Sunday, January 13, 2008

Space Exploration : how much of that money you want to spend on manned space travel, and why?

This debate is about question about worth or not in case of Space Exploration by NASA. Very interesting statement here is "Mars is going nowhere", but the budget is urgently proposed. This discussion pick from Freakconomics Forum, and presented here :

January 11, 2008, 11:19 am
Is Space Exploration Worth the Cost? A Freakonomics Quorum
By Stephen J. Dubner

Warning: what follows is a long blog post, perhaps better suited for a newspaper or magazine, and it will at times require your close attention. But I believe it is easily one of the best quorums we've ever published here. I'd like to thank all the participants for their thoughtful, well-considered, and fascinating answers, and for taking the time to share their very considerable expertise and experience.

Pretend that instead of being responsible for your household budget, which means paying for rent or a mortgage, transportation, some schooling costs, groceries, healthcare, vacation, etc., you are instead responsible for a considerably larger budget that provides a variety of services for about 300 million people including the maintenance of an army, protecting the borders, etc. In other words, pretend you are responsible for the U.S. Federal budget. And now ask yourself how much of that money you want to spend on manned space travel, and why.

We gathered up a group of space authorities - G. Scott Hubbard, Joan Vernikos, Kathleen M. Connell, Keith Cowing, and David M. Livingston, and John M. Logsdon - and asked them the following:

Is manned space exploration worth the cost? Why or why not?

Their responses are below. As I suggested above, take your time. For the impatient among you, here are a few highlights:

Logsdon on a not-so-obvious incentive for manned space travel: "Space exploration can also serve as a stimulus for children to enter the fields of science and engineering."

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."

Cowing on space expenditures relative to other costs: "Right now, all of America's human space flight programs cost around $7 billion a year. That's pennies per person per day. In 2006, according to the USDA, Americans spent more than $154 billion on alcohol. We spend around $10 billion a month in Iraq. And so on."

I hope you enjoy their answers, and learn from them, as much as I did.

G. Scott Hubbard, professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Stanford University and former director of the NASA Ames Research Center:

The debate about the relative merits of exploring space with humans and robots is as old as the space program itself. Werner Von Braun, a moving force behind the Apollo Program that sent humans to the moon and the architect of the mighty Saturn V rocket, believed passionately in the value of human exploration -- especially when it meant beating the hated Soviet Empire. James Van Allen, discoverer of the magnetic fields that bear his name, was equally ardent and vocal about the value of robotic exploration.

There are five arguments that are advanced in any discussion about the utility of space exploration and the roles of humans and robots. Those arguments, in roughly ascending order of advocate support, are the following:

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.
2. 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. Space exploration can also serve as a stimulus for children to enter the fields of science and engineering.
3. Space exploration in an international context offers a peaceful cooperative venue that is a valuable alternative to nation state hostilities. One can look at the International Space Station and marvel that the former Soviet Union and the U.S. are now active partners. International cooperation is also a way to reduce costs.
4. National prestige requires that the U.S. continue to be a leader in space, and that includes human exploration. History tells us that great civilizations dare not abandon exploration.
5. 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?

It is these last two arguments that are the most compelling to me. It is challenging to make the case that humans are necessary to the type of scientific exploration that may bring evidence of life on another world. There are strong arguments on both sides. Personally, I think humans will be better at unstructured environment exploration than any existing robot for a very long time.

There are those who say that exploration with humans is simply too expensive for the return we receive. However, I cannot imagine any U.S. President announcing that we are abandoning space exploration with humans and leaving it to the Chinese, Russians, Indians, Japanese or any other group. I can imagine the U.S. engaging in much more expansive international cooperation.

Humans will be exploring space. The challenge is to be sure that they accomplish meaningful exploration.

Joan Vernikos, a member of the Space Studies Board of the National Academy and former director of NASA's Life Sciences Division:

Why explore? Asked why he kept trying to climb Everest, English mountaineer George Mallory reputedly replied, "Because it was there." Exploration is intrinsic to our nature. It is the contest between man and nature mixed with the primal desire to conquer. It fuels curiosity, inspiration and creativity. The human spirit seeks to discover the unknown, and in the process explore the physical and psychological potential of human endurance.

There have always been the few risk-takers who ventured for the rest of us to follow. Because of earlier pioneers, air travel is now commonplace, and space travel for all is just around the corner. Economic and societal benefits are not immediately evident, but they always follow, as does our understanding of human potential to overcome challenges. Fifty years after Sputnik, space remains the next frontier.

