We choose to go to the moon – but why?

5 Oct 2022

Image: © Skyelar/Stock.adobe.com (with elements furnished by NASA)

After decades of space exploration, Silicon Republic’s For Tech’s Sake podcast probes into the reasoning behind these incredible – and costly – ventures.

It has been 60 years since John F Kennedy famously said, “We choose to go to the moon.” His speech at Rice University on 12 September 1962 outlined with gusto the plan for NASA to put a human being on the moon before 1970. And they did.

The images of Neil Armstrong’s steps on the otherworldly lunar surface not only represented a phenomenal feat, but they captured the imaginations of the next generation who would continue our journeys into space.

In 2022, we continue to be fascinated by images from space, such as the latest from the $10bn James Webb Space Telescope, allowing us to see farther than ever before.

But are the billions in investment and decades of stellar innovation all really worth it?

Elaine Burke and Jenny Darmody ask this and more in episode one of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The Headstuff Podcast Network.

Delving deep into our fascination with whatever truths are out there, they spoke to two Irish scientists at the forefront of space-tech.

“Europe contributed roughly 15pc of the cost [of the James Webb Space Telescope],” explained Prof Tom Ray, who helped build the mid-infrared instrument (MIRI) responsible for capturing many of the stunning images from the observatory.

What that equates to, he said, is “a very cheap cup of coffee in 20 years. That’s the actual cost to the average European.”

Dr Patrick Kavanagh, who’s also a member of the international MIRI team, explained how technology developed for space often helps us on the ground.

“When you’re pushing the limits of what you want to investigate scientifically, you have to push the boundaries of technology. And, invariably, it spins off into industry,” he said.

“There’s a famous IDL [programming] language that was developed for astronomy years and years ago, that made its way … into the medical imaging industry, where X-rays and MRIs and such use that software to allow doctors to move stuff around in 3D and so on. And even that software was used by car companies to test seatbelts.”

Listen in to episode one of For Tech’s Sake to learn more.

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