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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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  • Yes. (Score:5, Funny)

    by dr_wheel ( 671305 ) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @02:53PM (#22016816)
    It is is.
    • by 2.7182 ( 819680 )
      I disagree, but people who do aren't given much of a voice in the media. If you read the article you will see that all the 6 people are related to working on manned space missions, directly or indirectly. It would be more interesting if they asked a random cross section of scientists. In this case, the game is fixed.
    • 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 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.
    • by stranger_to_himself ( 1132241 ) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @03:04PM (#22016944) Journal

      You're right. We shouldn't have to justify our ambitions economically, it's such a depressing way to see the world. Lets just do something because its awesome.

      We should be capable of deciding what are the goals for mankind, especially those we cannot realise as individuals. I suppose the economic benefits help to sugar the pill for those who are not inspired by exploration and understanding of the universe.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by 3.2.3 ( 541843 )
        Yes, the broken window fallacy is the correct assessment. Calling the inspiration of space exploration "unique" was an attempt to skirt the fallacy. The enonomics, though, is the correct basis to evaluate the decisions. Resources are limited to solve problems. There are more important problems than space beauty and fantasy, such as energy, environment, education, and poverty. Government spending on those problems are equal economic engines with more practical benefit. What is not spent on the broken window
      • by SerpentMage ( 13390 ) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @03:33PM (#22017286)
        Well here is a question why do anything? Most things like flying, driving, and so on did not seem useful. Let's take the car as an example. Look at the first model: []. In 1885 could you have seen that thing be more economical than say a horse? I doubt that the first model as proposed by Benz could even travel more than a couple of kilometers. And yet here we are with millions upon millions of cars.

        The problem with space is that humanity dropped the ball. We should have done more sooner. Of course part of the problem is that America had to keep footing the bill. But think about what space travel has brought:

        GPS, Satellite Media, The Ability to detect global warming, Satellite phones, etc, etc...

        I am even thinking if we had traveled and lived in space quicker we would have less of a global warming problem. After all to be able to live in space you better be efficient and learn how to recycle...
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by mobby_6kl ( 668092 )
          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 reall
      • Comment removed based on user account deletion
      • Because it is hard (Score:5, Insightful)

        by symbolset ( 646467 ) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @04:24PM (#22017802) Journal

        We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

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

      • No no, don't you see, economic goals trump absolutely everything else

        Unfortunately, too many people do think that way these days.

        Kids today, know the price of everything, and the value of nothing ... *grumble*. Like you say, let's do it because it's cool. It's not as if we're not spending most of our money on crap anyway, we've long since figured out how to take care of most of our basic needs.
        • Oops, lost a tag after the first line there.

          Seriously though, imagine if society spent as much time and money and devotion on space travel as we probably do just on creating, distributing and reading news about Britney Spears *alone*. And that's just one of the many none-too-amazing things we expend our productivity/wealth on ... so I have no doubt society can afford it.
      • by gnuman99 ( 746007 ) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @07:19PM (#22019508)
        Spread or fail. If humans don't spread beyond this planet, we fail. Plain and simple.

        The purpose of life is to survive. Being stuck on this planet will lead to your extinction either caused by ourselves or external forces (aka. asteroid). It is just a matter of time. All the talk about military in this discussion (see other threads) just underscores that we are still thinking small. We'll kill each other for the tiny resources on this small planet instead of taking what is freely available elsewhere.

        We should be at war with universe*, not ourselves. We must shed our stone age mentality, now.

        * - this means in terms of "conquering" new places that are deemed inhabitable and making them habitable. Like Moon or Mars or Ganymede or Titan.
    • by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @04:27PM (#22017848) Journal
      Before I get started: I actually quite like the space program, and I do think that some advances were made for it. But the "it created jobs!!!" argument is IMHO still a fallacy.

      There's a more subtle version or relative of the broken window there. The fallacy is assuming that those jobs wouldn't have been created by someone else, for another purpose.

      The thing is, since we've been Keynesian [] all along, all the governments have known about the Phillips curve [] too. In fact, applied it.