Without risking human lives, robotic technology such as unmanned missions, probes, observatories, and landers enables space exploration. It lays the groundwork, and does the scouting. But as I heard former astronaut Thomas Jones often say, "only a human can experience what being in space feels like, and only a human can communicate this to others." It is humans who repair the Hubble telescope. It is humans who service the International Space Station (ISS). Mercury astronauts were the first to photograph Earth from space with hand-held cameras. Earth scientists in orbit on the ISS may view aspects of global change that only a trained eye can see. In addition, studying astronauts in the microgravity of space has been the only means of understanding how gravity affects human development and health here on Earth. It is highly probable that, in this century, humans will settle on other planets. Our ability to explore and sustain human presence there will not only expand Earth's access to mineral resources but, should the need arise, provide alternative habitats for humanity's survival.

At what cost? Is there a price to inspiration and creativity? Economic, scientific and technological returns of space exploration have far exceeded the investment. Globally, 43 countries now have their own observing or communication satellites in Earth orbit. Observing Earth has provided G.P.S., meteorological forecasts, predictions and management of hurricanes and other natural disasters, and global monitoring of the environment, as well as surveillance and intelligence. Satellite communications have changed life and business practices with computer operations, cell phones, global banking, and TV. Studying humans living in the microgravity of space has expanded our understanding of osteoporosis and balance disorders, and has led to new treatments. Wealth-generating medical devices and instrumentation such as digital mammography and outpatient breast biopsy procedures and the application of telemedicine to emergency care are but a few of the social and economic benefits of manned exploration that we take for granted.

Space exploration is not a drain on the economy; it generates infinitely more than wealth than it spends. Royalties on NASA patents and licenses currently go directly to the U.S. Treasury, not back to NASA. I firmly believe that the Life Sciences Research Program would be self-supporting if permitted to receive the return on its investment. NASA has done so much with so little that it has generally been assumed to have had a huge budget. In fact, the 2007 NASA budget of $16.3 billion is a minute fraction of the $13 trillion total G.D.P.

"What's the hurry?" is a legitimate question. As the late Senator William Proxmire said many years ago, "Mars isn't going anywhere." Why should we commit hard-pressed budgets for space exploration when there will always be competing interests? However, as Mercury, Gemini and Apollo did 50 years ago, our future scientific and technological leadership depends on exciting creativity in the younger generations. Nothing does this better than manned space exploration. There is now a national urgency to direct the creative interests of our youth towards careers in science and engineering. We need to keep the flame of manned space exploration alive as China, Russia, India, and other countries forge ahead with substantial investments that challenge U.S. leadership in space.

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:

The value of public sector human space exploration is generally perceived as worth the cost when exploration outcomes address one or more national imperatives of the era. For example, in the twentieth century, the Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik required a bold technological retort by the U.S. Apollo put boots on the moon, winning the first space race. The resulting foreign policy boost and psychic prestige for the U.S. more that justified the cost for the Cold War generation. Unquestionably, manned exploration of that era also created unintended economic consequences and benefits, such as the spinoff of miniaturization that led to computers and cell phones. Apollo also created new NASA centers in the South, acting as an unanticipated economic development anchor for those regions, both then and now.

In the twenty-first century, what would happen if U.S. manned space programs were managed based upon the contemporary demands of the planet and the American taxpayer? NASA could be rewarded to explore, but with terrestrial returns as a priority. 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. Lunar settlements could be established to develop new energy sources from rare compounds that are in abundance on the moon. Getting to Mars, to develop a terrestrial lifeboat and to better understand the fate of planets, suddenly takes on new meaning and relevance.

I have to come the conclusion, after over 20 years in the space industry, that addressing global challenges with space solutions that benefit humanity and American constituents is the key to justifying the cost of manned space exploration. I believe we are about to find out, all over again, if civil manned space capability and policy can adapt and rise to meet new imperatives.

Keith Cowing, founder and editor of and former NASA space biologist.

Right now, all of America's human space flight programs cost around $7 billion a year. That's pennies per person per day. In 2006, according to the USDA, Americans spent more than $154 billion on alcohol. We spend around $10 billion a month in Iraq. And so on. Are these things more important than human spaceflight because we spend more money on them? Is space exploration less important?

Money alone is not a way to gauge the worthiness of the cost of exploring space.

