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Neil deGrasse Tyson Says Private Business Will Not Open the Space Frontier 580

Posted by samzenpus
from the what-the-market-will-bear dept.
MarkWhittington writes "Neil deGrasse Tyson, the famous astrophysicist and media personality, offered something of a reality check on the potential of commercial enterprises to open the space frontier without the aid of government. Specifically referencing SpaceX's CEO Elon Musk's boast that he would establish a Mars colony, Tyson said on a recent video podcast, 'It's not possible. Space is dangerous. It's expensive. There are unquantified risks. Combine all of those under one umbrella; you cannot establish a free market capitalization of that enterprise.'"
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Neil deGrasse Tyson Says Private Business Will Not Open the Space Frontier

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 30, 2013 @03:06AM (#44714165)

    But I hope he's wrong. Chances of anyone in government coming together for long enough to get something like this done again are slim, especially without a military reason.

    • by Penguinisto (415985) on Friday August 30, 2013 @03:53AM (#44714347) Journal

      He's probably both.

      I can prove him wrong with two words: commercial satellites.

      I can prove him semi-right with a slightly higher word count: It will likely take some heavy-duty research to help get the costs down to under $100/kg or so, but once it hits that threshold, then you'll likely find a shitload of companies falling all over themselves to strip-mine space for everything from aluminum to methane (assuming a vessel could be made to send the stuff down w/o it burning/boiling off during re-entry.) It'll also open up colonization, albeit on a small scale.

      The reasons why? Sure there's unlimited distances, but there's also unlimited potential for wealth, and a lot of folks are going to give it a shot. Most will fail miserably. Many will see death, dismemberment, and spectacular horror. A few however will succeed - some will do so enough to make them wealthier than anyone could imagine.

      Not much different from the state of things in 1493 Europe, if you think about it.

      • by VortexCortex (1117377) <VortexCortexNO@S ... t-retrograde.com> on Friday August 30, 2013 @04:51AM (#44714569) Homepage

        I can prove him wrong with two words: commercial satellites.

        I watched a speech to the space society where he stated this message a bit more clearly, I think. Tyson means the Frontier will be "opened", as in "trail blazed" by the governments. Once you can get a person to Mars, then private industry has much more data to make the calculated risks. Massive uncalculated risk? That's not a valid business strategy, really. However, a government can allocate more funds as needed, and push forth a frontier for the good of mankind. Money isn't much of issue for governments (look at the size of the US's war budget, for example).

        Inspiring the people by pushing the frontier even further has shown beneficial in both economic and social terms in the past. This new generation has no Neil or Buzz. The ISS is hugely valuable, but we're still whipping around in the same near Earth orbit. That's not nearly as captivating, or inspiring to the average Jane or Joe.

        Take commercial space satellites. You didn't disprove shit, man. Guess who "opened" that frontier first? Governments. Neil is saying the Governments will blaze the trails and make way for the private space industry for the benefit of all. We all benefit from satellites now, but that private industry remained grounded until governments took the first steps.

        • by Rakishi (759894) on Friday August 30, 2013 @05:30AM (#44714681)

          Governments have already done the trail blazing for where it matters. There is nothing of worth on Mars, it's inside a gravity well with barely an atmosphere and no radiation protection. The money isn't in shipping a handful of people to a red rock for millions and burying them under twisty feet of rock.

          The money is in all the easier to access and easier to reach natural resources in asteroids and outside the giant gravity wells. There may also be some money in cheaper local tourism. As the cost per person goes up, the total amount of money you can make goes down as your potential market shrinks much faster than the price grows.

          These are all things which aren't even being commercially exploited. Blazing a trail into the jungle doesn't benefit anyone that much if you're starting from a dinky little 2 man outpost that the commercial routes won't reach for twenty years. Looks at colonization. The governments brazed a trail to the coasts but it was the commercial fur traders who really explored the inside of the US.

          • by peragrin (659227)

            The thing is those fur traders who really explored the US needed a gun, a stock of ammo, and some blankets to do that exploration.

            In Alaska Today you can literally live without earning more than a couple of grand a year.

            Now let's see you live in space without

            water, oxygen, radiation shielding, propulsion, and some form of fake gravity. You have to carry everything with you literally everything. Asteriods to mine are very hard to get to and from basically because they are not near a gravity well and we use

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by wiit_rabit (584440)

              Change the paradigm.