      The short and skinny is that there's an interdependency between inflation and unemployment. So for more than half a century what all governments did was try to stay at a point of their choosing on that curve. That's the reason the Federal Reserve tries to keep inflation at a given point, for example. Because too much inflation is bad by itself, but too little creates unemployment.

      So in doing so, it fixes the employment where it wants it too.

      Basically if those jobs hadn't been created by the space program, then they would have been created somewhere else. Not the same jobs, mind you, but a roughly equal number anyway.

      The even more insidious part of the "but it created jobs!!!" sophistry is that it tries to imply that something was gained where nothing would have been created instead otherwise. People already nod and imagine that all the things those people achieved in those jobs, are surely better than nothing at all, because they wouldn't even be employed without a space program. Which just isn't so. Those people would have been employed, and would have produced _something_ in all this time, with or without a space program. Each job there, came at the expense of exactly one job somewhere else. Every 8 hours day spent reviewing why the shuttle's heat tiles broke, are 8 hours that weren't spent (by that guy or someone else) on some other project.

      A point could still be made whether we benefited more from those jobs, than from the alternate history version without a space program. Unfortunately, none of us knows what would have really happened in an alternate history. Maybe all those jobs would have been cabbie and McDonalds jobs instead. In that case, sure, we're better off with them working (directly or indirectly) for NASA instead. But at least theoretically it's equally possible that they would have worked on some better project instead. Maybe in that parallel universe without a space program, all those smart people worked on fusion power instead and now have cheap energy everywhere and a bunch of innovative electronics trickled to other domains from _that_ research. We don't know.
    • by imipak ( 254310 )
      Yeah, this is a crock. There's no rational justification for manned spaceflight at all beyond the "ooh, shiny!" aspect (Which is all that the "wow, that's so cool!" reaction most of us still have to pics of people in zero G or whatever. *unmanned* spaceflight OTOH is clearly an incredibly rich resource, returning all those lovely technology spin-offs and pork, with the benefit of a vast amount of data for relatively tiny amounts. (Can anyone can point to a single scientific discovery from the STS programme
    • by TrevorB ( 57780 )
      Considering the amount of non-renewable resources is fixed, and that one day we'll be mining our garbage dumps and recycling everything else, one would think that space exploration is necessary from an economical point of view.

      At some point in the future, that exponential growth of a market economy and the fixed size of the planet are going to crash, hard. We either transition to a flat, non-growth economy, or leave the planet in search of more resources. It's as simple as that.

    • by MikeFM ( 12491 )
      This is not a broken window fallacy. In that case the money spent has limited value - in this case the money spent has unlimited value.

      As to the fallacy itself I can't entirely agree with it. It's not as simple a problem as it appears. Often people will not circulate money as quickly as could be desired. Often the money will be spent in such a way that it is circulated through only a small part of society. Perhaps by circulating the money among tradesmen (a lower segment of society) before it migrates to th
  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <(eldavojohn) (at) (> on Saturday January 12, 2008 @02:59PM (#22016884) Journal
    When I was 15 or so (ten years ago), I read Carl Sagan's Billions & Billions [] which was a book more about his thoughts than science ... or maybe I'm repeating myself.

    But anyway, at some point in that book, he talks about ordering this novel device that is a world in a globe. It's a nutrient mix in water with some sort of tiny aquatic animals. But the globe is sealed. The instructions are to leave it where sunlight can hit it and let nature do the rest. So Sagan puts it on his desk.

    The next day, the water is foggy. Soon after it is teaming with microscopic life.

    But after a short amount of time, the globe goes silent and there is a dark residue on the glass with nothing else in the water. Sagan pondered if the earth had a similar "maximum capacity." Now, there are differences, we can cite different natural processes that replace what we take making them a replenishable resource. But our numbers and pollution threaten them. He also discusses population control and ends up with the general conclusion that war, diseases, natural disasters and the like will cap us out somewhere around 2010. I, unfortunately, don't see our growth slowing as much as he projected.

