Why should we care?
"Origins' goals -- searching out clues to fundamental questions about the universe and life itself – will drive technology and science that will rewrite textbooks in physics, chemistry, biology, and, quite possibly, history. Origins is one of the boldest challenges NASA has taken on, and the results could literally change the way humans think about the universe and their place in it. There's something else about Origins, something important. The Origins Program offers hope; it offers inspiration. A program like this says something to our children. It says America takes risks -- big ones. It says we are investing in their future, in benefits that will come to them decades from now. And it says that we, as a nation, stand for something other than just surviving. We stand for something more than just feeding our people, filling our potholes, and patching the roof. Origins says that adding to the total sum of human knowledge matters. It says that we, as a country, explore. We discover because we seek. Whether easy or difficult, we will wrench the mysteries from the universe, and pass on to our children the gifts of new knowledge."
Excerpts from a speech to Congress by NASA Administrator Dan Goldin, May 22, 1996, Washington, D.C.
Why do we care about our origins?
Humans possess an intrinsic need to explore. Through exploration, we've discovered new continents, we've found cures to diseases, we've created a whole new way of communicating through computer technology. This is how we've built our civilization.
Science, curiosity, the need to think and study and explore our surroundings - these are longstanding quests that drive us to be who we are. We believe in these endeavors and we feel enriched and fulfilled by answers to our questions. Like ancient civilizations that took off to search for other worlds, we too are looking over the next hill. Humans have always been a thinking, wondering entity. To establish understanding of our origins is a part of our evolution.
Exploring how our civilization came to be is the goal of the Origins Program. Part of human and scientific progress has been the ability to evolve our thinking to include not just narrow trains of thought, but larger concepts. Scientists are modifying their roles as astronomers, physicists, planetary geologists, astrobiologists and space engineers to incorporate the visions of historians, anthropologists, paleontologists, biologists and genealogists to help analyze the details, clues and evidence of the questions at hand:
- Where did we, as humans, come from? - We can very quickly break humans into chemical elements. To ask where those elements were created seems to be a valid point.
- What is the fate of life as we know it? - We can study stellar systems, and even galactic systems, and infer how typical our Sun may be, and at what point it may exhaust its fuel.
- Are we alone? - This exciting possibility increases its chances if we actively look, learn and study other systems, and address the issues of "Are there other stars that are able to support life?" and "Can life survive on other planets in our own solar system?"
The vision statement of the Origins Project summarizes, in vivid detail, our highest goals and objectives:
"We seek to observe the birth of the earliest galaxies in the universe, to detect all planetary systems in the solar neighborhood and to find those planets that are capable of supporting life, and to learn whether life began elsewhere in the solar system. We do this in order to understand and explain the origin of galaxies, stars and planetary systems, and life."
There are basic elements, such as air, water, nutrients and an energy source , that humans and all life need in order to survive. As a thinking and intellectual society, we have also incorporated many non-essential elements into our lives: education, art, music, literature, sporting events, and interaction with other humans and with our environment. These elements are nonetheless important, compelling and necessary. The scientific search for our ancestry also falls into this category. Many people are exploring their "roots" to learn where they came from. Part of the Origins Program will search for our cosmic "roots."