I am a freak about all things outer space. I was two when Russia launched Sputnik. I remember sitting outside on summer evenings when I was five and looking for the satellites that followed Sputnik to cross the sky over my home in Kansas. I was the kid who awoke at 3 in the morning to watch the Mercury and Gemini space launches. And I set up a camera in a dark room to take pictures off my television when Neil Armstrong made that historic step for mankind in 1969.
We take space exploration for granted these days. It seems amazing to me that we seem not to care about continuing to push the boundaries of the earth's atmosphere and find out what lies beyond our moon and beyond our solar system. Fortunately, there are still people who care and are not concerned that their work is no longer grabbing the headlines.
So imagine my delight when I hear that the switch was turned on today at the Allen Telescope Array in Hat Creek, California. When the array is fully operational, 350 antennas, each 20 feet in diameter, will act as one giant satellite dish and map "vast swaths of the sky cheaply and efficiently" says the New York Times. Today, 42 of the dishes were turned on and over the next three years, the array will be completed. When finished, officials say the array will be able to map the entire sky in a day and a night and then repeat it again the next night. If, E.T. is out there, the Allen Array will find it.
The argument used against investing in space exploration is that the money used for it should be used to solve problems here on earth. It's a straw man argument that makes anyone who disagrees sound as if they don't care about the many needs we have here. This is one person who does care about the problems we have to solve here at home, but I am also a firm believer that the day we stop exploring the universe beyond our one small planet is the day we will lose our will to solve our problems on earth.
And thanks to Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen for providing $25 million in seed money to get this incredible project underway. It is only because of private gifts like this, that the search for extraterrestrial intelligence is still happening.