other countries. The government consists of a number of departments (Interior, Justice, Health, Education and Welfare, Transportation, Defense, and others) and the bureaus (National Science Foundation, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and others). All of them prepare their yearly budgets according to their assigned missions, and each of them must defend its budget against extremely severe screening by congressional committees, and against heavy pressure for economy from the Bureau of the Budget and the President. When the funds are finally appropriated by Congress, they can be spent only for the line items specified and approved in the budget.

The budget of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, naturally, can contain only items directly related to aeronautics and space. If this budget were not approved by Congress, the funds proposed for it would not be available for something else; they would simply not be levied from the taxpayer, unless one of the other budgets had obtained approval for a specific increase which would then absorb the funds not spent for space. You realize from this brief discourse that support for hungry children, or rather a support in addition to what the United States is already contributing to this very worthy cause in the form of foreign aid, can be obtained only if the appropriate department submits a budget line item for this purpose, and if this line item is then approved by Congress.

You may ask now whether I personally would be in favor of such a move by our government. My answer is an emphatic yes. Indeed, I would not mind at all if my annual taxes were increased by a number of dollars for the purpose of feeding hungry children, wherever they may live.

I know that all of my friends feel the same way. However, we could not bring such a program to life merely by desisting from making plans for voyages to Mars. On the contrary, I even believe that by working for the space program I can make some contribution to the relief and eventual solution of such grave problems as poverty and hunger on Earth. Basic to the hunger problem are two functions: the production of food and the distribution of food. Food production by agriculture, cattle ranching, ocean fishing and other large-scale operations is efficient in some parts of the world, but drastically deficient in many others. For example, large areas of land could be utilized far better if efficient methods of watershed control, fertilizer use, weather forecasting, fertility assessment, plantation programming, field selection, planting habits, timing of cultivation, crop survey and harvest planning were applied.

The best tool for the improvement of all these functions, undoubtedly, is the artificial Earth satellite. Circling the globe at a high altitude, it can screen wide areas of land within a short time; it can observe and measure a large variety of factors indicating the status and condition of crops, soil, droughts, rainfall, snow cover, etc., and it can radio this information to ground stations for appropriate use. It has been estimated that even a modest system of Earth satellites equipped with Earth resources, sensors, working within a program for worldwide agricultural improvements, will increase the yearly crops by an equivalent of many billions of dollars.

The distribution of the food to the needy is a completely different problem. The question is not so much one of shipping volume, it is one of international cooperation. The ruler of a small nation may feel very uneasy about the prospect of having large quantities of food shipped into his country by a large nation, simply because he fears that along with the food there may also be an import of influence and foreign power. Efficient relief from hunger, I am afraid, will not come before the boundaries between nations have become less divisive than they are today. I do not believe that space flight will accomplish this miracle over night. However, the space program is certainly among the most promising and powerful agents working in this direction.

Let me only remind you of the recent near-tragedy of Apollo 13. When the time of the crucial reentry of the astronauts approached, the Soviet Union discontinued all Russian radio transmissions in the frequency bands used by the Apollo Project in order to avoid any possible interference, and Russian ships stationed themselves in the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans in case an emergency rescue would become necessary. Had the astronaut capsule touched down near a Russian ship, the Russians would undoubtedly have expended as much care and effort in their rescue as if Russian cosmonauts had returned from a space trip. If Russian space travelers should ever be in a similar emergency situation, Americans would do the same without any doubt.

Higher food production through survey and assessment from orbit, and better food distribution through improved international relations, are only two examples of how profoundly the space program will impact life on Earth. I would like to quote two other examples: stimulation of technological development, and generation of scientific knowledge.

The requirements for high precision and for extreme reliability which must be imposed upon the components of a moon-travelling spacecraft are entirely unprecedented in the history of engineering. The development of systems which meet these severe requirements has provided us a unique opportunity to find new material and methods, to invent better technical systems, to manufacturing procedures, to lengthen the lifetimes of instruments, and even to discover new laws of nature.