NASA is fond of promoting all of the spinoffs that are generated from its exploits, such as microelectronics. But are we exploring space to explore space, or are we doing all of this to make better consumer electronics? I once heard the late Carl Sagan respond to this question by saying, "you don't need to go to Mars to cure cancer." If you learn how to do that as a side benefit, well, that's great, but there are probably more cost effective ways to get all of these spinoffs without leaving Earth.

To be certain, tax dollars spent on space projects result in jobs - a large proportion of which are high paying, high tech positions. But many other government programs do that as well - some more efficiently.

Still, for those who would moan that this money could be "better spent back on Earth," I would simply say that all of this money is spent on Earth - it creates jobs and provides business to companies, just as any other government program does. You have to spend all of NASA's money "on Earth." There is no way to spend it in space - at least, not yet.

Where am I going with this? Asking if space exploration - with humans or robots or both - is worth the effort is like questioning the value of Columbus's voyages to the New World in the late 1490s. The promise at the time was obvious to some, but not to others. Is manned space exploration worth the cost? If we Americans do not think so, then why is it that nations such as China and India - nations with far greater social welfare issues to address with their limited budgets - are speeding up their space exploration programs? What is it about human space exploration that they see? Could it be what we once saw, and have now forgotten?

As such, my response is another question: for the U.S. in the twenty-first century, is not sending humans into space worth the cost?

David M. Livingston, host of The Space Show, a talk radio show focusing on increasing space commerce and developing space tourism:

I hear this question a lot. So a few years ago, I decided to see what really happened to a public dollar spent on a good space program, compared to spending it on an entitlement program or a revenue generating infrastructure program. I used the school breakfast program for the test entitlement program. I chose Hoover Dam for the revenue generating infrastructure program. The space program I chose was the manned program to the moon consisting of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs. Let me briefly summarize what I discovered.

All programs, if properly managed, can produce benefits in excess to the original invested dollar. There is no guarantee that a program will be properly managed, and this includes a space program. "Properly managed" implies many things, but I don't think space is any more or less likely to be well managed than anything else the government does. A mismanaged space program wastes money, talent, and time, just like any other faulty program.

As for what happened to the dollar invested in the respective programs, the school breakfast program was successful, in that it increased the number of kids who received breakfast. However, when funding for this program or this type of program stops, as soon as the last of the funds goes through the pipeline, the program is over. It has no life past government funding. I was unable to find an inspirational or motivational quality for the program leading to downstream business, economic, or science advancements. One could make the case that kids who benefited from the program went on through school to accomplish great things, and I don't doubt that - I simply could not document it in my research.

The Hoover Dam was very interesting. This project paid off its bond cost early, was a major contributor to the U.S. victory in World War II, and has been a huge economic factor for development in the Western part of the country. However, the Hoover Dam requires overhead and maintenance investment on a continual basis. It needs repairs, updates, modernization, and security, and it employs a labor force. Were we to stop investing in the Hoover Dam, over time it would lose its effectiveness and cease to be the value to our nation that it is now. Its value to us depends on our willingness to maintain, protect, and update it as necessary. The Hoover Dam and Lake Mead have given birth to thousands of private businesses, economic growth for the region, and much more. However, as with the entitlement program above, I could not find an inspirational or motivational aspect to the Hoover Dam.

What I discovered about our manned lunar program was different. When I did this study, it was 34 years after the last dime had been spent on Apollo, the last of the manned moon programs. Thirty-four years later, when I asked guests on The Space Show, students, and people in space-related fields what inspired or motivated them to start a space business or pursue their science education, over 80 percent said they were inspired and motivated because of our having gone to the moon. 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. I found the same to be true when I asked the same question to Space Show guests from outside the U.S.

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:

The high costs of sending humans into orbit and beyond are measured in dollars, rubles, or yuan. The benefits of human spaceflight are not so easily calculated, since they include both tangible and intangible payoffs. So answering the question, "Do the benefits outweigh the costs?" is not straightforward.

If the payoffs are limited to scientific discovery, the position taken by many critics of human spaceflight is "no." With both current and, especially, future robotic capabilities, the added value of human presence to missions aimed primarily at new understanding of the moon, Mars, near-Earth asteroids, and other celestial destinations most likely does not justify the added costs and risks involved. However, Steve Squyres, the principal investigator for the Mars Exploration Rovers, has frequently said that he wished that spirit and opportunity were working in partnership with humans on the surface of Mars; that combination, he argues, would greatly increase the scientific payoffs of the mission.

