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Deep questions for 'deep exploration' posed at Space Symposium in Colorado Springs

April 5, 2017 Updated: April 6, 2017 at 8:28 am
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Participants at the Space Symposium Wednesday filled in a crucial gap in how scientists, military members, laymen and all those in between understand the tools necessary for far-reaching space exploration.

Known in the space world as "deep exploration," achieving missions like landing the first human on Mars, exploring Jupiter's moon Europa that is thought to have an oxygen atmosphere and water-ice crust, and finding other known solar systems with a tremendously high-powered telescope require more than just complicated hardware and brilliant minds - to succeed, scientists need a boundless imagination for what is possible.

"Oftentimes, we talk about space in terms of rapid dominance and the military," former astronaut and astrophysicist for NASA John Mace Grunsfeld said. "Today we are going to talk about the aspect of wonder and awe in space exploration."

The curiosity that will propel humans to Mars and to other planets, Grunsfeld and the other panelists argued, is the innate human desire to explore.

"I do believe we are genetically programmed to want to explore," added Grunsfeld, who managed the science program for the Hubble Space Telescope. "We evolved to be the dominant species because of our need to explore - not just our opposable thumbs - because it brings reasoning and curiosity."

The panelists posed fundamental questions that the most technical gadgets cannot answer: Where did the Earth come from? Where did humans come from? Where are we going? What is the trajectory of planet Earth? Of the universe? Of the climate of our planet? And, of course, are we alone in the universe? Is there other life out there?

Panelist John Arenberg, the chief engineer for the James Webb Space Telescope with Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, said that it takes a "bold leap" to translate these questions into action and to blend the curiosity to answer these fundamental questions with the readily available scientific technology.

"It's necessary to take the challenge to say, 'We can do this in 10 years,' and that's that," Arenberg said. "A project like a 'dream' telescope to see other solar systems would really open up the answers to these questions."

Robert Meyerson, the president of aerospace launch vehicles Blue Origin, echoed Arenberg, saying that we have to "work beyond this small region of space that we happen to reside in."

"I see a future where millions of people are living and working on the moon," Meyerson said. Addressing the owner of Blue Origin, "It was the vision of Jeff Bezos when he saw Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. The desire to explore is a fundamental part of who we are as human beings."

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