All this newly acquired technical knowledge is also available for application to Earth-bound technologies. Every year, about a thousand technical innovations generated in the space program find their ways into our Earthly technology where they lead to better kitchen appliances and farm equipment, better sewing machines and radios, better ships and airplanes, better weather forecasting and storm warning, better communications, better medical instruments, better utensils and tools for everyday life. Presumably, you will ask now why we must develop first a life support system for our moon-travelling astronauts, before we can build a remote-reading sensor system for heart patients. The answer is simple: significant progress in the solutions of technical problems is frequently made not by a direct approach, but by first setting a goal of high challenge which offers a strong motivation for innovative work, which fires the imagination and spurs men to expend their best efforts, and which acts as a catalyst by including chains of other reactions.

Spaceflight without any doubt is playing exactly this role. The voyage to Mars will certainly not be a direct source of food for the hungry. However, it will lead to so many new technologies and capabilities that the spin-offs from this project alone will be worth many times the cost of its implementation.

Besides the need for new technologies, there is a continuing great need for new basic knowledge in the sciences if we wish to improve the conditions of human life on Earth. We need more knowledge in physics and chemistry, in biology and physiology, and very particularly in medicine to cope with all these problems which threaten man’s life: hunger, disease, contamination of food and water, pollution of the environment.

We need more young men and women who choose science as a career and we need better support for those scientists who have the talent and the determination to engage in fruitful research work. Challenging research objectives must be available, and sufficient support for research projects must be provided. Again, the space program with its wonderful opportunities to engage in truly magnificent research studies of moons and planets, of physics and astronomy, of biology and medicine is an almost ideal catalyst which induces the reaction between the motivation for scientific work, opportunities to observe exciting phenomena of nature, and material support needed to carry out the research effort.

Among all the activities which are directed, controlled, and funded by the American government, the space program is certainly the most visible and probably the most debated activity, although it consumes only 1.6 percent of the total national budget, and 3 per mille (less than one-third of 1 percent) of the gross national product. As a stimulant and catalyst for the development of new technologies, and for research in the basic sciences, it is unparalleled by any other activity. In this respect, we may even say that the space program is taking over a function which for three or four thousand years has been the sad prerogative of wars.

How much human suffering can be avoided if nations, instead of competing with their bomb-dropping fleets of airplanes and rockets, compete with their moon-travelling space ships! This competition is full of promise for brilliant victories, but it leaves no room for the bitter fate of the vanquished, which breeds nothing but revenge and new wars.

Although our space program seems to lead us away from our Earth and out toward the moon, the sun, the planets, and the stars, I believe that none of these celestial objects will find as much attention and study by space scientists as our Earth. It will become a better Earth, not only because of all the new technological and scientific knowledge which we will apply to the betterment of life, but also because we are developing a far deeper appreciation of our Earth, of life, and of man.

“Earthrise,” one of the most powerful and iconic images from the Apollo program, was taken in December 1968 during the Apollo 8 mission. This view of the rising Earth greeted the Apollo 8 astronauts as they came from behind the Moon after the first lunar orbit. Used as a symbol of the planet’s fragility, it juxtaposes the grey, lifeless Moon in the foreground with the blue and white Earth teeming with life hanging in the blackness of space.

The photograph which I enclose with this letter shows a view of our Earth as seen from Apollo 8 when it orbited the moon at Christmas, 1968. Of all the many wonderful results of the space program so far, this picture may be the most important one. It opened our eyes to the fact that our Earth is a beautiful and most precious island in an unlimited void, and that there is no other place for us to live but the thin surface layer of our planet, bordered by the bleak nothingness of space. Never before did so many people recognize how limited our Earth really is, and how perilous it would be to tamper with its ecological balance. Ever since this picture was first published, voices have become louder and louder warning of the grave problems that confront man in our times: pollution, hunger, poverty, urban living, food production, water control, overpopulation. It is certainly not by accident that we begin to see the tremendous tasks waiting for us at a time when the young space age has provided us the first good look at our own planet.

