Doing what nature can’t

Recently we were reminded how difficult it is to reach the stars. The Orbital Sciences Antares rocket launch suffered a failure on Oct 28 during launch. A few days later, SpaceShipTwo suffered a failure during rocket powered flight and crashed. Unfortunately it took the life of one of the test pilot and the second is in the hospital. I wish him a speedy recovery. Investigations have just begun and the scientists and engineers will find out what went wrong in both accidents, and work to make sure it doesn’t happen again. That is the method of progress, you will fail, but then you get back up and do it better the next time.

It’s times like these that I think back on one fact: space exploration is hard. So difficult that nature doesn’t touch it. In the last decade there has been an influx of bio-inspired technologies. The idea is to study nature, which had hundreds of millions of years to get it right, and use the same concepts to create new technologies. One example is learning how fish swim or insects fly in order to built very small robots. Bio-inspired is also what a lot of medicine is based on. Before there was Tylenol there was willow bark and ginger, both used to relieve pain. Modern medicine exists because we have the scientific knowledge to understand why they relieve pain, and can concentrate those properties and develop more effective drugs.

However, no living thing that nature has ever created goes into space. Outer space is a very inhospitable place. No oxygen, no gravity, plenty of radiation, both very cold and very hot. Nonetheless, we humans have found the way to reach those lofty height and survive. We have flown higher than the birds, we have touched the moon, we have left the solar system (Voyager). As President Kennedy said, we do this “not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.” Space is a challenge, and it always will be. Our daily lives depend on the satellites that our ingenuity has placed in orbit around our planet. Our presence and exploration of space should never be commonplace, it should not be a given. Lets always remember that space exploration is probably the best example of our intelligence, our pursuit to be better, to do what is hard, to do what nature can’t.

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