To me, the primary justifications for sending people into space require that they travel beyond low Earth orbit. For the next few decades, the major payoffs from humans traveling to the moon and Mars are intangible, and linked to both national pride and national power. Space exploration remains an effort that can be led by only a few countries, and I believe that it should be part of what the United States does in its desire to be seen by both its citizens and the global public as a leader, one to be admired for its continued willingness to invest in pushing the frontiers of human activity.

In the longer run, I believe that human exploration is needed to answer two questions. One is: "Are there activities in other places in the solar system of such economic value that they justify high costs in performing them?" The other is: "Can humans living away from Earth obtain at least a major portion of what they need to survive from local resources?" If the answer to both questions is "yes," then I believe that eventually some number of people in the future will establish permanent settlements away from Earth, in the extreme case to ensure that the human species will survive a planetary catastrophe, but also because people migrate for both economic opportunities and new experiences. That is a big jump from today's argument regarding the costs and benefits of human spaceflight, but I believe such a long range perspective is the best way to justify a new start in human space exploration.

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a.. government, NASA, politics, quorums, science, space
74 comments so far...
a.. 1.
January 11th,
11:38 am
Gee - everyone agrees.

- Posted by JPC

b.. 2.
January 11th,
11:57 am
Gosh, everyone agrees! Glad we straightened this issue out.

Seriously, you couldn't find even one person to offer serious arguments against expanding manned space exploration?! Here's three for starters:

1. NASA is strip-mining the funding for unmanned space probes, astronomy, and earth observation to cover the costs of getting ready to send men back to the Moon, and later to Mars. Is that a rational allocation of resources?

2. After over 200 billion dollars in spending on the manned space station,about 5 times higher than the original budget, at a point where it's finally about ready to perform its function as a orbiting laboratory, NASA is pulling funding and support for it in favor of trips to the Moon and Mars. Does that make sense?

3. Apropos the above, over the past 25+ years NASA has had a horrible record on managing programs, particularly with regards to cost. What reason do we have to believe they'll do a better job on these programs than they have in the past?

- Posted by Leszek Pawlowicz

c.. 3.
January 11th,
12:03 pm
Is there any serious view that manned space exploration is an investment that should not be made?

Everyone here agrees - are the Congresspeople or members of the government who disagree and are limiting our spending in significant ways? What are there viewpoints? Are there naturally occurring constituencies to oppose space exploration (as government contractors are a natural constituency in favor of space exploration)?

Many questions.

- Posted by Jim Pharo

d.. 4.
January 11th,
12:36 pm
Sorry just a quick question before the comments list balloons. What exactly is meant by quorum here?

- Posted by John Gringham

e.. 5.
January 11th,
12:40 pm
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

f.. 6.
January 11th,
12:53 pm
So 3 members of NASA a host of a space themed TV show, and the director of the Space Policy Institute agree that their careers have not been a waste. And that unlike public stadiums, for example, the multiplier effect from space science totally outweighs any hidden opportunity costs. Especially because the people they work with in space related fields were extremely inspired by space travel, and would otherwise have done something boring or wasteful with their lives, instead of being inspired by something else.

Also as a sidenote, yes the manned space program Is "cheap" right now at $7 billion dollars, but that's because we're not doing anything interesting with it. If we want to do the moon and mars trips that are supposed to be inspiring, we're going to have to spend a heck of a lot more than that.

And right space programs have long lasting benefits because kids inspired by it can do important work years later, but school lunches that help a kid attend and concentrate in school don't have long lasting effects, because why? Those kids wouldn't do anything anyway? School doesn't really help people? what?

- Posted by Michael Loewinger

g.. 7.
January 11th,
12:54 pm
I think it would have been nice to include someone from outside the space arena - like, say, a social critic, maybe?

That social critic would have pointed out that throwing away $7 Billion a year is actually a big deal, and that we could, in fact, do useful things with that money - like . I'd like to see a couple large go towards stem cell research, maybe a couple of large go towards building dedicated bicycle lanes in the 10 largest U.S. cities, and we could get creative with the rest. All of these projects would create jobs, they would directly benefit society, and they would help the American people organize themselves around issues that are really important. Of course, this 'organization' factor is why programs like NASA are ideal from an elite perspective - there's no chance of the money having any unwanted side effects, like people wanting to have a say in how corporations run our lives and things like that.