    In fact, it made so much sense to me that, at the age of fifteen, I wrote a letter to my Minnesota senators urging them to push for more spending to NASA & even subsidizing the private sector--after all, how many billions go into defense? Surely some of that could be better spent to begin the lengthy process of insuring that we will not have a glass covering over the earth. My words fell on deaf ears as I received no response. I don't believe I've written a letter to a politician higher than the county level since then although I have received a letter from the vice president for completing the Eagle Scout Award ... but I digress.

    The point is that if we continue down the path we are taking with pollution, don't invest in space travel and continue to procreate, we are sitting in a glass casing. It's only a matter of time before we put ourselves in a near suicide contention with constrained resources. If we don't have peaceful space exploration and means of growing outwards, our only solutions are war, mass genocide, famine, disease and many horrible ugly scenarios.

    I still see the need for making extraterrestrial planets sustainable to human growth and development.
    • I agree very strongly with your argument. Humanity has this terrible penchant for killing itself and sooner or later we're going to turn the Earth into a scorched cinder, I just hope that it's long after we move a large portion of the people off the planet. If not a large part then at least enough to keep our race going.
    • by bhima ( 46039 ) *
      I've owned a few of those spheres and I think they're great.

      I have also found that people in government respond better to faxes (about narrow issues and better yet specific bills) that they respond to emails or phone calls. I usually snail mail letters on important issues. Given the right tech faxing is just like emailing and isn't as inconvenient to send as a snail mail.

          You can find out about the specific bills and about voting records on OpenCongress.Org
    • by NotQuiteReal ( 608241 ) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @03:43PM (#22017374) Journal
      The environment on this planet is completely capable of changing all on its own.

      It has changed before and it will change again, homo sapiens or no.

      In my opinion, the capricious nature of Nature is an even better argument for extra-terrestrial human colonization.

      In other words, saying we need to develop space travel because we are screwing up this planet is pretty lame. A big rock can fall from the cosmos next month and kill us all. That should be motivation enough.

      • by dpilot ( 134227 )
        >because we are screwing up this planet is pretty lame.

        We're not screwing up this planet. We're probably not even capable of really screwing up this planet. It's a matter of time scale... given a few million years, the Earth will recover from whatever we've done.

        On the other hand, we are perfectly capable of making the Earth terminally uncomfortable for ourselves, for the next few hundreds or thousands of years.

        That's not to deny the terminal inconvenience of big rocks, either.

        On the other hand, the Co
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Tablizer ( 95088 )
      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 darjen ( 879890 )

      The point is that if we continue down the path we are taking with pollution, don't invest in space travel and continue to procreate, we are sitting in a glass casing. It's only a matter of time before we put ourselves in a near suicide contention with constrained resources. If we don't have peaceful space exploration and means of growing outwards, our only solutions are war, mass genocide, famine, disease and many horrible ugly scenarios.

      I don't see how this is supports an argument for *publicly* funded spa

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by kodiakbri ( 1081957 )
      I feel somewhat worried that people feel we have to get human life to other planets. It's kind of like an escape pod idea. We've got to solve the problems here. Let's make this place sustainable. A dark way to look at this is that humans are an invasive species on this planet and it might be better for the universe if we just stayed put. Are we going to do to others like we did to the Native Americans, or wipe out species like we did in Hawaii? Kind of dark yes, but it is a reasonable argument.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by JohnFluxx ( 413620 )
        Sure, right up until an asteroid hits us, or a some particularly nasty virus breaks out, or WW3 happens, etc.
    • You're right: Influenza, AIDS, SARS, West Nile Virus, H5N1... sooner or later one of these beauties is going to come along and we're not going to be able to treat it. However, that sort of argument is never going to make anyone pay attention in a world where yet-to-be-invented technologies are invoked as a panacea for global warming.

      You really don't have to look very deep into history to see that money is always the driver for expansion and colonisation. Fore example, Britain was exporting religious nuts

  • private spaceflight (Score:2, Interesting)

    by wikinerd ( 809585 )
    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.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Every time I hear that a tax cut will actually produce something I can't help but roll my eyes.

      Just imagine what would have happened if we had tried to go to the moon with tax breaks and encouragement. We would have been laughed out of the space race.
      • by ErikZ ( 55491 ) *
        In the context of "The Space Race", we would have lost.