              You don't need water, oxygen, etc... if you don't send humans. Private enterprise will do the cost analysis, and I bet they will send very sophisticated robots first. Go to the Asteroid belt to mine for things, go into low/medium orbit to develop new materials and manufacturing processes, etc... All with a focus on what is the best return on investment, not what political whims are fashionable.

              I agree with others that Kennedy's speech about going to the moon was brilliant, but we were

        • by Agent0013 (828350)

          I watched a speech to the space society where he stated this message a bit more clearly, I think. Tyson means the Frontier will be "opened", as in "trail blazed" by the governments. Once you can get a person to Mars, then private industry has much more data to make the calculated risks. Massive uncalculated risk?

          It wasn't a government that pushed to find the new world. Columbus had to search for funding for his expedition. Sounds like a commercial endeavor being done by an entrepreneur to me.

      • by nospam007 (722110) *

        "I can prove him wrong with two words: commercial satellites."

        That's not exactly space. Also, those were launched by Russian, American or European state sponsored rockets.

        Since it seems to be even impossible to grow corn without government aid I fear he's right.

      • by Alef (605149) on Friday August 30, 2013 @05:49AM (#44714749)

        I can prove him wrong with two words: commercial satellites.

        Oh really? What do you figure he said that this proves wrong? You know, because he specifically argues that private companies does things like transporting stuff into space better than government can. You'd known that if you bothered to watch TFV -- I know, this is Slashdot, what am I expecting?

        What he is talking about is missions to push the frontiers, like mapping planets and such, where it's hard to find a clear ROI for a private investor.

      • by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Friday August 30, 2013 @06:18AM (#44714819)

        I can prove him wrong with two words: commercial satellites.

        What have commercial satellites in common with a Mars base? Commercial satellites are being launched by private companies because the government paved the way for them in the 1960s and 1970s. There are no live humans on board. Nobody to cope with the radiation and the microgravity. There's vast commercial interest in having a satellite fleet, even short-term - especially short term. Where's the commercial interest in sending a man to Mars? You're saying "commercial", and yet commercial companies can't see beyond the tips of their noses. Anything requiring more than ten years in the future is "not a viable business plan" for the shrewd MBA. You're talking about space mining, but who's going to do all the primary research? Because it surely weren't the commercial satellite companies who did the primary research on geosynchronous satellites! We can't even begin to design the technological processes to mine and process asteroid material unless we know what exactly is out there, and the first asteroid probes have been sent very recently. Guess what: they were sent by NASA, not by commercial companies! Yes, I believe that there will be a day when commercial space mining will be commonplace affair, but I don't think that pure commercial endeavours will be the ones to pave the way to that.

        Not much different from the state of things in 1493 Europe, if you think about it.

        So you're saying that if the Apollo 13 had died in the accident, Mrs. Shepard and Mrs. Roosa would have simply told their husbands "of course you have to go, we expected a lot of people to die in space anyway"? Human life has an entirely different value in 1493. Nobody cared about the survival of expendable, uneducated sailors back then. How many have died for every single successful discovery voyage? Because you can bet that every double-PhD scientist or engineer dying beyond Earth's orbit will be treated like a national catastrophe. That won't last forever, of course, but the beginnings won't be easy.

        • by Teancum (67324) <robert_horning AT netzero DOT net> on Friday August 30, 2013 @09:28AM (#44715755) Homepage Journal

          Commercial satellites are being launched by private companies because the government paved the way for them in the 1960s and 1970s.

          Nope, you are wrong here.

          Commercial satellites were first developed not by the good graces of the U.S. government, or even the Soviet Union for that matter. Instead the first practical communications satellite (and commercial satellite I would note too) was launched by AT&T as a part of the Telstar program [wikipedia.org] Keep in mind that AT&T paid for the satellite development, paid for the rocket to launch it into space, and even paid for the launch pad services at a premium rate. Unfortunately the rocket and the launch pad were government owned and required special legislation to be passed by the U.S. Congress just for AT&T to be granted permission for the privilege of being able to go into space.