Further, that social critic would have pointed out that subsidizing high tech industries through NASA research - and subsequently the corporations and stockholders that benefit from that research - results largely in a transfer of wealth from middle class Americans to rich Americans. This is one of the many forms of hidden taxes on the American people - causing us to have a regressive tax system, not progressive. The U.S. is a welfare state, indeed - welfare for the rich.

- Posted by Peter

h.. 8.
January 11th,
12:54 pm
This whole discussion borders on the ridiculous, because it is focused too much on the government.

Let the private sector make or break money on manned space flight.

Let the government, if it wants, pour money into pure research, with the same expectations it has with other research projects - some will more, most won't.

Right now we are living in the worst situation - everyone is expecting the government to do this work, people are expecting the government to do a great job being profitable, and nothing gets done. Any profit from a government program is a fluke - these programs are not structured nor have the culture to do the things to be profitable.

Let space flight be private. Let the creative destruction of the market find ways to make it work. Let the government fund pure research based on the desires of the people, as filtered through congress. Don't expect profit from them. Why is space so special that it can't be allowed to act like everything else?


- Posted by Will McBurnett

i.. 9.
January 11th,
12:56 pm
Shocking that a panel of space enthusiasts would agree that spending money on it is good! Unfortunately, none of them provide a sound argument as to why our government should be using tax money to fund it.

Space exploration should be left to the private sector. It would be done more efficiently there. Only goals with sufficient demand would be pursued. The reason that the government is the only one doing the research into these things is that the cost/benefit ratio is not good enough for businesses to invest in it. Only the government can waste so much money because it can't go out of business.

Look at how cheaply and quickly the contestants in the X-prize were able to do something NASA hadn't been able to on a much larger budget. This is what competition does.

Some of their points are laughable.
-They claim that the 16 billion is a small amount, but that doesn't mean it should be spent foolishly.
-They claim that it will encourage kids to study math and science, but so will the high paying jobs that would be created in the private sector.
-They say it gives us a chance to cooperate with other nations peacefully. We already should be trading with them. There is no need in invent projects for us to play together like children.
-"I firmly believe that the Life Sciences Research Program would be self-supporting if permitted to receive the return on its investment." If this were true then we should allow it to be run as a private company without being subsidized by the government.
-The argument that it creates jobs is silly as well. Why not start a federal agency to dig holes and fill them again?

- Posted by Bruce

j.. 10.
January 11th,
1:11 pm
yeah, this is kinda a space lovefest- I'm kinda shocked that no one mentions the weaponization of space- granted, any weaponry in space is illegal by international law, but one would have to be naive or dozed off in history class not to know it is inevitable- Reagan even marketed the concept as desirable via Star Wars (no, Cheney is not Vader)- I would ironically argue against the thread here that a strong justification is the furthering of US power- I think the stronger ethical argument is that enlightened space exploration should proceed at the international level, which is not only safer for all but perhaps more efficient (I'm guessing it would be relatively cheaper, but then management would be thornier)

- Posted by frankenduf

k.. 11.
January 11th,
1:17 pm
Reader Leszek Pawlowicz challenged space exploration on the grounds that it isn't a good allocation of resources and that it has been ill-managed so far. The first point simply begs the questions - *is* it a good allocation of resources? The second, that the American space program has been ill-managed, is true (too, too true) but not relevant: saying that the local police chief is incompetent isn't to say that we don't need police.

On a separate note, I'm somewhat surprised that active colonization didn't get more attention here. As Heinlein used to say, "The earth is just too small and fragile a basket for the human race to keep all its eggs in." Not only would colonization help with this but it would create new markets - and what economist doesn't love new markets?

- Posted by Erik Fitzpatrick

l.. 12.
January 11th,
1:24 pm
Shouldn't the question be should the U.S. federal government be sponsoring NASA, as opposed to the value of space exploration? Whether it is or isn't valuable doesn't matter and will ultimately be decided by market forces. The gov't can certainly contract out defense work to private (non-bureaucratic) entities to keep those matters strong. Where in the constitution is the federal government given the authority to take tax spender income on space exploration? Why are these questions not asked (or ever answered)?

- Posted by Ari

m.. 13.
January 11th,
1:25 pm
I agree with most of the above comments. It is disapointing to not have anyone with dissenting opinions.

