Race to inner space

A potential future marine biologist gets the feel of stream gravel up close and personal.SpaceX. Amazon. Virgin. NASA. All are organizations competing in humanity’s race to the stars. First the moon, then Mars, then …

The previous Space Race – the one that started with Pres. John F. Kennedy and ended with retirement of the space shuttle program, engendered interest in people who had previously no idea of traveling even across the next state, much less the next planet.

It’s good that President Trump has decided to support the outer space program, though I submit we should leave the heavy lifting to those super-wealthy commercial organizations already working on the problems that accompany escaping the surly bonds of Earth.

We should focus our tax-funded exploration resources in the other direction. The oceans are here, covering nearly three-quarters of the Earth’s surface. Most places, the water is way over my head, and getting deeper, and getting to it is much less expensive than getting to the moon.

In 2017, SpaceX boss Elon Musk said a ticket to fly around – not land on – the moon would cost the rider $35 million. The purchaser of that ticket better take along a few friends; Musk’s company said the price tag to launch the excursion would be $90 million.

In 2013, Hollywood director James Cameron became only the third person to take an $8M ride to the deepest place on Earth – nearly seven miles to the bottom of the Marianas Trench, in the western Pacific Ocean.

That year, We The People gave $3.8B to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for its efforts in space, and $23.7M to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for fishery management, weather and climate forecasting, ocean research and management, and other programs essential to Terran life.

We often speak of us and the environment as though we are separate entities, but we are all part of the living cosmic organism that is Planet Earth. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, up to 60 percent of our bodies is water. And nearly three-quarters of our planet is covered with the liquid, though only a tiny percentage is suitable for human consumption. Nearly all of it, from streams that start in the mountains to oceans replenished by rivers, is home to an assortment of plants, animals and geology about which we know very little.

Weather patterns affect what we do, and we are increasingly learning that what we do affects the weather patterns. June reportedly was our planet’s hottest month – ever. And then came July, anticipated, as the month approached its close, to eclipse June. It seems for the past couple years, nearly every month has been hotter than the previous one.

Fun fact: For every degree Celsius increase – about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit – the air can hold an additional 7% moisture. What goes up comes down, including water, in the form of increasingly severe storms.

Life, in general, is a balancing act, and each component – sharks, whales, elk, gophers and humans – lives in a narrow range of conditions. Warmer water holds less oxygen than cold water. Trout thrive in a cold freshwater stream. When the sun is high and the water warms, fisherfolk know to seek out deep, shaded pools to locate their quarry. If the water temperature exceeds 70 F, the fish suffocate.

While some of our young rocket jockeys figure out how to make Mars habitable, others of our young people, armed with education and curiosity, can explore the place we already live.

Let Musk, Bezos and Branson take us to the stars. We should see what we can learn from where we are. For myself, I may be found sitting in a creek, introducing myself to its inhabitants.

Thanks for coming along. I hope you enjoyed the ride. Comments are welcome, and please feel free to share. Click the “Share” button to share it on social media, or copy the URL and send it to friends and acquaintances you think might appreciate it.

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