          The other stupid thing about this whole venture by AT&T is that once they proved that commercial satellites could be successful, and furthermore that a real business opportunity existed so entrepreneurs could actually make money by sending satellites into space, special legislation was enacted that actually prohibited anybody else other than a competitor to AT&T could launch satellites into space. It was a forced government monopoly that essentially treated satellites as a regulated utility company.

          Far from the government being a trailblazer of going forth and proving that satellites could work and earn money, the government actually screwed things up and prevented commercial spaceflight from happening for more than 40 years after commercial spaceflight efforts had been proven successful. I think that has damaged the U.S. economy and only in the past decade has commercial spaceflight efforts even been permitted to happen in meaningful ways that in earlier decades simply were illegal.

          This lack of freedom to even try has been by far and away the worst part about government space policy in the 20th Century. I'm not even convinced that the government was the only option for developing rockets either, but the one thing that made building rockets so important to the government in the 1950's and 1960's (not so much in the 1970's) was that it provided a good platform to place nuclear bombs for ICBMs and shorter ranged missiles. The whole business of sending stuff into space was mainly a side-show of technology that could be reused for other things at the same time.

          I'll also note that one of the reasons why the USSR achieved so many "firsts" early on with rockets is that the nuclear bombs they had to fly were so much larger than the bombs built by America that they simply needed the larger rockets. The same ICBM used to deliver the huge nuke to America could also be used to launch a capsule big enough to carry a cosmonaut into space.

          Note also that by about 1970, the needs of missiles and the needs of vehicles going into space diverged enough that they became different vehicles. The design requirements for an ICBM is not the same as what you want to use for sending "fragile cargo" up into space including communications satellites or crewed vehicles. This is also why funding for spaceflight in both the USA and the USSR was cut substantially, even though the public relations benefits from continuing the spaceflight programs still had some benefit. This is also why Neil deGrasse Tyson's notion of government funded space is never going to happen either, as there is no purpose other than minor public relations benefits to the governments involved to see that it occurs.

          The first NASA astronauts going to Mars will be greeted by a crew from CNN covering the landing live on the ground under the lander... and a party will be held honoring their arrival when the rest of the people in that part of Mars gather together for the celebration. NASA astronauts or for that matter government employees will not be the first to go there.

    • by Chrisq (894406)

      But I hope he's wrong. Chances of anyone in government coming together for long enough to get something like this done again are slim, especially without a military reason.

      .... unless you mean the Chinese government perhaps.

  • by Seumas (6865) on Friday August 30, 2013 @03:09AM (#44714179)

    It doesn't really matter, because private sector is our only option. Adjusted for inflation, we spent more in each year of our last dozen years of military actions than on NASA in 55 years. Doubling NASA's budget seems trivial. Hell, tripling or quadrupling it (especially in consideration for the kinds of returns we get, technologically and economically across all of society) seems insignificant.

    But it isn't going to happen.

    If we wait for a government and a citizenry that is more compelled by blowing up brown people overseas and pushing authoritarian and corporate agendas, it is never going to happen.

    If we wait for a government and a citizenry that doesn't want to spend the money to cure cancer, cure aids, feed starving people -- all things that are entirely reasonable with fractions of the funding we spend on some of the most controversial and possibly unnecessary expenses in this country -- then what fucking hope have we of ever finding the progressive spirit for human advancement within our collective selves for funding space efforts?

    • by meglon (1001833) on Friday August 30, 2013 @03:31AM (#44714269)
      The current lifetime projected budget cost for just the F-35 program is equivalent to about 75 years of NASA funding. The other part of that, of course, is that they recalculate the lifetime cost of the F-35 about every 12-18 months... and it keeps skyrocketing every time they do.
    • by AHuxley (892839)
      Yes the US private sector is going to have to re invent what Germans taught the USA years ago but long term it will be great.
      More real local jobs again, real science, real data and real costs.
      Groups, institutions and companies world wide will have more options and see missions they could never afford been launched.
      As the tech gets cheaper more companies will be able to enter the market too.
      No more slowing a science or an imaging project due to politics, an epic boondoggle or hidden costs :)
      • More real local jobs again, real science, real data and real costs.

        Why is that? people from India are at least as smart an those from the USA, but a lot cheaper. And Russians can read their own theory (theory of space travel was largely developed by Russians, the practical problems were largely solved by the Germans) for a fraction of the price it takes for an American to do it. If programming is outsourced, why not rocket science? It's not exactly speculative finance, you know.

