Not every scientific advancement yields immediate practical applications. Some simply broaden our understanding of the nature of the world in which we live. Yet in the long run, those advancements, too, lead to practical benefits for everyday life.
By now, most people are familiar with how research into combating viruses, from HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, to influenza, laid the groundwork Pfizer and Moderna used to come up with their COVID-19 vaccines within days of Chinese scientists making available the coronavirus genetic blueprint.
Advancements like these are, in turn, built on a foundation of pure research into how viruses mutate and evolve.
Other forms of pure research can lead to a better understanding of other pressing concerns as well.
On Monday, a NASA probe chalked up another first for the U.S. space program when the experimental helicopter named Ingenuity rose into the thin atmosphere of Mars, becoming the first powered vehicle from Earth to fly on another planet.
Ingenuity’s test flight, the first of a planned five, could lead the way for “a fleet of Martian drones in decades to come, providing aerial views, transporting packages and serving as lookouts for human crews. On Earth, the technology could enable helicopters to reach new heights, doing things like more easily navigating the Himalayas,” reported The Associated Press.
Ingenuity is part of the larger Perseverance mission. The Perseverance rover’s main task is to collect rock and soil samples for an eventual return to Earth. These samples may prove the elusive evidence for life having once existed on Mars or perhaps provide more clues about the Martian climate, which used to be more Earth-like than at present.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk, meanwhile, is chomping at the bit to land humans on Mars. Before that, however, the tech entrepreneur will return humans to the moon. Last week, NASA awarded SpaceX the contract for the lander that will be part of the next moon mission. The plan is still for NASA’s own Space Launch System, being developed at Marshall Space Flight Center, to get the SpaceX vehicle to lunar orbit.
For the starry-eyed Musk, getting to Mars is in itself a practical concern. The way he sees it, humanity needs a backup plan. Still, the priority is making sure we won’t have to use it, which is why Musk is also kicking off a prize campaign this Thursday — Earth Day — to encourage the development of technology meant to combat climate change.
The XPRIZE foundation awarded two prizes Monday to teams that both developed concrete to trap carbon dioxide before it can get into the atmosphere and contribute to global warming.
Whatever the dangers of climate change, however, at least our climate isn’t changing as quickly as it did roughly 66 million years ago, when an asteroid collided with the Earth in what is now Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, wiping out roughly 80% of all animal species, including the dinosaurs.
Researchers on Monday unveiled their findings from a mass graveyard of tyrannosaurs discovered seven years ago at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah. The researchers speculate that rather than being solitary hunters, as scientists have theorized, tyrannosaurs hunted in packs, like wolves.
Maybe there’s no practical implication for that knowledge, but it is interesting to know and sheds light on our world. Besides, few things inspire children to love science like dinosaurs.