The Journey of Space Exploration: Ex-Astronaut Views on NASA

Article written: 10 Feb , 2009
Updated: 26 Apr , 2016

[/caption]It reads like the annual progress report from my first year in university. He lacks direction, he’s not motivated and he has filled his time with extra-curricular activities, causing a lack of concentration in lectures. However, it shouldn’t read like an 18 year-old’s passage through the first year of freedom; it should read like a successful, optimistic and inspirational prediction about NASA’s future in space.

What am I referring to? It turns out that the Houston university where President John F. Kennedy gave his historic “We go to the Moon” speech back in 1962 has commissioned a report, recommending that NASA should give up its quest for returning to the Moon and focus more on environmental and energy projects. The reactions of several astronauts from the Mercury, Apollo and Shuttle eras have now been published. The conclusions in the Rice University report may have been controversial, but the reactions of the six ex-astronauts went well beyond that. They summed up the concern and frustration they feel for a space agency they once risked their lives for.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to how we interpret the importance of space exploration. Is it an unnecessary expense, or is it part of scientific endeavour where the technological spin-offs are more important than we think?

John F. Kennedy speaking at Rice University in 1962. How times have changed (NASA)

John F. Kennedy speaking at Rice University in 1962. How times have changed (NASA)

The article published in the Houston Chronicle website ( talks about the “surprising reactions” by the six former astronauts questioned about Rice University’s James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy recommendation for NASA. However, I’d argue that much of what they say is not surprising in the slightest. These men and women were active in the US space agency during some of the most profound and exciting times in space flight history, it is little wonder that they may be a little exacerbated by the current spaceflight problems that are besieging NASA. The suggestion that NASA should give up the Moon for more terrestrial pursuits is a tough pill to swallow, especially for these pioneers of spaceflight.

It is widely accepted that NASA is underfunded, mismanaged and falling short of its promises. Many would argue that this is a symptom of an old cumbersome government department that has lost its way. This could be down to institutional failings, lack of investment or loss of vision, but the situation is getting worse for NASA. Regardless, something isn’t right and now we are faced with a five year gap in US manned spaceflight capability, forcing NASA to buy Russian Soyuz flights. The Shuttle replacement, the Constellation Program, has even been written off by many before it has even carried out the first test launch.

So, from their unique perspective, what do these retired astronauts think of the situation? It turns out that some agree with the report, others are strongly opposed to it, whereas all voice concern for the future of NASA.

Kathryn Thornton, before a Shuttle mission (NASA)

Kathryn Thornton, before a Shuttle mission (NASA)

Walt Cunningham flew aboard Apollo 7 in 1968. It was the first manned mission in the Apollo Program. At an age of 76, Cunningham sees no urgency in going back to the Moon but he is also believes the concerns about global warming are “a great big scam.” His feelings about global warming may be misplaced, but he is acutely aware of the funding issue facing NASA, concerned the agency will “keep sliding downhill” if nothing is done.

Four-time Shuttle astronaut Kathryn Thornton, agrees that the agency is underfunded and overstretched and dubious about the Institute’s recommendation that NASA should focus all its attention on environmental issues for four years. “I find it hard to believe we would be finished with the energy and environment issues in four years. If you talk about a re-direction, I think you talk about a permanent re-direction,” Thornton added.

Gene Cernan, commander of the 1972 Apollo 17 mission, believes that space exploration is essential to inspire the young and invigorate the educational system. He is shocked by the Institute’s recommendation to pull back on space exploration. The 74 year old was the last human to walk on the Moon and he believes NASA shouldn’t be focused on ways to save the planet, other agencies and businesses can do that.

It just blows my mind what they would do to an organization like NASA that was designed and built to explore the unknown.” — Gene Cernan

Apollo astronaut Gene Cernan covered with moon dust (NASA)

Apollo astronaut Gene Cernan covered with moondust (NASA)

John Glenn, first US astronaut to orbit the Earth and former senator, is appalled at the suggestion of abandoning projects such as the International Space Station. Although Glenn, now 87, agrees with many of the points argued in the report, he said, “We have a $115 billion investment in the most unique laboratory ever put together, and we are cutting out the ability to do research that may have enormous value to everybody right here on the Earth? This is folly.”