Very fortunately though, the space age not only holds out a mirror in which we can see ourselves, it also provides us with the technologies, the challenge, the motivation, and even with the optimism to attack these tasks with confidence. What we learn in our space program, I believe, is fully supporting what Albert Schweitzer had in mind when he said: “I am looking at the future with concern, but with good hope.”

My very best wishes will always be with you, and with your children.

Very sincerely yours,

Ernst Stuhlinger

Associate Director for Science

This entry was posted in Apollo, Applications Satellites, Cold War Competition, Earth Science, History, Lunar Exploration, Personal, Politics, Science, Space and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

100 Responses to Why Explore Space? A 1970 Letter to a Nun in Africa

  1. Brian Green says:

    This is a wonderful piece of history, thanks for posting it. The Mars Society on Facebook linked here, that’s how I found it, by the way. I don’t know if you have any interest, but I just posted a Christian defense of space exploration on my own blog, if you are interested. The story at the end offers an opposing viewpoint to the nun in this letter; it concerns some very poor Pacific islanders who thought we should definitely go back to the Moon. http://moralmindfield.wordpress.com/2012/01/05/should-christians-care-about-space-exploration/

    Once again great post and thanks.


    • launiusr says:

      Thanks much. I’m glad you liked it. Thanks for sharing your link.


    • Karim says:

      It’s a horrible letter.
      It’s insulting to my intelligence and probably to the intelligence of the nun.
      It doesn’t even answer the question.
      It’s technocratic and blind to the big picture of why people fund space travel and not feeding hungry children (not the ones in Africa anyway).
      It’s so pathetically idealistic and idiotic.

      If I asked such a simple question like that, and received a long letter like this, I would have thrown it in the garbage without having bothered to have read it.

      40 years later there are millions of kids dying of hunger every year, and yet we could eliminate this OVERNIGHT if we wanted to.

      But, no want wants to, no one cares.

      People prefer going to space, whatever the consequences of the program are.


      • Let me give you a short answer, contained in this letter: The expenditures in space exploration are not really significant. If you want to destroy poverty in half, do not attack space exploration, science, or education funds; attack defense. The scientific and technological advances from space exploration greatly exceed the investments, but we toss billions of dollars to the “defense” trash can every day.

        Good day, and God bless you.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Typo… as I was editing my comment I ended up with half of a new sentence and half of the old version. It should read as follows:

        …If you want to destroy poverty overnight, do not attack…


      • karim says:

        I never attacked space travel I’m actually in favor of it 100 %. You miss read and misinterpreted what I wrote. I’m disgusted by the guy’s letter, by his stupid answer.I’m quite disgusted by anyone who keeps suggesting non sense rational reason that try and justify what we do instead of just simply and truthfully saying: “It’s like this because we chose this, it’s more important to us”.

        Even with huge space and defense budgets we could eliminate poverty overnight…we just chose not to, because we don’t care.


      • Daniel says:

        It is true, that 40 years later, there are still kids dying of hunger, but it is much much much smaller % then it was 40 years ago. Also as you can see, we CANNOT eliminated itovernight. if we could, we would do it. Solving hunger problems are political issues, not technological. The society is not ready to deal with it now. It will take many more years. Just imagine what would happen with the food prices if there would be free food for hungry people? But there is progress and one day, we will see it done. It might not be that far in the future, maybe 20 or 30 years?

        Liked by 1 person

      • You are not against spending for space exploration but you didn’t like his answer? What would have made you satisfied? Would you rather his answer have been, screw you lady, take a hike?

        The nun asked, and he answered thoughtfully and respectfully. He obviously spent a lot of time writing the letter. He had no obligation towards this nun, or to answer her question. I’m at a loss.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Sonali says:

        I think its only because of the reasons given in the reply by the eminent scientist that we are today able to sustain such a huge population. Yes, poverty is there but see the number of people that are getting food now. In fact there is more production then we require but there is also hunger not due to less food but due to bad politics.

