Don’t forget fundamentals when reaching for the stars

Stock photo.
Stock photo.

A couple of years ago, the human race landed a spacecraft on a comet.

I wrote about it then, as this was no mean feat, both intellectually and financially.

I doubt, though, that the millions of people who wake up hungry and cold every morning gave much of a damn.

And since news of that landing blasted into the public area, absolutely nothing has changed for the have-nots.

I don’t understand why.

There are more arguments in favour of supporting “big gun” investment, such as space exploration, than there are against it.

We assume that, because nobody interviews homeless people living in backyard shacks about this type of thing.

If they do, I’d find the answers fascinating, as I’m always willing to be proved wrong.

But something leading international charity SolarAid said about the brouhaha surrounding spacecraft Rosetta’s successful mission has struck a chord with me.

It made me wonder — have we become so immune to the shameful shambles of poverty, corruption and greed that we’d rather look to the heavens than our own backyard?

The quote went like this: “Dear human race, congratulations on landing a probe on a comet 300-million miles (483-million kilometres) from earth. Any chance you could do something about the 1.3-billion people who have never even seen a light bulb?”

That launched a media storm. Pro-science and technology types were bashing the apparently anti-space stance, explaining quite logically that human exploration was necessary for human development, even if the benefits were not as immediately obvious or direct as soup kitchens, for example.

I tend towards the “charity begins at home” camp, as I feel strongly that we’ve become dumbed down and, to an extent, numbed to the problems facing the planet, mostly because we’re juggling a lot of distractions that blur reality — social media, AI technology, tiger mommy parenting and the increased cost of funding a pleasant lifestyle.

Many children study by candlelight, if they have any books at all.

I am firmly convinced that it’s far easier to argue and debate on a full stomach; intellectualism and chatter about global issues is a piece of cake when you’ve had enough cake to begin with.

So naturally, I sided with what I thought SolarAid was saying.

Who needs a space adventure when we could be planting vegetables instead?

And then it struck me that this wasn’t what SolarAid was saying at all.

Somehow, I think that whoever wrote their pithy copy scrambled the message.

In the organisation’s own words, this is why they said what they did: “A probe the size of a fridge has landed on a comet 300-million miles from earth.

“It just goes to show that the human race is capable of some truly amazing things.

“It was the space industry that brought us solar power and the space industry that continually pushes the boundaries of human achievement.

“Now if we can do this, think what else we could achieve?”

After all, it would be like people saying in previous centuries: “Why is Thomas Edison spending so much money developing light bulbs when there are people who don’t even have candles?”

And that’s fine. I get it — you can’t stop progress.

But while you’re doing it, don’t forget to make soup.

And if we can keep making a difference to just one family, cause or issue, then, by all means, set aside adventure funding for a space probe.

But make the soup first.