        No more slowing a science or an imaging project due to politics, an epic boondoggle or hidden costs :)

        Like in digital publishing you mean? That is even more boring than rocket science, but to say th

  • by wonkey_monkey (2592601) on Friday August 30, 2013 @03:18AM (#44714223) Homepage

    It's not possible. Space is dangerous.

    So was crossing the atlantic in a boat. So was heavier-than-air flight. So was getting into space in the first place. So was going to the toilet in the middle of the night 100 years ago.

    It's expensive.

    So was... well, you see where I'm going with this.

    • by phantomfive (622387) on Friday August 30, 2013 @03:25AM (#44714245) Journal
      Yeah, he said " Space is dangerous. It's expensive. There are unquantified risks."

      And he thinks that will stop private enterprise? If the potential for profit is there, then those have never posed an obstacle. The hard part is preventing business from sacrificing life and limb in pursuit of profit.
      • by asmkm22 (1902712) on Friday August 30, 2013 @04:07AM (#44714407)

        Commercial businesses need more than just "potential" profit, especially if they are going to be spending the insane amounts of money that space exploration will demand. There is currently no company that can realistically make something like a moon colony happen, much less a mars colony, because there needs to be some kind of return of investment.

        We can't even get a company to successfully trail blaze and revolutionize a source of clean energy to replace fossil fuels, so I don't know how in the world anyone thinks we'll do something even more difficult, expensive, and risky like manned space exploration any time soon.

        It's not a lost cause, however. It's just not something that's going to happen until a mars rover unearths a huge diamond deposit, or discovers some martian species capable of picking fruit for cheaper than the Mexicans. THEN, you can bet your ass some company will step up and suddenly have a plan.

        • by dkf (304284)

          Commercial businesses need more than just "potential" profit, especially if they are going to be spending the insane amounts of money that space exploration will demand.

          And yet lots of businesses do things for potential profit, and have done for centuries. It's about balancing risk and costs against what you can gain for it. (Now, if they can avoid sending people that'll keep costs down a lot in the early parts, at least until it is demonstrated that the profit can actually be realised.)

      • by gutnor (872759)

        Not to rain on your parade, but yes those 3 elements are show stopper for private enterprise, especially the unquantified bit. Getting the government covering your asses for some/all of those aspect is what it takes to kick start a market. Once the unquantifiable has been quantified, that's when the fun begin.

        For example, did you see a boom in private space exploration in the 70's ?

        Seems to me here that the only disagreement is to know if we have passed the threshold that make commercial colonisation o

    • It's not possible. Space is dangerous.

      So was crossing the atlantic in a boat. So was heavier-than-air flight.

      But there were riches to be had if you risked that crossing in a boat - there isn't in space. Etc... etc... And, as he notes and you conveniently ignore, the Atlantic wasn't opened by private enterprise. The same goes for heaver-than-air flight. From the NACA to the enormous jumpstart that came from truckloads goverment cash spending on research, training pilots (who later became available for civil employment), aircraft production, etc... etc... (especially in the two world wars)
       
      Cheap soundbites only make you look wise to the uneducated and kool-aid swillers.

      • The same goes for heaver-than-air flight.

        Oh yes, the famous Smithsonian Institute spent hundreds of thousand of taxpayers dollars over the several years to create the marvel of heavier-than-air unmanned flying machine. It's not that some small bicycle company then took that ideas and made a first controllable manned airplane. Ridiculous notion, truly.

      • Heavier-than-air flight got started pretty much because of private enterprise. Government was quick to exploit the new possibilities it afforded (especially around the wars) but the truckloads of government cash did not come in before privately funded R&D paved the way. And even Columbus' idea of a westward route to Asia carried a profit motive. Half of the cost of his voyages was put up by private investors. There is no reason to believe either of those things would not have happened if government
    • So was... well, you see where I'm going with this.

      I'm pretty sure going to the toilet in the middle of the night costs as much as it ever did (unless you count accidentally dropping your phone in).