        Liked by 1 person

      • ed green says:

        I suppose you would have preferred an answer such as “Don’t have babies that you can’t feed and you won’t have starving children.” At least that way you would feel comfortable in your belief that space exploration is a waste of resources and that people who endeavor to travel into space are cold and callous people….Can’t they see that starving children the world over need to be fed? I find it interesting that 40 years later there are still starving children. Shouldn’t they have perished by now?
        I thought the article summed up very well that the dollars spent have returned many times over improvements to monumental problems that mankind has faced throughout history. Apparently, there are always going to be wars and there are always going to be starving children.


      • Roger says:

        The only way you would eliminate hunger overnight is to overthrow every government that has starving children so you could actually get the food where it is supposed to be. Good luck with that.


  2. StarFortress says:

    Over 40 years later, this letter is the eloquence I lack in explaining how important space is to the future of humanity. I was shopping and overheard a woman asking why we should go back to the Moon. “We already know everything about the Moon.” No, we don’t. She said the same thing about Mars.

    Just look up, there’s a whole universe out there just waiting for us. Let’s go!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Can I translate this post in italian and publish it on my site? Thanks


  4. Pingback: Why should we explore space? « Exploration and Life

  5. Thanks for posting this. I had never read the full letter before. Very familiar indeed!


  6. Ken says:

    Dr. Stuhlinger’s thoughtful, measured response was and is exactly what needs to be sent to every decision maker in the G-20. The top economies of the world need to expand on the outstanding cooperative efforts already underway on the ISS, ESA&NASA’s collaborations, for example.
    Thank you for posting this letter-I wish to use it on my website to answer the question ‘Why we explore?’
    -Ken Brandt, Director
    Robeson Planetarium and Science Center
    Volunteer, JPL/NASA Solar System Educator Program

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Drew Brown says:

    What was Sister Mary Jucunda’s reaction?


  8. Gebo says:

    Great post. If someone asks me (again) why we should spend money on space, I will redirect them here.


  9. photonicpat says:

    Reblogged this on Patricia Daukantas, Science Writer/Editor and commented:
    Something eloquent to think about, and a powerful argument for science education.


  10. I was fortunate to get to speak to Dr. Stuhlinger on several occasions while I was working on my MA Thesis on the Von Braun Team. He was an articulate, well-reasoned, thoughtful spokesman for an aggressive human space program. The Von Braun Team happened to be the right engineers, in the right place, at exactly the right time in our nation’s history to lead us to the moon. The Von Braun Team was able to work at a time when we were in direct competition with the Soviet Union for the high ground of space. The Cold War was a great incentive for public support and to get money out of Congress to achieve JFK’s inspirational goal. Currently it is a much more difficult proposition now to unite enough of the American people to bring pressure on our members of Congress to intelligently fund our space program. We have a plethora of partisan political issues that have distracted our nation from following up on the Shuttle program. We have to come together as supporters of an aggressive robotic and manned space program to lobby our members of Congress to put aside petty politics for the national good. Maybe joining an advocacy group like the Planetary Society might be beneficial to our cause.


  11. Cc says:

    Reblogged this on To Christen a Name and commented:
    When you gaze at the stars, don’t forget to watch your step.


  12. Pingback: Why Explore Space? » GharVale

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  15. Someone brought this up on another Forum and thought it was worth asking here. Who is the person who lived in the Castle with the count that led to the Microscope? I can’t find any evidence for this story either. The only Microscope inventors I could find any mention of 400 years ago are:

    1590 – Two Dutch eye glass makers, Zaccharias Janssen and son Hans Janssen experimented with multiple lenses placed in a tube. The Janssens observed that viewed objects in front of the tube appeared greatly enlarged, creating both the forerunner of the compound microscope and the telescope.

    1665 – English physicist, Robert Hooke looked at a sliver of cork through a microscope lens and noticed some “pores” or “cells” in it.