I also believe that the government should start moving away from manned exploration, and focus and getting the private sector to start exploration and exploitation. Why should government employees be the only ones allowed in space? At least with commercial passenger spaceflight prices may eventually come down to where significant chunks of the population (and not just the super rich) can go into space.

- Posted by Chance

n.. 14.
January 11th,
1:33 pm
Space exploration should be a purely scientific endeavor, with minimal political interference. It would be nice if NASA's modest budget could be bumped up so that it could continue to do it's humanity changing research. On top of that, it shouldn't be constrained by political promises by people like the president that want to send people back to the moon. If NASA decides that more can be learned from the ISS, it shouldn't be forced to redirect funding and attention to a manned mission to the moon.

- Posted by Jonny_eh

o.. 15.
January 11th,
1:35 pm
I agree with the other commenters - this unanimity is totally artificial and unconvincing. How about getting Gregg Easterbrook to weigh in here? Let the private sector take over and force all the silly fantasists who rely on government-funded cosmic dreams to get real jobs in the field - instead of clapping in front of their TVs every time the shuttle takes off.

Space fantasism is just another form of religion. Enough.

- Posted by Tim

p.. 16.
January 11th,
1:40 pm
If you were at all interested in presenting an opposing view, i would recommend Dr Bob Park, He has been a consistent advocate of unmanned space travel. All the above arguments either offer fairy-tale justifications or avoid the issue when comparing the value of manned space travel vs robotic exploration. If we spent the same money on robotic exploration as we do on manned, we could generate far more scientific information, which would help us resolve questions such as global warming with significantly better accuracy. As Bob Park has frequently observed, the Bush administration has invested in pie-in-the-sky manned space missions while *simultaneously* disinvesting in scientific measurements from space. It makes you wonder if they are afraid of what they will find if we had accurate measurements of global warming.
It's interesting to me that conservatives tend to favor Big goverment spending on space (at least neo-cons). Big government is big government, but manned space flight has the appeal of the fairy-tale (We don't need to take care of this planet because we can always get another one), and the appeal of the military-industrial complex (the blatant appeal to patriotism that comprises many of the above arguments) What you don't see is an appeal to the scientific value of space exploration because that can be done just as well with robots, and even worse would have to be shared with the rest of humanity.

- Posted by misterb

q.. 17.
January 11th,
2:00 pm
If I may suggest, why don't you ask Gregg Easterbrook, a fantastic writer with a unique capacity (for a non-professional economist) to think and write in economic terms and a noted critic of the space program in general and the shuttle program in particular to address this question.

He is almost done writing about the NFL and might have a little extra time to participat in this discussion.

- Posted by Glenn Dale

r.. 18.
January 11th,
2:05 pm
Misterb said it perfectly. No, no, a thousand times no, we should not be sending manned space flights. Robots and machines can do the job far more accurately, more safely, for longer, and for far less cost. The discussion on space flight is always overrun by the dreamers. Reality isn't like 2001, Star Trek, Star Wars, or other sci-fi fantasies. Space is irrefutably hostile to humans and we do not have the technology or resources to overcome that. We squander so many resources on a few who can venture into space for 'personal experience' disguised as science. There is no need to send humans into space. Humans can only live on Earth. I welcome the day when humans can dream of a perfect Earth instead of escaping into the heavens for the next unattainable distraction.

- Posted by Peter

s.. 19.
January 11th,
2:05 pm
First, I do agree with the basic justification that exploration is necessary - a civilization that does not explore is in decline. There is still a lot more to learn about our own planet, and vastly more about the universe. That said, I think the majority of the money allocated for space exploration should go to science, robotic exploration and telescopes at all wavelengths. With robotic exploration we have learned about Mars, Venus, Saturn, Jupiter, Uranus, Neptune, asteroids, a comet, and even the outer reaches of the solar system (the Voyager and Pioneer spacecraft). With telescopes we have learned about distant stars, nebulae, galaxies, cosmic microwaves, dark matter, dark energy, supernovae, quasars, black holes, etc. With human exploration we have learned about low Earth orbit and the moon. (By the way - none of this knowledge was gained through the private sector, it was all through government and university based research). Humans living and colonizing other planets is probably centuries away, not decades. For now, I think we should focus our efforts on robotic exploration and telescopes.

- Posted by Eric

t.. 20.
January 11th,
2:08 pm
The arguments put forward by these "quorum" are internally inconsistent. I don't mean that they don't agree with each other, but that their answer to the question does not actually consistently focus on the question.