Sally Ride, 57, a physicist and the first American woman to fly into space believes the risky option of extending the life of the Shuttle should be considered to allow US manned access to the space station to continue. The greater risk of being frozen out of the outpost simply is not an option. However, she advocates the report’s suggestion that NASA should also focus on finding solutions to climate change. “It will take us awhile to dig ourselves out,” she said. “But the long-term challenge we have is solving the predicament we have put ourselves in with energy and the environment.”

Franklin Chang Diaz, who shares world’s record for the most spaceflights (seven), believes that NASA has been given a very bad deal. He agrees with many of the report’s recommendations, not because the space agency should turn its back on space exploration, it’s because the agency has been put in an impossible situation.

NASA has moved away from being at the edge of high tech and innovation,” said Chang Diaz. “That’s a predicament NASA has found itself in because it had to carry out a mission to return humans to the moon by a certain time (2020) and within a budget ($17.3 billion for 2008). It’s not possible.”

In Conclusion

This discussion reminds me of a recent debate not about space exploration, but another science and engineering endeavour here on Earth. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has its critics who will argue that this $5 billion piece of kit is not worth the effort, where the money spent on accelerating particles could be better spent on finding solutions for climate change, or a cure for cancer.

You did NOT just say that! Brian Cox's expression says it all... (still from the BBC's Newsnight program)

You did NOT just say that! Brian Cox's expression says it all... (still from the BBC's Newsnight program)

In a September 2008 UK televised debate on BBC Newsnight between Sir David King (former Chief Scientific Advisor for the UK government) and particle physicist Professor Brian Cox, King questioned the the importance of the science behind the LHC. By his limited reasoning, the LHC was more “navel-searching”, “curiosity-driven” research with little bearing on the advancement of mankind. In King’s view the money would be better spent on finding solutions to known problems, such as climate change. It is fortunate Brian Cox was there to set the records straight.

Prof. Cox explained that the science behind the LHC is “part of a journey” where the technological spin-offs and the knowledge gained from such a complex experiment cannot be predicted before embarking on scientific endeavour. Indeed, advanced medical technologies are being developed as a result of LHC research; the Internet may be revolutionized by new techniques being derived from work at the LHC; even the cooling system for the LHC accelerator electromagnets can be adapted for use in fusion reactors.

The point is that we may never fully comprehend what technologies, science or knowledge we may gain from huge experiments such as the LHC, and we certainly don’t know what spin-offs we can derive from continued advancement of space travel technology. Space exploration can only enhance our knowledge and scientific understanding.

If NASA starts pulling back on endeavours in space, taking a more introverted view of finding specific solutions to particular problems (such as finding a solution to climate change at the detriment to space exploration, as suggested by the Rice University report), we may never fully realise our potential as a race, and many of the problems here on Earth will never be solved…


38 Responses

  1. Anaconda says

    Frankly, it depends on the ‘vision’.

    What do we want to get out of space exploration? As to manned space flight, what will be gained? I’m not saying there isn’t something to be gained by manned space flight, but we need to be specific about the goals.

    “Wouldn’t be ‘nice’ to have Man in space,” won’t cut it anymore.

    As far as the subjects of study, knowledge of near-space has the greatest utility for Man, but the greatest ‘wonder’ is always in pushing back the horizon of Man’s understanding and that requires looking farther into space.

    Making more detailed observations & measurements of the outer solar system would be the first step and the second step would be getting probes beyond the heliopause that can relay data back to Earth.

    Does manned space flight further those goals?

    Perhaps, that is “where the rubber meets the road.”

  2. What these astronauts, the politicians, and even NASA really don’t understand is that the public supports ‘manned’ space flight not because we want only ‘an elite few’ to explore space. People support manned space flight because they view astronauts as ‘pioneers’ whose heroism will eventually lead towards the permanent expansion of the human species off the surface of the planet Earth.

    Konstantin Tsiolkovsky said it best: “Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot remain in the cradle forever.”

    And we’re ready to go! That’s why NASA needs to prioritize:

    1.Designing reusable space craft that will give humans easy access to orbit
    2. Establishing a permanent human presence on the surface of the Moon
    3. Establishing a permanent human presence on the surface of Mars
    4. Developing large rotating space stations with simulated gravity to establish a permanent human presence in Earth orbit and around the sun and around the other planets in our solar system.

    Unfortunately, in the 40 years since the landing on the Moon, NASA has not done any of the things needed to expand humanity into the rest of the solar system. Instead, we’ve focused on the International Space Station, a glorified version of Mir or Skylab which really tells us nothing new about humanity’s ability to live permanently in the New Frontier.