        How about this, "If you can get to an astro body and exploit it for a profit, it's yours."

        All of a sudden there's a huge interest in space. The Russians would have been the first to the Moon. But we would have set up mining colonies, settlements, antenna arrays...
      • Exactly. He acts like private companies aren't pursuing this because they have to pay taxes. Guess what - private companies are more than free to pursue space flight right now. Guess what else - many don't because it's not commercially viable. Unfortunately, space flight still falls under the category of basic research. Basic research is almost always done with government funding, mainly because the purpose is to gain knowledge, not to make money.
        • Basic research is almost always done with government funding, mainly because the purpose is to gain knowledge, not to make money.

          Governments are inefficient in providing funds for research.

          The governments award grant to whoever is friends with a member of parliament etc... even if the research is bogus.

          Research funding should come from rich nerds and gentleman scientists who actually care about science and have the funds to pursue their dreams. The public can also donate funds to not-for-profit associations to support scientific research. Governments could just encourage people to donate funds and time towards a cause. But

    • by globaljustin ( 574257 ) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @04:11PM (#22017646) Journal

      Without private spaceflight, we cannot explore the space in an economically efficient way.

      parent is a troll...doesn't provide even the most basic support for his contention

      please mod down

      on topic, i think private space exploration is great...too bad no one is really doing it. right now, the only active presence of private industry in space is for SPACE TOURISM, not's all about some rich guy doing a sub-orbital shot and going 'whooopppeee!' during his 10 minutes of 0g

      space tourism is not the same as true exploration, no private industry has any legit plans/funding to actually DO any exploration...all they have is a power point presentation and a sales pitch...slashdot has discussed this thoroughly...can't we accept this and move on now?

      • doesn't provide even the most basic support for his contention

        You don't expect me to write essays on Slashdot, do you? Raising an opinion you don't like is not trolling.

        no private industry has any legit plans/funding to actually DO any exploration

        Private spaceflight isn't only about business companies, it's also about not-for profit associations of citizens. I am a member of the British Interplanetary Society and the Planetary Society. Who launched Cosmos-1? Planetary Society did! Who studied nuclear pulse propulsion? British Interplanetary Society did! And now Planetary Society is going to launch Cosmos-2. So, we can go to space wit

  • ... from the pro-NASA panel he asked - here's comment number 5 from the blog (and there are plenty of others):

    "Everyone seems to be in agreement! I would think so being that 4 of the 5 panel memebers are current or former NASA employees! Perhaps more care should have been taken in ensuring the diversity of the panel. There must be some arguments to the contrary out there and I'd be curious to see those debated as well.

    -- Posted by Mike Mogie"
  • 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.
    • Yeah, there is a sort of bias in finding "experts" on such a question. There's no "Society for the Termination of All Space Travel". The best you could do is find some economist to discuss the broader context of allocating resources to such a goal, or maybe a radical environmentalist (not a redundancy) group.
    • by _xeno_ ( 155264 )

      They weren't just asked if space exploration is worthwhile, they were asked why it is worthwhile.

      So, yes, it's not surprising that they all said "yes," but their reasons why are still worth reading. And that's what the story is about, reasons in support of space exploration.

    • Right... because who better to comment on the benefits of space exploration than people who actually know something about space. In your world I suppose we'd have botanists color commenting football games and musicians critiquing bridge and highway safety.
      • Obviously people who know something about space should comment on space exploration topics. But since they're talking about cost, the merits of science and similar topics they should obviously also ask some economists, philosophers and similar.

        I suppose that in your world we have football players commenting the merit of building of new stadiums.
  • by gmuslera ( 3436 ) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @03:16PM (#22017088) Homepage Journal
    ... is usually a very bad idea, knowing how much times the basket fell in the past. But space exploration is not just searching for a backup to save a sample of us. Just trying to do that, either in things we must develop for it, or things we find doing that, or things we discover out there, are short term benefits that must not be discarded (put the question before there were communication satellites and think in how much we could had lost).

