I’VE BEEN MAKING THIS POINT FOR DECADES: Space exploration and the need for national optimism.

For America’s political leaders, space exploration also speaks to the need to offer a hopeful narrative about the country and its potential, as well as an unabashed point of national pride Americans can embrace without reservation. Space exploration can offer a strong antidote to the relentless doomerism and pessimism that course like a poison through our national bloodstream, injected by prominent voices on both left and right. It’s not just a matter of the technical achievements involved in space exploration, impressive as they admittedly may be, or even the limits to which it can push us as individuals and societies More than anything else, space exploration expands the frontiers of human knowledge, broadens our sense of the possible, and grants us the perspective that can only come from a more-or-less conscious awareness of the vastness of the cosmos – or what some modern philosophers call the “view from above.”

It’s far too much to expect space exploration to provide this sort of optimistic political narrative all on its own; patriotism and belief in one’s country can’t and doesn’t derive from any one achievement or enterprise, no matter how inspirational or impressive. But it can serve as a spark to think more expansively and hopefully about the country and humanity as a whole, especially at a time when so many of us seem so down on our nation and our species.

Space exploration — and even more space settlement and space exploitation — sends the signal that we don’t live in a zero-sum world.