    Marcel F. Williams

  3. Olaf says

    “People support manned space flight because they view astronauts as ‘pioneers’ whose heroism will eventually lead towards the permanent expansion of the human species off the surface of the planet Earth.”

    I agree completely with this, people love pioneers.

    I was very sad to discover that any goal setting towards the Moon was stopped by some stupid low earth orbits.

  4. Spoodle58 says

    “If NASA starts pulling back on endeavours in space,…………………..we may never fully realise our potential as a race, and many of the problems here on Earth will never be solved…”

    Well said Ian.

  5. Eduardo says

    And the US call themselves a democracy… but most people of this big country don’t like the war, but they do it. Most people of this nation dream to explore, to grow up toward the universe, bou’t they don’t… somebody can explain me that concept of democracy?

  6. Max says

    “somebody can explain me that concept of democracy?”

    We vote on the leadership, not every detail of its policy. Every president since washington has brung his wars, his favors, his perceptions, and his personal agenda into the job.
    The party system just makes it all the more complicated.

    Aside from that tho:
    Alot of folks trying to sell the global warming agenda seem to want the NASA seal of approval for the theory more than an agency designed to meet the problem.
    Its hypocritical to accuse an administration dedicated to vehicle research for having lost its way and, in the same breath, say they should be curing cancer or fighting global warming with that money.

    I think we have multiple objectives (cheap spaceflight, rlv’s, lunar missions, robotic exploration of planets) that can all happen simultaniously.
    Make it happen.

  7. Sci-Fi Si says

    It looks as though there are a lot of people with a lot to say about this.

    Whomever compiled this report doesn’t seem to realise what the space program has done for the environment, medicine, technology and the future prospects for mankind.

    Yes, spending billions when there are so many starving is a waste. However rocketing property prices, the worship of money fuled by selfishness and greed are the root causes of poverty in this world.

    The space program needs tightening up – A lot, but innovation and progressive solutions are what are called for.

    Hows this for a suggestion – Stop spending billions of killing people and destroying families American and otherwise and start considering focusing on providing people with hope, education and the spirit of mutual co-operation.

    America is not the only country that exists. The Universe it’s actually quite a big place…. Sorry I feel a major rant coming on so I’ll stop now before I grab my microphone and soap box and start really shouting at people.


  8. Calvin says

    “Hows this for a suggestion – Stop spending billions of killing people and destroying families American and otherwise and start considering focusing on providing people with hope, education and the spirit of mutual co-operation.”

    What a crazy idea!!!

  9. steve says

    We need to learn more about the universe and move into space. This is a long term goal. Support the “science” end of NASA and the rest will follow.

  10. Feenixx says

    I am merely speculating now………….. call me a dreamer, if you wish, but please, refrain from abuse. I won’t become offended.

    1) Encourage accelerated development for the missing link in the technology to make the Space Elevator happen: the (probably CNT) material for the tether – at a fraction of the cost of any manned mission and interplanetary manned craft.

    2) Spend the balance on environmental repairs and protective work

    3) Build the first one of many Space Elevators, roll up your sleeves, and say “now the Space Exploration Age REALLY is about to start.”

    4) Then, launch many missions to the Moon and beyond, at a minute fraction of what it would cost with large rockets.

    5) Repeat step 2 many times…….

    Like I said: I’m dreaming – but I HAVE double-checked most of the calculations for The Elevator, using physics simulations in my 3D animation software I use on the job. I work in Visual Effects Engineering for movies….
    I reckon the SE will solve many logistics and funding problems – among others, it will cut the Military out of the equation: the military has no use for such a large easy target.

  11. Timmy says

    The United States of America hasn’t just lost its way, it has lost its balls.

    Hope you all enjoy speaking Chinese.

  12. dollhopf says

    Is it easier to go to the moon or to save the world?

    [just joking]

    And what if NASA is also underfunded, mismanaged and falling short of its promises while saving the world?

    [just more joking]

    Let the world save by an organisation that is not even able to reach the moon?

    [enough now]

  13. beowulf2700 says

    If you don’t think we should go into space, get your head out from the sand. We need to go to space ourselves, because:
    A) It’s there.
    B) for every dollar spent on space exploration. 8 are returned to economy.
    C) Dino’s weren’t inter planetary.
    D) It’s a proven fact, in periods of little or no exploration, the worlds culture, the amount of scientific breakthroughs, and the economic situation decline. While violence, and poverty increase. In short, we stop exploring and colonizing, our civilization will eventually die.

