Why do we do science (and at what cost?)

I read a great article the other day by my colleague and friend, Hannah Kerner.

Hannah found herself in a Bojangles' 1 with her father, who was asking her why space exploration is important. This is a conversation that basically every academic scientist has at least once a month. Hannah, who is the Chair of the Board of Directors of SEDS-USA(of which I am the Vice-Chair) and Executive Director of the Space Frontier Foundation, probably has to answer this question every week. Like her, I turn to the age-old response:

Something-something-something develop technologies something-something keep jobs in America something-something.

And I feel bad about it 100% of the time. This is not why I do science. I do science because I believe my purpose is to expand (if only slightly) humanity's collective understanding of the universe 2. My priority is not making money or developing technology. There will always be people who vocally oppose space exploration, for one reason or another. They want 100% assuredness that either they'll get 2 dollars back on every dollar they spend (which is, BTW, not how capitalism works) or that every child will suddenly want to do math and science after reading my blog (a recipe for social disaster, if you ask me). They don't want to play my ball game. Why should I try to make them happy?

I explore space for knowledge. You might want to make lots of money. To paraphrase Will Pomerantz, as long as your reason is moral, I'm not going to judge you for it.

1 - This is apparently a restaurant from the southeastern US famous for chicken and biscuits. Being from the Northeast and living in the Midwest for grad school, I wouldn't know.

2 - As it happens, this is one of the reasons I've begun blogging somewhat regularly (though not as regularly as Hogg)--knowledge does no good when you bottle it up.