    I loved the "Why do it now?" question of a senator... you can ask the same question every day, except the day that is already too late.
  • 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...


    • I wrote:

      "Let's ask Pol Pot, Adolf Hitler, Stalin, and Attila the Hun if Genocide is |"

      Ooops. I wrote KEWL in 1337, but I forgot /. uses html, so the 1337 ended up disappearing. Argh.


  • Define "Worth it" (Score:3, Insightful)

    by yariv ( 1107831 ) <yariv.yaari@g[ ] ['mai' in gap]> on Saturday January 12, 2008 @03:24PM (#22017188)
    It's the best way to ensure the survival of humanity, and in the long run it's a very good economical investment (as it's a n investment in science and technology). However, in the short run it brings nothing to the common man (except pride and owe, maybe). So the question is, what do you want.

    By the way, I've seen someone talking about private space exploration, but we must remember the amazingly high costs and the relatively high chances of failure in any specific operation. There is no way a private "for profit" organization will take such expenses with this odds against it, not until it's relatively safe and simple due to government-funded research. It is no coincidence that most modern inventions (computers, for example) were made by government-funded bodies or at least, by a company that it's main costumer is the government.
  • according to this [] someday soon the space around planet earth is quickly filling up with space junk or chinese pirates and shooting rocket ships in to space can become real hazardous...
  • by aelbric ( 145391 ) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @03:29PM (#22017242)
    The 16 Billion NASA gets is .01% of the 1.6 Trillion that goes into Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid every year. Funding space exploration at this bargain-basement budget level should be a no brainer
    • by aelbric ( 145391 ) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @03:32PM (#22017266)
      *sigh* 1%
      • The 16 Billion NASA gets is .01% of the 1.6 Trillion that goes into Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid every year. Funding space exploration at this bargain-basement budget level should be a no brainer.

        *sigh* 1%
        Dude. Don't beat yourself up. It's just math, not rocket science. :-)
        I agree with your assertion though.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Scotman ( 1126481 )
      As a friend of mine says "I would rather they spend this money on space then on rockets with warheads pointed at me." The fact is that welfare and is very nice but does not change the problem. Spend a billion on it today and you will be guaranteed one thing, you will need two billion the next year. There is something being mist by people that say we need to spend it on our internal troubles first. And that is that after the money is spent it buys tomorrow but what about the day after? People don't just stan
    • by canuck57 ( 662392 ) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @05:50PM (#22018596)

      The 16 Billion NASA gets is .01% of the 1.6 Trillion that goes into Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid every year. Funding space exploration at this bargain-basement budget level should be a no brainer

      So if I did my math right, and Iraq is up to about a trillion, NASA could have been funded some 55+ year (not including interest). Or double NASA's funding 27 1/2 years. What a waste.

  • Because their core philosophy is incentives and disincentives, and suddenly they're stuck in the middle of the aforementioned broken window fallacy.

    I'm surprised that the same guys who figured out why NFL coaches rarely make risky calls (the coaches make choice that defer blame, mostly to players), can't really figure out what gives with the whole space flight thing.

    NASA has been the subject of too much blame. It's that simple.

    Since the Challenger accident, NASA has been on a losing streak. Except for

    • All true. --But since it is well known by the power brokers of the world just how easy it is to manipulate the public, one might wonder, (one being 'me'), if these disincentives were random nuggets in the bag of feed, or sprinkled deliberately into the trough. They say nothing in politics happens by accident, and the more I learn about the world, the more evident this appears to be. NASA is politics.

      Heck, if the American beef and wheat industries can invert the food pyramid, and if the CIA and military c
  • Vernikos on the R.O.I. of space travel: "Economic, scientific and technological returns of space exploration have far exceeded the investment. ... Royalties on NASA patents and licenses currently go directly to the U.S. Treasury, not back to NASA."

    I'd like to see more detailed evidence of this. In the past, there have been some "creative accounting" under such claims.