    Yes, it is expensive. as was the early exploration of the new world. yes it will also be dangerous. as was the exploration of the Americas. But we MADE a lot of money in the long run. And look the most culturally diverse country in the WORLD is in the new world.

  14. Farcall says

    Timmy: You got it in a few words. We no longer have “The Right Stuff”. Our “stuff” has all withered away and fallen off. With all this “Pull Back BS, one thing’s for certain; this age will not go down as another Heroic Age.

    Beowuf2700: Also got it right. Anyone who feels we humans don’t, ourselves, have to go into space ,has lost all sense of adventure. Exploration, dangerous and dirty and expensive as it is, is what makes us *Human*. Turn your back on that and you give up your right to exist as a species. In such a case an “Extinction Level Event” might be the best thing for us. And have no doubt, if we stay confined to this mud ball, it *will* come…

  15. dollhopf says

    A pullout from manned space exploration by Nasa should not be conducted without involvement of international partners.

    If NASA is effectively withdrawn from human spaceflight by its new government then this will lead to the annihilation of knowledge and skill.

    We all were so astonished when we found out that despite NASA was already on the moon it is not possible for her today to even build a Saturn V again. Knowledge and skill were lost forever!

    Similar losses will happen on a bigger scale again. “Most of the veteran spacecraft builders will be retired by 2020. The youngest person to walk on the moon, Harrison Schmidt, will be 85 and the first man to walk on the moon, Neil Armstrong, will be 90.” (Obama Pits Human Space Exploration Against Education, wired science)

    We say so easily that the knowledge of mankind does double within maybe six, five, three years. But this is not ensured automatically. Accumulated knowledge can fall behind likewise. OUR CIVILIZATION AND CULTURE MIGHT POSSIBLY DECLINE! Due to wrong decissions of the responsible politicians.

    If the U.S. retreats from human space flight then it has the fecking responsibility to grant the whole world access to the endangered knowlegde achived. America sucked skilled workforce and riches from the whole world to attain its abilities in space travel (e.g., Wernher von Braun was no American, like all the others that contributed to Americas success in space).

    The U.S. can’t simply retreat and led all the achieved knowledge rotten! This would be high treason.

    Human mankind must be able to continue without further delay also without America! America can either lead or otherwise … retreat with dignity!

  16. Mr. Bill says

    The NASA will continue to launch unmanned scientific and exploratory missions indefinitely. Manned operations are at best expensive prestige projects, which clearly cannot be sustained without multilateral and/or international support and funding.

    Two events could accelerate manned space exploration: 1) a global war fought partially in or around space; 2) a radical policy shift towards internationalism centered around a great power alliance / rivalry system.

  17. dollhopf says

    Mr. Bill claims that manned operations are at best expensive prestige projects.

    Dear Sir,

    that is not true! Remember STS-61 – repair mission e.g. – which is only one of many entry points from which the world community can blow your fecking argument into little bits.

    Do only retreat from manned spaceflight after payment! Otherwise ….

  18. Mr. Bill says

    In the past manned operations have been useful for conducting repairs upon unmanned observatory and scientific equipment in orbit. I would not challenge that.

  19. dollhopf says

    You do not say!

  20. Emission Nebula says

    I’m getting tired of the whining about science “why should we spend 5 billion on the LHC when we could be trying to cure cancer”…MORONS! There is already a world wide, well funded effort to try to cure cancer!

    And don’t even get me started on how freakin much is being spent on “global warming”.

    I’m disgusted, utterly.

  21. Mr. Bill says

    Time for a revolution, Emission Nebula.

  22. Emission Nebula says

    Amen. Bring on the Star Trek protocol for human endeavor.

  23. Emission Nebula says

    And another thing, has anyone else read in the lastest issue of Nature, that they have to choose between Titan or Europa for their next big outer planet mission?

    Thats horrible. I know these missions aint cheap, but come on! We should be able to do both around the same times.

    Get it together NASA!

  24. byron says

    So let me get this straight, a bunch of former astronauts who fought tooth and nail to be chosen to go to space are now working to say that it just isn’t worth it anymore?

  25. Frank Glover says

    “…recommending that NASA should give up its quest for returning to the Moon and focus more on environmental and energy projects.”

