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Should Christians care about space exploration?
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Readers of Catholic Online and beyond commonly ask why we care about what happens in space. After all, if our purpose is to love and serve the Lord, what need do we have of space exploration? Why bother sending rovers to Mars when there are children to be fed, diseases to be fought, and souls to be saved right here on Earth?
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LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - These are excellent questions that demand immediate answers. The US spends tens of billions of dollars annually on space exploration and activities that take place outside of the Earth's atmosphere. Other nations spend likewise. Wouldn't we do better to feed people, give them medicines, and spread the word of God with that money?
Astronomers and astronauts actually help with all of the above. The problem is that the connections are not always very clear, and astronomers aren't very good at marketing.
Every day, we use and take for granted dozens of things that we have as a result of space exploration. We also appreciate a growing understanding of our universe and our place within creation.
While the scriptures give us sufficient answers to these questions, insofar as our souls may be concerned, it turns out that the benefits of such exploration, when applied to our good works on Earth, can do a lot to further our Christian mission.
Humans have always been inquisitive. It is very much in our genes and a direct product of our creation. It is in our nature to explore frontiers. God did not create humans to live comfortably in cradles, but rather to go forth, work, and to seek Him wherever we go. In so doing we serve God and one another.
Among the best examples of this is the work of great evangelizers such as Father Junipero Serra. Although contact between the Europeans and Native Americans can hardly be described in positive terms, the one benefit that did come from the experience was the spread of the gospel and the conversion of millions to the faith.
Father Serra set an example for us. He was not content to stay safe in Spain, secluded in prayer or busied with work at home, but rather he travelled far afield to evangelize people who had no specific knowledge of God.
In exploring space and doing science, we have an opportunity to serve one another, and in so doing, perform the work of the Lord. And the good news is we can do this without conflict and pestilence, a tragic reality that cast a pall over the good works done by so many among the native peoples of the Americas.
So what has the space program given us? Consider these specific examples and how they are used to promote the faith.
Enriched baby food, water purification, portable coolers and warmers, quartz crystal timing equipment, solar energy, weather forecasting, plant research (better crops, stable food supply), environmental analysis, sewage treatment, ultrasound scanners (used for seeing babies in the womb!), a wide variety of medical advances, cellular communications (your phone and mobile devices), and many, many more in different areas. Here is a more thorough list, yet by no means complete.
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In short, research done for the space program has given us technology that we use every day to go about our daily business. And this technology, developed to send people into space and rovers to Mars, can be used right here on Earth to do Christian service to our brothers and sisters.
Consider weather and environmental forecasting. We can predict drought and other weather disasters where before it was mostly guesswork or short notice. We can now shift food and resources to needy regions in advance of disaster. This work saves countless lives each year, all around the world.
Consider the work missionaries do. Missionaries could work without the safety and benefit of modern technology, but why? The printing press allowed missionaries to carry the scriptures to the corners of the world. Likewise, satellite phones, water purification systems, and modern engineering techniques, help to stabilize native economies and protect missionaries as they go about their work. The end result is more people are brought to the Lord now than ever before.
But this still doesn't explain why studying Mars or a black hole in deep space is practical to us as Christians. That's because it can be difficult to draw these connections outright. For example, the printing press means more Bibles for more people. Billions of dollars spent on evangelization and food makes for a clear connection to faithful living. A new rocket or a space telescope does not enjoy such a clear connection.
Yet, these objects are tools. They serve as test beds for new technology, and they inspire designers to do more. That means even more tools. And the tools given us by the space program are perhaps some of the most practical tools invented since the printing press for doing the Lord's work.
It may be that these tools are not invented with God in mind. Yet, with a little modification, we can repurpose them for the Lord's work.
Why spend millions to study a black hole or a distant galaxy? Because for the believer, as we delve deeper into the mysteries of the universe, we delve deeper into the mysteries of God. As a child, I once asked my father a question he could not answer. In the backyard with my telescope, marveling at the stars, I asked "Why would people ever turn to drugs or alcohol when God has created all these amazing sights for us to enjoy?" As a child, I felt I could see the very face of God in the cosmos, and I had no need for anything more to sooth the anxieties of youth. It was difficult for me to understand anyone needing anything more.
I believe that when we follow our inquisitive nature, a nature given to us by God, we learn more about Him and our place, just as he wanted us to do. When we repurpose the tools of our finest scientists and engineers for His work, we glorify God and find new opportunities to perform works of charity, mercy, and faith.
We have science and our space program to thank for these tools and understandings. Certainly, they cost time, money, and energy, but once developed we, as faithful believers, apply them to our calling as Christians and we cannot fail to follow in the footsteps of the great evangelizers of the age of exploration.
In this time, when our Holy Father calls us to a mission of new evangelization, I cannot think of a better ally to have than science and all the tools it provides for the work of the Lord.
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