  • by jfruh (300774) on Friday August 30, 2013 @03:28AM (#44714255)

    ...to say that it's an example of free enterprise in space is laughable. The company's most high-profile missions -- the Dragon capsules to and from the ISS -- are fully paid for by NASA. SpaceX is essentially a government contractor. It's "profitable" because the government is paying it do things (and because it can do those things more efficiently than the government could itself, for a variety of structural reasons). So, yeah, I have no doubt that Elon Musk could set up a Mars colony if the U.S. government paid him to do it. I'm just not sure that really constitutes "private business" doing the job.

    • by c0lo (1497653)

      ...to say that it's an example of free enterprise in space is laughable. The company's most high-profile missions -- the Dragon capsules to and from the ISS -- are fully paid for by NASA. SpaceX is essentially a government contractor. It's "profitable" because the government is paying it do things (and because it can do those things more efficiently than the government could itself, for a variety of structural reasons). So, yeah, I have no doubt that Elon Musk could set up a Mars colony if the U.S. government paid him to do it. I'm just not sure that really constitutes "private business" doing the job.

      Hang on.... before NASA paying SpaceX to do things... wasn't it a period of time when SpaceX took the risk of developing its capabilities without being funded by the govt?

      • by shia84 (1985626) on Friday August 30, 2013 @05:28AM (#44714669)

        If by "developing its capabilities" you mean "analysing, understanding and applying NASA knowledge from the last 5 decades" to which they have full access then yes, they did that at some point and are still doing it. However, I'd be very surprised if their own research added even close to 1% to the heap. Just look at the outright silly disparity in amount, scale and scope of experiments, the size of the funding and R&D staff, etc. between the two.

        They are basically a private extension of NASA with a significantly less risk averse decision making process, but also much less accountability. Not that I have anything against that, I think SpaceX is awesome, but I also do think that Tyson is mostly right.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 30, 2013 @04:12AM (#44714423)

      SpaceX's launch manifest is right here: http://www.spacex.com/missions

      Of the remaining four launches this year, only one is for NASA. Indeed, only one is for a US-based customer.
      Of the twelve launches next year, three are for NASA and one is for the US Air Force. One is a launch demo so that obviously doesn't count, but that's still seven out of eleven launches going somewhere other than the US Government.

      I don't really see SpaceX as being just a government contractor. It has plenty of customers, some of which are governments, and it actively seeks more by bringing launch costs down lower than any government agency has done in the past.

      The real questions are:

      1) Is there any profit to be made in colonizing space with human presence? If yes, then as someone else said, the hard part will be stopping them from doing so.
      2) If there isn't, since Elon Musk is a bit of a space colonization nut, can he make enough profit off of his other business to finance a colony out of sspare change?

  • by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@gmail. c o m> on Friday August 30, 2013 @03:29AM (#44714259) Homepage

    I've known this for... well, the better part of two decades now. It's blindingly obvious to anyone who has actually studied the history of exploration. And he doesn't go far enough at that - most of the voyages and expeditions were indeed backed by governments, but for commercial, political, and military advantages. The big problem, is that there really isn't much of that in space that we aren't exploiting already.

    • by oDDmON oUT (231200) on Friday August 30, 2013 @04:25AM (#44714469)

      Of your three examples, it seems to me the only real contender for a purely corporate endeavor is the Massachusetts Bay Company.

      The Hudson's Bay Company, and the East India Company in particular, appear to be more quasi-governmental concerns, birthed by royal fiat, benefiting those in government who invested, allowing ample plausible deniability for inhumane actions against indigenous people and whose assets were eventually folded back into government.

    • by Alef (605149) on Friday August 30, 2013 @04:36AM (#44714511)

      And obviously you didn't watch TFV. Quote from it: "The first Europeans to the New World were not the Dutch East India Trading Company. It was governments funding government missions. Columbus drew the maps, established where the trade winds were. Where are the hostiles? Where are the friendlies? Is there food there? Can you breathe the air? They come back with this information. Then you can establish a capital market evaluation. 'Cause now you know there are riches here but not there; you can go here by this route but not that one. Then you can turn it into a profitable enterprise."

      He thinks private companies should do more of the work in space, he just thinks there are too many unknowns for it to make business sense for anyone to push the frontiers.

  • The real reason (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sir-gold (949031) on Friday August 30, 2013 @03:50AM (#44714335)

    Tyson hit the REAL reason why serious private space flight will never happen, even if he didn't realize it:

    "...There are unquantified risks..."