    Even if I accept that (and I don’t), how are those things the explicit job of an aerospace research and development agency? Isn’t that what we have an Environmental Protection Agency and a Department of Energy for?

  26. b says

    Climate change – downgraded from the more ludicrous ‘global warming’ is none of NASA’s concern. Its like the Amazonian shaman threatening his tribe with drought if they don’t give him a bigger hut – only now its carbon taxes not a bigger hut. How’s NASA going to protect us from a volcano going off?

    We really need to keep pushing for human colonization of space as we are obviously facing overpopulation. Instead of draconian policies and culling the human population into more manageable numbers, we should be using technology and innovation to solve our problems. In fact, policy always fails, innovation always prevails and the only reason we are having this argument is because the unimaginative dinosaurs that hold 90% of the world’s resources would much rather cull us!

  27. ESA Exile says

    The LHC is an example of ‘basic research’, or enquirey led research. The aim is to answer questions rather than to find solutions to practical problems. However such research programmes consistently produce new technologies that provide solutions to practical problems in totally unexpected ways.

    If in 1895 Wilhelm Röntgen had been given a research grant to find better ways of locating schrapnel in battlefield wounds he might have produced some nice new metal probes or investigated magnets. He would not have discovered X-rays!

    Applied research has it’s place, and its a vitally important place too but it must not be permitted to replace basic research. It has to be both, not either or!

  28. dollhopf says

    We really need to keep pushing for human colonization of space as we are obviously facing overpopulation.

    I tend to think that the concepts of “global overpopulation” and “global warming” have the same origin and that both stem from the same interest group. They propagandize man-made apocalypse, actually combining the biblical message that “the thoughts of man’s heart are evil from his earliest days” with mathematical models. Both are “doomsday theories” and doctrines of salvation, playing with feelings of fear and imminence, thus can motivate the people to reshape their preferences.

    Could it be due to the cultural background that lets green theories always emerge in countries with a Christian heritage?

    NASA is expected to become a tool of “salvation” in the hands of do-gooders.

  29. lill says

    They the should a new agency for the issue of global-warming.

  30. conrad says

    Man is the eternal seeker. When we stop exploring, we are finished as a species. Let the shortsighted worry about the planet, but do not give up on the quest for space. Although earth will always be our home, our future lies in the stars.

  31. Drlove says

    I think this is a case for age. For example the young are more liberal and the older are somewhat more conservative. Ask our current astronauts what they think? You know the ones who risk their lives on missions that are happening in this century

  32. S.E.Cycloid says

    @Emission Nebula – Chill you’re not alone with your frustration over the Global Warming hype. We need money and resources to be spent on pure science. Also we need money and resources to be directed towards making humans a multi-planet (i.e. able to survive extinction events) species.

  33. dollhopf says

    “Ask our current astronauts what they think”

    None of them ever got beyond LEO. The moon experience exclusively belongs to the “more conservative”.

  34. Dresden says

    “A geat Big scam”

    This is so true

  35. bob says

    So why do nations waste money exploring space when we have all these problems at home?

    That is a question I am asked quite often and, as an amateur astonomer, I give an answer that does not react to the situation. Look at all the countries that have not explored space verses those that do. The standard of living in those that do buries those that don’t.

    Yet that answer really is not one I give to the public when I give talks. I start out like this: What did astronomy do for the world? What is it that is right in front of us that has importance and relevance?

    Withut astronomy there would be no spectroscopy. Without spectroscopy the elements cannot be detected and medicine, biology, biochemistry and chemistry all don’t exist. Particle physics could be argued to have its first evidence from it. It tells us, through the doppler effect if something is headed toward us that might endanger our existence.

    Like your eyeglasses? It was an astronomer, Johannes Kepler, who derived correctly how the human eye functions to focus images on the retina. Past that the exploration of optics was being questioned since it seemed to go no further. Young’s 2 slit experiment seemed meaningless to many who questioned with a “so what?” when the duality of the quantum world was revealed. But now, thanks to that knowledge, science realized that there are slits between atoms that, with X-rays, can reveal the internal structure of steel and see it how it can start to fracture prematurely, sending warnings that bridges need to be looked at more closely. Minneapolis anyone? Movies are now produced with X-rays that use particle accelerators and undulators to generate X-rays that show cells being invaded by viruses and give great details for testing new drugs can be applied with less side effects. Insides of fuel injectors during live action of runnning diesel engines have revealed faults that are now being remedied to produce greater fuel efficiency with less pollutants. A new diesel fuel is coming out from just such research that does not have the noxious carcinogens. So cancer is being researched with fundamental tools passed down from exporing the stars. Bullet proof vests come from those labs as well along with newer synthetics that are more durable. Without Kepler’s and Young’s and others’ curiosity for the unknown where would we be right now? Maxwell was told his equations were meaningless and his invention of the color photograph was a waste of exploration that had no application to life. It is a good thing Marcone ignored such inputs.

