I wasn’t around when the cold war started. Half of me may or not have been around, depending on whether or not a woman’s ovaries make new eggs after she’s born.
How would we know? Science.
In this article, scientists experiment on mice and hope to use their findings to improve womens’ health and fertility: (https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/02/120229-women-health-ovaries-eggs-reproduction-science/)
Experiments like the race to the moon, don’t have such tangible, obvious benefits. But we benefit all the same. An iPhone 6 had more computing power than all of NASA when it put the men on the moon (https://www.popularmechanics.com/space/moon-mars/a25655/nasa-computer-iphone-comparison/).
So when physicists do some kind of nerdy stuff like create a new form of matter (https://www.livescience.com/63999-fifth-form-of-matter-created.html), people want to know what it’s gonna do for them.
The answer is maybe nothing. Or maybe it will open up a whole new world of fantastical things.
Consider how video graphics development advanced when the mathematical theories of Benoit Mandelbrot were incorporated. Our visual experience in movies is enhanced because of MATH.
Sometimes learning has a purpose, e.g. to cure cancer or to prove a theory. And sometimes, it’s just because.
Just because you want to.
Just because you can.