    1674 – Anton van Leeuwenhoek built a simple microscope with only one lens to examine blood, yeast, insects and many other tiny objects. Leeuwenhoek was the first person to describe bacteria, and he invented new methods for grinding and polishing microscope lenses that allowed for curvatures providing magnifications of up to 270 diameters, the best available lenses at that time.


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  17. That letter could not have been written any better! I applaud Ernst Stuhlinger for this beautifully written letter and the utmost respect he showed Sister Mary.


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  22. Kareen says:

    Beautiful letter. Thank you.


  23. There are much more effective ways to achieve food production and distribution than through space exploration. Have we found anything useful in space? Not that I know of. Just a bunch of dead lifeless rocks, some with mineral resources that are too difficult and costly to retrieve.

    Much more effective use of the money, for example, would be better utilizing the sea for human needs, such as water, food and living space.


    • Leon says:

      What an ignorant answer. Have you read the letter from Dr. Stuhlinger at all?
      He clearly states that even though the goal is different, the solutions created in name of space innovation are extremely useful at solving earthly problems. I recommend reading the letter again.

      Liked by 1 person

    • non says:

      Polar orbits, for consistent imaging surveys of crops for one thing. A lot has been accomplished by orbital imaging, like Stuhlinger suggests.

      To even know the situation on Earth, you have to actually see it, and, on a large scale, it’s best accomplished by satelites looking down. In fact, most satelites are looking down for these very reasons.

      Another thing we need satelites for is to distribute these findings. I’ve heard of a project for the purchase of a communication satelite that would service poor parts of Africa, and give them new information needed to improve their own agriculture.

      Is it really such a waste?

      Liked by 1 person

  24. Bud the Spud says:

    I call BS on that Microscope story. This condescending parable ruined an otherwise eloquent letter.


  25. Space exploration allowed us to get media satellites up into space which allow news and images of disasters around the world to be reported almost instantly when they occur.

    I think it’s fair to question the size of governments’ space budgets, but you can’t deny that at least some aspects of space exploration have had a positive impact on society.


  26. Reblogged this on La mar de tranquila and commented:
    Carta de Ernst Stuhlinger, Director asociado de ciencia en el Marshall Space Center, a una monja que le recriminaba el porqué se mandaban misiones al espacio cuando en la tierra los niños se seguían muriendo de hambre.


  27. mwangy says:

    Reblogged this on Mwangy's Musings and commented:
    Couldnt have put it better


  28. Andrew in Calgary says:

    There will always be people, who can only think in terms of a mutually exclusive manner. For them, it is either proposition A or proposition B, not some possible mixture. We either feed the hungry or just do space exploration. They cannot envisage that the two ventures may coexist.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Pal says:

    I’m saddened to read this diarrhea of eloquence and to see the waste of misdirection addressing earthly problems. Science is indeed important but better serves when applied directly addressing specifics not as the byproduct of another endeavor. This question is best answered as a step by step process not jumping from challenge to challenge just because we can. While I’m sure space travel will some day be a meaningful endeavor. We get ahead of ourselves not dealing with home before we venture from home. At this rate one day there may be nothing to return to. Throwing money at problems is seldom a good fix. Applying science allows for real solutions, but only if targeting directly solutions to specifics. While unexpected byproduct solutions have their value they are seldom elegant and tend to be unfocused and plain wasteful. As a baby must first learn to crawl, then walk and eventually run. We need need to remember this logic and fix our home before we venture into the bling of space travel.


    • Eric says:

      “Run before you can walk, fly before you can run, reach for the very heavens and if you fail, at least it was impossible” to paraphrase Sir Terry Pratchett. Not exploring, not discovering, not adventuring into the unknown depths of knowledge just because it’s not being applied to a specific problem is horribly short sighted and completely lacking in any modicum of wonder or romantic spirit.

      Someday, somehow, staying on Earth will kill us. The history of our planet is a history of extinction and at each moment any of a hundred cosmic events that we can’t foresee or prevent could sterilize the entire human race in a heartbeat. Until we spread our stellar wings, until we expand into the cold empty void and take foothold on some distant shore then all of our eggs are in one basket and we are at the mercy of vast and unsympathetic universe.

