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Space Science

Why Space Exploration Is Worth the Cost 276

mlimber writes "The Freakonomics blog has a post in which they asked six knowledgeable people, Is space exploration is worth the public cost? Their answers are generally in the affirmative and illuminating. For example David M. Livingston, host of The Space Show, said: 'Businesses were started and are now meeting payrolls, paying taxes, and sustaining economic growth because the founder was inspired by the early days of the manned space program, often decades after the program ended! This type of inspiration and motivation seems unique to the manned space program and, of late, to some of our robotic space missions.'"
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Why Space Exploration Is Worth the Cost

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  • by UbuntuDupe ( 970646 ) * on Saturday January 12, 2008 @02:56PM (#22016848) Journal
    So an economist asked some guys who haven't gotten past the broken window fallacy? Ok, whatever.

    Space exploration may be justified, but let's see if we can talk about without getting dazzled about all the jobbies it creates.

    Yeah, yeah, flamebait, etc.
  • private spaceflight (Score:2, Interesting)

    by wikinerd ( 809585 ) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @03:06PM (#22016970) Journal
    Governments should cut taxes and privatise space agencies, while encouraging private spaceflight. Without private spaceflight, we cannot explore the space in an economically efficient way.
  • Wow (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Aaron Isotton ( 958761 ) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @03:15PM (#22017074)
    They asked the following people whether space exploration is worth it:

    - G. Scott Hubbard, professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Stanford University and former director of the NASA Ames Research Center
    - Joan Vernikos, a member of the Space Studies Board of the National Academy and former director of NASA's Life Sciences Division
    - Kathleen M. Connell, a principal of The Connell Whittaker Group, a founding team member of NASA's Astrobiology Program, and former policy director of the Aerospace States Association
    - Keith Cowing, founder and editor of and former NASA space biologist.
    - David M. Livingston, host of The Space Show, a talk radio show focusing on increasing space commerce and developing space tourism
    - John M. Logsdon, director of the Space Policy Institute and acting director of the Center for International Science and Technology Policy at George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs

    They all said yes. Who would have thought.
  • Oferchrisakes... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Ralph Spoilsport ( 673134 ) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @03:18PM (#22017112) Journal
    I *completely* agree space exploration is worth the money. BUT: asking people from NASA and "David M. Livingston, host of The Space Show" - WTF?

    Let's ask Pol Pot, Adolf Hitler, Stalin, and Attila the Hun if Genocide is | Why not ask some people whose mortgages and careers are not so completely ied up in the venture. What a dumb article. I guess it's just our wonderful News Media coughing up blood and not able to get it up anymore.... as usual...


  • by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @03:46PM (#22017394) Journal
    Sagan pondered if the earth had a similar "maximum capacity."

    Launching 5 billion people into space would take all the energy and bankrupt the planet. I agree that we need to branch out, but more as a hedge against wars and asteroids, not overpopulation. Unless we find super-cheap energy, moving existing crowds into space is a medicine worse than the disease.

  • by Waffle Iron ( 339739 ) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @03:56PM (#22017504)

    Why should I have to pay more taxes to finance your pet project?

    Because that's the way the world has worked since the time the Pyramids were built.

  • Re:Wow (Score:1, Interesting)

    by musth ( 901919 ) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @04:25PM (#22017830)
    First problem is assuming that people with "most knowledge" all get their paychecks from fields and organizations that have a vested interest in space boosterism. "Significant knowledge" and "objective viewpoints" are just as important to the discussion. These include many experts and thinkers available in fields which deal with future planning and balancing available resources - you know, things like planetary science, biology, economics, social policy, government, and demographics. Space exploration is only one gee-whiz thing we can lavish our limited resources on. How about getting our global problems under control on Earth before billions die from overcrowding?
  • Re:Yes. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by symbolset ( 646467 ) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @05:20PM (#22018336) Journal

    Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said, "Because it is there." Well, space is there, and we're going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God's blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.

    John F. Kennedy, 9/12/1962 [] mp3 []

    We will go. The only question is: will we be first to climb this mountain, or will we be shown the way by better men?

  • by JohnFluxx ( 413620 ) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @07:11PM (#22019438)
    Sure, right up until an asteroid hits us, or a some particularly nasty virus breaks out, or WW3 happens, etc.
  • by mobby_6kl ( 668092 ) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @08:15PM (#22019944)
    But that Benz guy wasn't leeching off our tax money, was he? Neither were the Wright brothers. Yet here we are with half a billion of cars and a carrierload of planes. Sure you could bring up the impact military research during WWI/II, but then, we'd never know the alternative in which zee German scientists and entrepreneurs toy around with these ideas in safety and economic prosperity.

    Perhaps you're misunderstanding the question. It's not realty "why do anything?". For a question like that, you don't really need an answer beyond "I enjoy $something". It's nobody's business why you want to go watch Gigli on an IMAX screen, that's your thing. Perhaps you could say "my enjoyment of Gigli on a huge screen >= price of admission" if somebody asked to justify your decision further. But things get much more complicated when we're talking about public spending on some pet projects, there has to be more supporting evidence than a bunch of people finding it cool in order to convince me to pay up.

    It's easy to point at some existing technology* and claim that it's clearly worth whatever was spent on it, especially if one's not doing any retrospective hidden/opportunity cost analysis. So then, let's engage in some mental masturbation. What if, instead of "wasting"** money on space exploration, we were spending the same amount on exploring our oceans? Having a permanent base on the bottom of the Marianas Trench, a-la Bioshock perhaps, would be pretty damn awesome, I'd say. We'd have scientific research going on, a tourism industry, etc. Then, in the process of exploration we discover a species of fish with the ability to cure cancer telepathically***. Surely then, "cancer curing fish" > "downloading porn while on a desert island"? Looks like we're (indirectly) responsible for deaths of millions every year by choosing space instead of ocean exploration.

    The point is, I think, that we can rarely tell in advance what discoveries something like space/ocean exploration will bring, but it'd be nice to have something more than the coolness factor determine the fate of various projects. Go ahead and make a case for human exploration of space, we certainly need more open discussion, but let's try to keep things objective and measurable. It's certainly possible even when dealing with space exploration, just avoid the common fallacies and Utopian dreams. Alright, at this point I'm not sure if this post is forming a coherent argument or not, but I'll leave it at this.

    *- Some of the things you listed aren't financed from public spending; think Sat TV, Iridium...
    **- My position on this isn't relevant, so don't flame me on this
    ***- That's pretty damn stupid, but whatever.

All seems condemned in the long run to approximate a state akin to Gaussian noise. -- James Martin