    Space exploration will eventually allow us to establish a human civilization on another world (e.g., Mars) as a hedge against the type of ca
  • Bikini'ed Space Babes!
  • It may have already been said, but even so it bears repeating that space exploration is critical to the survival of the human race. No matter what we do, Earth will not be here forever.
  • Peak copper []
  • by Sentry21 ( 8183 ) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @04:58PM (#22018102) Journal
    Of course it's worth exploring! Just think of all the technology and advancements we've already brought back from the Gou'auld, the Asgard, and the Ancients. Naquada reactors, hyperdrive engines, beaming technology. Who knows what more might be out there!
  • But it would be even better to spend lots of money on alternative energy research. It would generally have the same benefits as space exploration. Spin-off technology, stimulating a the development of the middle class, etc. And of course we eventually have alternative energy, which could be of almost unlimited value.
  • The Red Mars, Blue Mars, Green Mars series by Kim Stanley Robinson covers a thousand year period from when humans first colonize Mars. It presents a pretty plausible, hard science exploration of that millenium, from the technology to do so at the start, through the social changes that occur on Earth (struggling with massive overpopulation) and Mars (the development of planetary polity), towards the general colonization of the solar system (moons, space stations, and asteroids also inhabited).

    It certainly

  • by petes_PoV ( 912422 ) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @05:25PM (#22018370)
    The question posed was "is manned space exploration worth the cost?"

    Most of the answers and justifications include manned and unmanned exploration. If you take the benefits from unmanned exploration out of the responses from the selected pundits, the answers are much less emphatic.

    (not my view, just an observation that the question wasn't properly answered)

  • by jpellino ( 202698 ) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @05:25PM (#22018372)
    How many were inspired to want to go to space by watching Barbarella?

    Soooo... let's make Jane Fonda a budget item.

  • sloppy thinking (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bcrowell ( 177657 ) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @05:50PM (#22018598) Homepage

    Space exploration will eventually allow us to establish a human civilization on another world (e.g., Mars) as a hedge against the type of catastrophe that wiped out the dinosaurs.
    This is a good argument for accomplishing crewed space travel in the next few centuries. It's not a good argument for short-term boondoggles like the space shutte (whose only purpose is to go to the ISS) anf the ISS (whose only purpose is to give the space shuttle somewhere to go).

    We explore space and create important new technologies to advance our economy. It is true that, for every dollar we spend on the space program, the U.S. economy receives about $8 of economic benefit.
    Lots of other types of spending by the U.S. federal government could have payoffs like this. Maybe the money should be spend on proteinomics. If this was going to be a valid argument, economists would have to have a magic wand that would allow them to predict the long-term economic result of taxing and spending to support crewed space programs, taxing and spending to do other things, or refraining from taxing and spending.

    Space exploration can also serve as a stimulus for children to enter the fields of science and engineering.
    Children enter those fields because they're fun, and they find they have a talent for it. This also seems to be assuming in advance the validity of all the bogus doomsday statements in the media about how we're not producing enough scientists and engineers. I teach engineering majors, and the painful truth is that many of them just aren't good enough at math and science to be engineers. They're being steered into the field by their parents, who tell them they can make a lot of money. If there are "not enough" scientists and engineers, what is that "not enough" based on? Is it not enough because employers are upset at the quality of applicants they get when they offer x dollars per year? Maybe the answer is that employers should offer more money and see if they get a better applicant pool. That's how supply and demand work.

    Space exploration in an international context offers a peaceful cooperative venue that is a valuable alternative to nation state hostilities.
    Last time I checked, the cold war had been over for decades, and the ISS was not a joint project of Iran, North Korea, and the U.S. In any case, there are plenty of big projects we could cooperate on with other countries. The political impetus for cooperation with the Russians on the ISS was in fact one of the reasons the ISS ended up being useless (highly inclined orbit).

    National prestige requires that the U.S. continue to be a leader in space, and that includes human exploration.
    National prestige requires that we end the USA Patriot act, close down Guantanamo, apologize to the world for Abu Ghraib, and end the U.S. military's practice of kidnapping the families of Iraqi insurgents (see Fiasco : The American Military Adventure in Iraq by Thomas E. Ricks). Funny how this national prestige thing seems to be a matter of individual opinion.