      Of course we need to take care of problems at home, no sane person would suggest otherwise, but to not look ahead and innovate for the sake of innovation, to not explore just because we don’t know where it will lead us? Then the entire human race and everything we could become will disappear forever.

      Liked by 1 person

  30. Jeannius says:

    That was a beautiful letter. My brother and I just had this conversation about 3 days ago. I could not provide an answer back then but now I just linked this to facebook… Also, on another note, I think the direct funding of NASA projects via a vehicle like kickstarter would be a win-win situation. From what I am reading, there seem to be tremendous enthusiasm for such an idea (twitter hashtag #fundNASA).

    Liked by 1 person

  31. HankTheTank says:

    The problem with your opinion, Pal, is how ignorant it is. You were either fortunate enough to born recently enough to not be aware of the benefits of what spacefaring technology has given the world (and take note that I say the world, not simply spacefaring nations) or were oblivious to the rapid evolution of technology in the world. You would do well to take the time and read about NASA’s, ESA’s, JAXA’s, various universities, overwhelming contributions to the welfare and benefit of mankind. Not only technology derived from space exploration has found its way into medicine, food production, and the store front but so has research specifically aimed at studying those things. Frankly, your argument is shallow and empty. Before you bother posting again, as an exercise, I challenge you to spend at least a total of two to three hours reading about the benefits of space technology and how its accelerating our understanding of our earth-bound problems and leading to solutions. I’ll even help: http://wtfnasa.com/# , http://spacecoalition.com/benefits-of-space?doing_wp_cron , http://www.esa.int/esaCP/Improving.html. , http://www.universetoday.com/37079/benefits-of-space-exploration/

    Liked by 1 person

  32. me says:

    The story of microscope was quite motivational. The remaining dense theory: I agree but the time to produce the desirable result is increasingly long. Nice article BTW…


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  35. maximusgladius says:

    Reblogged this on Max Lamb.


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  37. butnmshr says:

    One of the most beautiful things ive ever read….


  38. Roxiris Castro says:

    My thoughts were like the nun, but had changed after reading this letter!! People like you, taking the time to explain things so clear, will make a better understanding at our doubts. Thank You!!


  39. Reblogged this on Human Mathematics and commented:
    So the argument is that technological advances will eventually reduce poverty. But it seems clear that social structures (tribalism, feudalism, capitalism, socialism) determine the economics of the poor more than technology does. For instance many cheap medical technologies do not get to the poor, much like food doesn’t, because they don’t have enough money.

    The fact that he resorts to “The bureaucracy says we can’t” and “I would if I could” is a non-argument against why money should be given to the poor rather than to space research.

    The use of satellites / GIS is a strong one, but half a century later, still a billion hungry people. So it would seem the satellite technology didn’t solve the problem. Maybe I’m wrong and yields have increased in the poor areas but only not enough to eliminate human hunger.

    Dr Stuhlinger points out that international cooperation increases in response to space travel, but again it’s been insufficient to solve the problem of human hunger.

    The bit about “We need more young people to choose science as a career” seems wrong as well. You learn organic chemistry, not how to farm, at university, and the scientists who do get “good jobs” (could be at Lockheed) are making money for themselves, not money that creates remunerative job opportunities for the world’s poorest.

    The final point about nations competing with civilian achievemnt rather than military destruction is obvious, but besides the world wars, the greatest destruction of human life and property was in civil wars, police actions, or in some way involved governments or rebels killing intranationally rather than international competition. (Not that internationals were never involved.)


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  41. Dane Dormio says:

    I am in agreement with the spirit of this letter: we should stop squandering our planetary resources on “defence” and instead direct them towards quality of life improvements, including the radical advancement of science and technology, and abandon the ethos of international competition in favor of the ethos of planetary cooperation. However, I believe that two common misconceptions about the nature of the present human condition that appear here need to be seriously called into question:

    “Basic to the hunger problem are two functions: the production of food and the distribution of food.”

