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By 5 December 2014 | Categories: feature articles

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I don’t get space travel. This isn’t easy to come clean about, here on the pages of TechSmart, a publication that I am guessing has readers the majority of whom totally get space travel. Every time I am about to admit this, I imaging Neil Degrasse Tyson swooping down from the sky like a superhero to knock some appreciation of space exploration into me. This is a scary thought. Back in college, Neil was a pro wrestler.  And if he’s powerful enough to have entire planets declared null-and-void I’m guessing he’s powerful enough to open a can of whoopass upon me.

Still, though, I have to admit that when I hear about a tiny probe landing on a comet, various questions come to mind, among them “Why did the probe land on the comet?”; “Why must I care about the probe landing on the comet?”; and “Is it lunchtime yet?”. But when I ask these questions people get very touchy. They tell me that space exploration is extremely important and essential to the development of all mankind.

Some even say that space exploration can lead to discoveries that can advance research into fighting deadly diseases such as Cancer. This could be true, but I would go out on a limb and and suggest that maybe those doctors spending 24 hours a day in laboratories conducting stem cell research have more of a chance of making strides towards curing cancer than the scientists who are trying to attach probes to comets.

DISCLAIMER: I’m a musical comedian and actually know nothing at all about science, so I could be wrong about that. But I do find it strange that ‘I-love-science’ types, who usually pride themselves on how they put reason before emotions, become almost fanatical in their devotion to the merits of space travel.

If you are obsessed with space travel, part of me suspects that, although you’ll never admit it, the reason for this is that the part of you that wanted to be an astronaut when you grew up never fully went away. I think some people spend a lot of time trying to convince us that space travel is useful, when deep down inside it’s because they think that space travel is awesome.

Richard Branson has put a lot of money into convincing people that space travel is awesome, which isn’t the easiest of tasks after one of his test pilots died during a test flight in California’s Mojave desert. Before this tragic accident I read that Branson had managed to recruit plenty of A-List celebs for his debut space mission. Apparently the likes of Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Justin Bieber, Ashton Kutcher and Leonardo DiCaprio all shelled out $250 000 a ticket for the privilege of traveling through space for no particular good reason.

It has to be said that there are plenty of people that I would like to see travel into space, on condition that it is a one-way trip. Sending undesirable elements of our society into space, and then not sending them back, must be one of the most practical applications for space travel ever conceived. Perhaps we could start with our President Jacob Zuma. Now that’s a space mission I could get behind.

Article first published in TechSmart 135 (December 2014)

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