    Relativity was thought to be a wasted venture.

    Radio dispatch to moving vehicles does not exist without Einstein’s special relativity revealing that EM waves are measured the same to all uniform motions. The police refused to believe Einstein and, when pursuing Capone in squad cars, they would get out of their vehicles to call dispatch from a phone booth, something at rest with repspect to dispatch. Many feared then that the momentum of EM waves would differ for vehicles approaching one another to those receding from one another. They feared that signals would be as distorted as an ocean wave slamming into a wall. It wasn’t until 1927 when the LAPD decided to find out if Einstein was correct. Televisions couldn’t be focused without taking SR into account. The frame of reference of the electrons in the electron beam must have space shrunk enough to prevent the electron from tumbling as it heads for the phosphorous screen.

    Further, e=mc^2 revealed that the energy in one raisin is enough to start up and run New York City for an entire day.

    Like your cell phone and satallite TV? Without NASA putting up the satellites and repositioning them from time to time they don’t function. GPS systems need them and they save us millions in food production since our tractors are being guided by them to produce perfectly straight and more efficient seeding and harvesting.

    NASA has put up exporatory satellites (A-Train) that is testing the clear atmosphere for pollutants. NASA has satellites monitoring the sun and has revealed to us many answers through helioseismology that verify what health it is in and what dangers confront us from it. Global warming cannot really be explored seriously without comparisons to what is going on with our neighboring planets. The outer planets may reveal to us how life can survive under extreme conditions. Could fish or something like them possibly survive in Europa’s sea or in the fissures in Encledeas?

    But how mush exploration is too much for our budget is the main question. The rovers seem to be doing well and, if they break down, we can use other rovers to repair them or wait until our budget permits us to carry out more planetary explorations. Sending humans appears to be too expensive right now but we will have to get off the planet one day. We’ve got 500 million years to wrk that out if it is possible. If humans can’t be proven to travel great distances then the robots will be a signature of our existence to some other thinking entity.

  36. dollhopf says

    holla “Some …”

    you indeed reveal perfect underdevelopment in many ways!

    To demand “political correctness”, while you do preach water but guzzle wine! LOL

    What a politically incorrect impudence!

  37. Vanamonde says

    Mmmm, no mention of Men to Mars in this discussion and I count that as Good Thang. That was a half-baked distraction, IMHO.

    Like Mars, The Moon can wait. It will be there a while. The ISS is another thing. We led this project and got a lot of other nations on board. What matters to me, is we honor our commitment to the international community, first and foremost. We cannot be unilateral in this. All of the involved nations need to work together.

    And I certainly would not write off the Constellation Program. And can someone tell me why you cannot use a Titan booster and buy some Soyuz craft to use while we are working to finish the Constellation Program? Or maybe some cargo ships from the ESA? And if launch from Russia is the only option, so be it.

    The Space Shuttle never came close to it’s goal of reducing the cost of getting to orbit. And it has cost lives.

    A space station in low orbit is the key to all human space exploration. It is there we learn to live in space for the long term and it is there where we will launch to the stars. Okay, seriously, at least to the planets.

    And we made a commitment to the ISS. Let us keep our honor.

  38. ShadowDancer says

    ESA Exile Says:
    The LHC is an example of ‘basic research’, or enquirey led research. The aim is to answer questions rather than to find solutions to practical problems. However such research programmes consistently produce new technologies that provide solutions to practical problems in totally unexpected ways.

    If in 1895 Wilhelm Röntgen had been given a research grant to find better ways of locating schrapnel in battlefield wounds he might have produced some nice new metal probes or investigated magnets. He would not have discovered X-rays!

    Applied research has it’s place, and its a vitally important place too but it must not be permitted to replace basic research. It has to be both, not either or!
    Just a side note: Tesla experimented with X-rays before Wilhelm Röntgen “discovered” them. Though it is true that Röntgen brought them from just being an idle experiment and turned them into a useful tool.

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