    Hunger and starvation are NOT functions of food production capacity, they are ENTIRELY functions of food distribution. Per the immutable laws of biology, no population can grow beyond the limits of its food supply. This includes the planetary human population. Increases in food production are inevitably followed by increases in population, including the percentage of the population that is malnourished. The much-touted “green revolution”, which effectively utilized industrial technologies to convert fossil fuels into agricultural output, was a success only as measured by the standard of worldwide population growth. It was not a success as measured by the standard of human well-being, as there are more malnourished and starving people in the world today than there were in the 1950’s. Since I realize that this concept will be hard for many to grasp, let alone accept, here is a more eloquent and lengthy exposition of it by Daniel Quinn: http://www.ishmael.org/Education/Writings/kentstate.cfm

    “Besides the need for new technologies, there is a continuing great need for new basic knowledge in the sciences if we wish to improve the conditions of human life on Earth.”

    Our technology has already reached the threshold necessary to provide a baseline quality of life for all human beings well above the level of mere subsistence, easily since the turn of the century and arguably since World War II. In terms of technological capacity, the post-scarcity regime is already well upon us. Further advances in technology are NOT NECESSARY to secure peace and well-being for all human beings. Granted, further advances in technology can and will continue to improve the baseline quality of life for all people, but physical lack of resources and technological capacity for production and distribution are NO LONGER the root cause of poverty, violence, sickness, and suffering. The causes of human suffering at this point are SOCIAL in origin, not technological. Claiming that we will begin managing our resources and our technology equitably and compassionately when we have enough ignores the fact that we ALREADY have enough. By a conservative estimate, at present at least 80% of our material resources as well as at least 80% of our human capital are being wasted by our existing worldwide industrial economy (while the 20% that are available are inequitably distributed). As a baseline, this means that the potential exists for a 2,500% increase in the quality of life of every human being on the planet by intelligent utilization of EXISTING TECHNOLOGY; we can expect the continuing advance of technology to lead to even further improvements in the quality of life of our descendants, if we choose to organize our social fabric accordingly.


  42. S says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RQhNZENMG1o (Neil deGrasse Tyson at UB: What NASA Means to America’s Future)


  43. Hilario says:

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  46. The nun, member of an organization that devotes billions every year to keep pedophiles living in golden buildings devoting their lives to a ridiculous superstition about a guy in the sky, questions how we spend money on some of the greatest science we’ve ever done. Interesting. How about you stop spending your money on lawyers for pedophiles, gold for the vatican, and media to spread your superstition, and give that to help those kids in Africa?

    Also, why don’t you start not by actually helping, but by not harming. Your organization supports genocide, xenophobia, sex-related discrimination, and is against things that Africa really needs like contraception.

    Given their record, and their anti-humanity stance, nobody even remotely related to anything catholic (or religious for that matter) can say anything that could be taken seriously on any real world matter.


    • While I can understand the criticism of the Catholic Church hierarchy gnualmafuerte I disagree about questioning the motivation of those who serve as Catholics to help the poor, oppressed and ostracized. The Social Gospel movement found in the liberal wing of the Catholic faith in the post-war era accomplished much in defiance of the Vatican. I believe it is in this spirit of serving those in need that prompted Sister Mary Jucunda to write about her concerns. I have long understood that there is a big disconnect between the worldview of many members of the Catholic faith versus the dogma being promulgated by the power structure of the Catholic Church hierarchy. We see the same type of behavior now with the Nuns on the Bus Tour out sharing that Social Gospel message drawing the ire and condemnation of the powers that be in the Vatican. Living in a Catholic city like New Orleans has given me a close-up view on the huge disconnect between the beliefs and behavior of the laity versus the illegal, immoral and hypocritical behavior of the Vatican and their representatives around the world. There is much to criticize and denounce in the unethical behavior of all organized religions but we shouldn’t paint all members of these faiths with the same brush.


