News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion
FRIDAY, JULY 8, 2005


Benefits of exploration not tallied in dollars

With federal debt spiraling out of control, the most obvious reaction would be to cut programs without clear economic benefits. Programs like space exploration and the study of pre-historic life.

We applaud recent news suggesting governmental officials recognize such activities have an intrinsic value not visible in columns of red and black.

NASA demonstrated its ongoing vitality when it hurled a space probe into a comet. The expensive exercise will almost certainly produce no short-term benefits. Any long-term benefits are unlikely to add a penny to the U.S. budget.

Also in the news were continuing excavations in this state that are unearthing fossilized remains of the mosasaur, of a saber-toothed fish and of duck-billed dinosaurs.

Fascinating, but how can we cash in on the discoveries?

The obvious but incomplete answer to that question is, "We can't."

What we derive from programs like the space probe and archeological digs is not money. Rather, it is an increasing understanding of the universe and our place in it.

Both studies provide clues not just of our history but of our future. They give us a glimpse of the miraculous events leading to our creation and of our own smallness within the infinite reaches of the universe.

The dollars that go toward space exploration and archeology could provide tremendous relief to those saddled with hunger and disease. As a species, though, our ability to study the past and future is unique in the history of this planet and, possibly, in the history of the universe.

The self-knowledge that comes from such observations is an opportunity that we must grasp.

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