    If the risks can't be quantified down to a concrete set of numbers, no insurance company will offer coverage. Without insurance coverage, no corporation has the balls to actually take the risk.

    • by jbeaupre (752124)

      Tyson is the REAL reason why serious private space flight will never happen, even if he didn't realize it:

      FTFY

      By insisting it's too risky and too expensive and can't be quantified, he's just perpetuating false reasons not to go into space ... by anyone.

      The alternative is to assume that they are not true under some conditions, learn those conditions, create those conditions, then make money.

      If getting government contracts (existing demand) is a step along the way to create those conditions, so be it. If cr

  • by oDDmON oUT (231200) on Friday August 30, 2013 @04:01AM (#44714375)

    Many major exploratory endeavors were subsidized:

    Columbus, subsidized by Queen Isabella.

    Louis and Clark, commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson and subsidized by the US government

    The transcontinental railroad, subsidized by the US government via the Pacific Railroad Acts of 1862 and 1864.

    The interstate highway system, which enabled US citizens to truly explore their own country was brought about through the US taxpayer at the behest of Dwight D. Eisenhower.

    NASA was subsidized.

    The initial ventures into "cyberspace" came about through the direction of DARPA, an arm of government.

    In fact, looking back, private industry hasn't really gotten involved until a clear profit potential was identified. So yeah, I'm going to have to side with Neil on this one.

    • by Xiaran (836924)
      You forgot commercial air travel. When you look at the big picture commercial air travel has made a cumulative loss and only exists because of government subsidy.
  • Private enterprise is the only way. Which is not to say that it will succeed, since this would essentially redefine the meaning of long-term business goals. However, under the current business zeitgeist in which the health of companies is gauged on a quarterly basis, in which "shareholder value" and "fiduciary responsibility" are code words for huge profits NOW or clearly something is fundamentally wrong with the business model - and it's time to send in the management consultants and equity fund boys for a
  • by physicsphairy (720718) on Friday August 30, 2013 @04:13AM (#44714427) Homepage

    Space is dangerous.

    Which doesn't matter as long as people are willing [mars-one.com] and the government doesn't step in to protect us from ourselves. I think the fact that it's dangerous has been much more of an impediment to NASA than it would be for private companies. When national pride rides on the mission success you have to attenuate risk to a degree that impedes the rate of progress. In any case, the progress of techology is constantly making all aspects of space travel safer, cheaper, and more feasible, which is why we are finally starting to see private space tech taking off. It could be that designing a robust space vehicle soon becomes as trivial as designing a luxury car.

    It's expensive.

    And potentially very profitable. Huge chunks of valuable metals floating around waiting to be mined. Potential for improved synthesis of high-value products in zero-G, or exploitable power which can be beamed back down to earth. Opportunity and adventure for which rich persons who would otherwise be building $1 billion yachts can pony up the ticket price. Entertainment value for the billions of earthlings watching the space colony reality TV shows. And then all the capitalizable charity and investment from people who just want it to happen.

    There are unquantified risks.

    Present in every undertaking, and the confrontation of which is what is known in economics as "entrepreurship."

    I do completely agree that more government funding would be nice. But I think it's a mistake to downplay the promise of private space technology in order to make that case. Especially because doing so is going to chase away investment money, which, unlike the congressional budget, Neil Degrassie can definitely influence. In some ways, I don't think it's good to discuss feasibility at all. Space tech has been all about taking what is not feasible and making it feasible. It was never a given the Apollo missions would make it to the moon. And it's not a given that you and I are going to see someone land on Mars. But I'm willing to support Elon Musk, or NASA, or anyone else who is going to try, and I'm not going suggest they can't do it, because I have to hope they can.

    • And potentially very profitable. Huge chunks of valuable metals floating around waiting to be mined. .

      I seem to recall reading that If there were a mass of gold ingots in low Earth orbit, it would not be economically feasible to send the Space Shuttle up to bring them back to Earth. You'd spend more on training, parts, maintenance and fuel than a cargo hold full of pure bullion could offset. If you had a factory in orbit to use the gold to some purpose, that might be different, but that's putting the cart before the horse.