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  50. Mr Sheetal Panchal says:

    We try to manage food for all on Earth

    Space Exploration is Answer of our Spiritual Existance Beyond Physical Galaxies
    Understanding Cosmic Behaviour will answer many basic needs easily

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  51. Rahul Vittal says:

    Reblogged this on inspired and commented:
    It looks like negativity is all over the place these days and spares nothing . Example: India’s mission to Mars. Despite the enormity of the achievement, there are many critics who say this was totally uncalled for. For those folks,here is a 40 year old rebuttal.


  52. Reblogged this on Charu Says and commented:
    Why do we have an expensive space program when the money could be used in ‘nobler’ causes? – Answered


  53. Bob says:

    An abject failure to justify science as the new religion upon whose altars we should sacrifice the lives of the starving. Why swap one set of blind theisms for another? We should definitely pursue scientific knowledge and exploration – but not at any cost. Certainly the loss of our moral integrity is too high a price to pay.


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  55. lawrence says:

    Eliminating hunger overnight will lead to more hunger. The problem lies with overpopulation by people who can least afford to feed their children.
    Give a man a fish and you feed him for one meal. Teach him to fish and you feed him for life.
    We should all first learn to accept that we are the same species and learn to live peacefully, co-operate together and improve this world. At the time this letter was written much of the space exploration costs could have been saved had the Super Powers worked together rather than competed with one another.
    We will never learn – we are doomed to destroy our own planet.


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  58. Anonymous says:

    Seems like the short version is: “Our political system doesn’t allow it; and it’s possible that space research will somehow help those starving children in some way.”

    This is a rather unsatisfying answer. If you already believe in the value of the science for its own sake, you need no convincing. If you don’t, then this is not going to change your mind.

    And if you want to attack the war/defense department, that makes even less sense. They did, after all, create what is now the internet, which seems to be helping developing countries far more than Project Apollo ever did.

    I’m generally in favor of scientific research but I’m getting a little tired of these empty justifications. In the Middle Ages, developing the microscope was a great step forward for science, and helped more than handing out bread. Today, we have all the tools we need to produce and distribute food and vaccines for everyone in the world. Nobody has proposed any new technology that a Mars mission could create or require that would help us in feeding the starving here on earth.

    We only need to invent the microscope once. Step two is to go use it to help other people here on earth.


    • J Merritt says:

      So you’d like to stop here then?

      I think you missed the point about science discovering the *unknown*. Consider: what if we’d stopped *before* the microscope had been invented? Someone like you may, at the time, have expressed an opinion similar to: “We only need to invent the wheel once. Step two is to go use it to help other people here on earth.” See the problem with that logic? If you have the wheel, but not the microscope, you have no way to see what problems might be solved after microscopy has been discovered, nor any knowledge of microbiology, etc. Similarly, we now don’t know what discoveries remain, and will not find out unless we proceed. However, history tells us in an unequivocal fashion that proceeding is valuable.


  59. David says:

    Government should not be funding space travel or feeding starving children. The former is best left to the private sector and the latter left to churches, missionaries, individuals, and charities.


    • Jwiz says:

      These days, maybe. But who would buy SpaceX rockets if NASA didn’t have federal funding?


    • You’d fit right in back in 1843 when Dickens wrote, “At this festive season of the year, Mr Scrooge, … it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.” “Are there no prisons?” “Plenty of prisons…” “And the Union workhouses.” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?” “Both very busy, sir…” “Those who are badly off must go there.” “Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.” “If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.” Thankfully we have evolved past such notions in modern society except for some Libertarians who fantasize about Ayn Rand.


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  62. Eric Mayo says:

    Maybe the people having kids who have no means to feed them should be sterilized. That would be a better use of my tax dollars.


  63. streetcrew2 says:

    I found it somewhat informative.


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  66. Stuhlinger’s letter is too long and unfocused. The bottom line is: we grow, or decline. A dynamic civilisation both solves its problems of development towards peace and prosperity and expands towards new frontiers, a stagnant one does neither.


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