Thursday, September 01, 2005

What could have been much worse

Ah, it is a beautiful night here. The Milky Way arches majestically overhead, the Southern Cross is low in the south, and the Magellenic Clouds are climbing upward in the sky. Alas, we are not working here at Las Campanas this evening. Last night we received 4-6 inches of snow, and while much of it melted today, the melt water froze on the domes at nightfall, and it is not safe to open up the domes or operate the telescopes. This happens, unfortunately!

With some time on my hands, I've been closely following the news about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It is truly a horrendous national disaster, and I'd urge everyone to help out the best that they can, even if it is just donating money to relief efforts.

In spite of the horrible distruction and loss of life in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, things could have been much worse. Thanks in large part to weather satellites, plenty of warning was available to help evacuate hundreds of thousands of people out of New Orleans and other affected areas. Imagine how extreme the loss of life would have been without such warning. Tens of thousands could have died, much like in the Galveston Hurricane of 1900. These satellites, along with many others studying the Earth and its environs, are direct benefits from our space program and space research. These benefits were not all that apparent in the early part of the space race, when the largest concerns were the potential militarization of space. So, while much of today's space research may seem like it has no direct bearing on us (how many times have I heard the comment, "Wouldn't we be better off if that money were spent here on Earth?"), we need to remember the tens to hundreds of thousands of lives that space exploration saved this week, even as we mourn the hundreds who perished.

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