    Exploration of space will provide humanity with an answer to the most fundamental questions: Are we alone? Are there other forms of life beside those on Earth?
    If that's what we want, then SETI would be a better investment than crewed spaceflight.
    • I think the guy who put forward that argument meant self-image, rather than prestige.

      Every country likes to think that it has a superiority in one area or another. Using progress in (manned) space exploration as a prop is part of Kennedy's legacy. It's probably good for another coulple of decades - while people who were young adults during the 60's are still alive. After that I think it'll become much less important both to the people as a whole and to therefore to the politicians. Unless NASA can pull of

  • We are all dead if we can not get out of the solar system.

    If you want to know why read a news paper.

    We can not get out of the solar system using rockets. Only a fundamental advance in physics can get us out. Therefore money should not be spent on cheap tricks with rockets. Money should be spent on fundamental physics. The builders of the UFOs have figured out how to do it. Therefore it is possible and we should work on figuring it out.

    The physicists should play it like a bridge hand, that is, assume the

    • by gatkinso ( 15975 )
      You (and I) are going to die no matter where we are. The individual has little value for the collective survival in this regard.
  • ...not that people will ever stop doing that. But on the bright side - we just might find someone else to blow up. Or have sex with.

    Or eat.
  • Space travel with chemical fuels just barely works. The energy density just isn't there. No matter what you do, your vehicle is almost all fuel tank. That's why we need multistage rockets, weight-reduced to the point they're very fragile, to put dinky payloads in orbit at huge costs. There's been no fundamental improvement in big rockets in forty years. Arguably, rocketry peaked with the Saturn V.

    Forty years is a long time. Aviation went from the Sopwith Camel to the Boeing 707 in 40 years. Computer

  • This is a great summary of the arguments regarding space exploration and my take on each argument.

    1. Space exploration will eventually allow us to establish a human civilization on another world (e.g., Mars) as a hedge against the type of catastrophe that wiped out the dinosaurs.

    Two issues arise here. First, the most likely sources of this sort of catastrophe are created by humans or preventable by our actions. If we spend our effort trying to allow the elite to escape the planet instead of trying to sav

  • Space exploration crews could conduct global warming research on the International Space Station National Laboratory, while other crews from the public or private sector could rapidly assemble solar energy satellites for clean energy provision to Earth

    You do not need "space exploration crews" on the space station do conduct global warming research. In fact, anything in earth orbit can be done robotically or by telepresence.

    In fact, the authors seem to presume that "space exploration" means "manned space ex

  • by Buran ( 150348 ) on Saturday January 12, 2008 @07:43PM (#22019714)
    One of the best arguments I've seen supporting space efforts was a fictional news interview that was shown on TV around ten years ago or so as part of a drama.

    Interviewer asks: "Why should we spend money on space? Why do we need to spend billions building space stations, the ships to get there, unmanned probes, why are we interested in finding and someday visiting other planets in our solar system and, someday, outside it? What's the point? Why have a space program at all?" And I always mentally add the unspoken question of "why does the space program constantly get bad press for using, at most, 1% of the federal budget and why does it still get reamed out for being a money-waster when we spend trillions on killing people, which is not as productive and doesn't inspire dreamers? Please explain to these shortsighted idiots why it's important."

    The answer was:

    "Ask ten different scientists about the environment, population control, genetics and you'll get ten different answers, but there's one thing every scientist on the planet agrees on. Whether it happens in a hundred years or a thousand years or a million years, eventually our Sun will grow cold and go out. When that happens, it won't just take us. It'll take Marilyn Monroe and Lao-Tzu and Einstein and Morobuto and Buddy Holly and Aristophenes ... and all of this ... all of this was for nothing unless we go to the stars."

  • Are you kidding?

    We're floating in a big not-so-empty void. I'm 25, and still if I look up at the skies, or feel the sun on my skin I feel frustratingly inable to "reach to touch the stars". I try to closely follow NASA's projects, my day isn't complete without the Astronomy Picture of the day [] filling me with childish wonder about the world and reality we live in. The universe is magnificent, at least what we get to see from it thusfar, and there's so much more to be learned and seen.

    It's hard to understa

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