  • by Jade_Wayfarer (1741180) on Friday August 30, 2013 @04:21AM (#44714453)
    Relevant quotes from Arthur C. Clarke:

    "Every revolutionary idea seems to evoke three stages of reaction. They may be summed up by the phrases: 1- It's completely impossible. 2- It's possible, but it's not worth doing. 3- I said it was a good idea all along."

    "The limits of the possible can only be defined by going beyond them into the impossible."

    And my personal favorite:

    "If an elderly but distinguished scientist says that something is possible, he is almost certainly right; but if he says that it is impossible, he is very probably wrong."

    With all the respect to Neil, my bets are on Musk and his likes in this one.

  • The answer: (Score:5, Funny)

    by FPhlyer (14433) on Friday August 30, 2013 @04:50AM (#44714565) Homepage

    Forget Govt. subsidizing of space exploration or private industry.
    We. Need. KERBALS!
    In less than 10 years my Kerbals have colonized two worlds and visited countless moons. How? Because Kerbals take the risks!

  • Remember Clarke's Laws (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clarke's_three_laws):
    1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
    2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

    OK, DeGrasse is not elderly (just 55 years old), but still...
  • by Alioth (221270) <no@spam> on Friday August 30, 2013 @05:07AM (#44714617) Journal

    He's right, you won't have businesses trying to establish a colony on Mars.

    However, that doesn't necessarily mean there is a probability of zero that Elon Musk can't talk a bunch of his very rich buddies to helping bankroll a mission to Mars, in other words, private but not commercial. (The probability is probably close to zero, but it is non-zero). In reality you'd probably find that NASA also provides something (and probably quite a lot of something) towards a Mars mission that had its origins outside of government.

    You can have private travel to somewhere without it being commercial.

  • by DdJ (10790) on Friday August 30, 2013 @10:38AM (#44716435) Homepage Journal

    The reasons cited are reasons why a competitive free market wouldn't directly lead to space.

    They're not, it seems to me, reasons why funds earned in the market and used by private individuals wouldn't lead to space.

    For an example, look at the Carnegie Museum and Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh. Andrew Carnegie got rich as hell, and then spent the money on stuff like that. Can other folks see stuff like that leading outward to space?

  • by sribe (304414) on Friday August 30, 2013 @10:55AM (#44716625)

    Seriously, in the 15th-18th centuries, trans-oceanic travel was extremely expensive and dangerous. Care to explain to me how private enterprise was unable to establish enterprises around it???

    It really is the perfect analogy: early exploration was funded by the richest governments of the day; as time passed, private enterprise pooled funds from large groups of investors; eventually costs were lowered, risks managed, and profits proven to an extent that smaller enterprises could play. But at no time was there a lack of willing travelers; there were always plenty of people not deterred by the unquantified dangers.

  • by roc97007 (608802) on Friday August 30, 2013 @12:23PM (#44717579) Journal

    Far be it from me to argue with a famous astrophysicist and media personality, but I really think Tyson is wrong on this one.

    Think of all the high risk (for the time) tasks that were done by private industry. Heavier than air flight, oil rigging and skyscrapers come to mind. There's probably a lot of other examples.

    Yes, space is dangerous, but so are a lot of other things [nationalgeographic.com].

    And most importantly, I think we're finding that space travel is expensive primarily because of the way governments do it. Having worked for a government contractor, I've seen first hand that our government has lost the ability to do anything at all at reasonable cost. To keep costs at reasonable (effective but not exorbitant) levels requires, I believe, the mind set that "I'm spending my own money on this", not "I'm spending someone else's money".

  • Tyson is a brilliant theoretical physicist and he should probably continue studying theoretical physics rather than pontificating on whether a billionaire who owns and designs products for multiple successful companies understands the risks and rewards of space exploration. When Neil deGrasse Tyson launches his own successful businesses and starts designing rocket ships that successfully deliver supplies to the international space station, he'll be slightly more qualified to hold an opinion on the subject.

    Elon Musk is an educated, trained physicist. He's started multiple successful businesses. He's designed and built electric cars that actually work for real people and that are built like tanks. He's designed and built rockets and capsules that carry out successful missions in space at a fraction of the cost of NASA and everyone else. He's doing what virtually nobody else is doing: taking risks. He's the next Steve Jobs and he doesn't want to make your music player pretty; he wants to go to Mars.

    If I were a betting man, I most certainly wouldn't be betting against Elon Musk. That's a stupid bet.

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