"Is manned space exploration worth the cost? Why or why not?"

They seamlessly shift from the benefits of space exploration and MANNED space exploration. If the same amount of money was spent on UNmanned space exploration, would the benefits be greater or less? Isn't that the question?

Did anyone even address it?

- Posted by Alex

u.. 21.
January 11th,
2:08 pm
The counter to the calls for private entities exploring space is that it's prohibitively expensive to do so, and the kind of capital required isn't available to fledgling entreprenaughts (to coin a phrase). There are already several companies planning to offer space tourism, but moon landings and deep space exploration is still far too expensive and can only feasibly be tackled by the govt.

On an unrelated note, I would be very interested to know where the $8 return per dollar figure came from that Mr. Hubbard cites. Any ideas on that one?

- Posted by James

v.. 22.
January 11th,
2:10 pm
Economists generally think competition is a good thing, but suddenly once we're out of the atmosphere everyone is going to cooperate and everything will be fine? All the national governments will join hands, and do everything efficiently?

Without some kind of national/corporate race in space - which is impossible due to U.N. treaties - there will never be much beyond LEO.

- Posted by Will

w.. 23.
January 11th,
2:26 pm
I forgot to mention this, but it's 2008 and still no flying cars. Where is my flying car?! I've been waiting for this for decades, but if anything planes have got worse and SUVs - which are pretty much the anti-flying car from an aerodynamic perspective - have become more popular. I'm not saying NASA are responsible for this, but I don't see any giant robots duking it out in space either.

- Posted by James

x.. 24.
January 11th,
2:32 pm
Priorities and balance are always best. NASA budget is nearly in balance with the federal total, just slightly low in my opinion (currently $16B, or 0.6% of total federal spending). I like 1% (of budget which is $2.7T, not of GDP which is $13T), so my recommendation is $27 billion for NASA, and lets give 1/4 to human exploration, 1/4 to robotic, 1/4 to aerospace, 1/4 to earth science.

'One Percent for Space'

- Posted by mwfair

y.. 25.
January 11th,
2:41 pm
"The counter to the calls for private entities exploring space is that it's prohibitively expensive to do so, and the kind of capital required isn't available to fledgling entreprenaughts (to coin a phrase). There are already several companies planning to offer space tourism, but moon landings and deep space exploration is still far too expensive and can only feasibly be tackled by the govt."

I agree entry costs are high, but I disagree that they will remain prohibitively so for much longer. Google is sponsoring a Lunar landing prize, Robert Bigelow is building space station modules for launch on spaceX or Atlas rockets, and Virgin Galactic is getting ready for (relatively) high volume suborbital spaceflights. These are all early signs of a C change in human spaceflight from goverment to private.

- Posted by cHANCE

z.. 26.
January 11th,
2:52 pm
This Quorum is a bunch of BS! Talk about loading the deck. Who would have thought that you would get an objective look at this subject with this type of panel. I don't blame the panelists, but I do blame the NY Times for exerting such a lame effort in stimulating debate on this somewhat contentious topic.

All of the Quorom member's arguments are questionable and have been refuted time and time again in other forums. The justification for costly government-funded human space exploration is weak, and really comes down to a grandiose display of purposeless ambition.

- Posted by The People

aa.. 27.
January 11th,
3:58 pm
I agree that loading the panel with NASA or Space enthusiasts is not a good way to get a broad based opinion. However how can all of you overlook the funding side. $17B per year is pennies per person for the year. That is a shockingly small amount. And for those thinking that $17B will make a big difference in other areas think again. Like the aforementioned Bike trails. No way you could get them done for $17B. People spend orders of magnitude more money on alcohol and cigarettes, things that will kill them and others and then they complain when we want to send humans into space. Robotic missions have a place in space exploration but they would not be able to do everything. Also the technology gains we have enjoyed from the Apollo missions and the Space Shuttle would not have happened if they were robotic. You would design things differently for each, so you would gain less applicable technology for humans with pure robotic missions.

- Posted by John

ab.. 28.
January 11th,
4:02 pm
I decided I wanted to study engineering in sixth grade after reading Michael Collin's autobiography. and I might want to eventually be an astronaut! I agree with what everybody here is saying though- you should show the other side of the argument.

- Posted by Lisa

ac.. 29.
January 11th,
4:17 pm
The ugly truth is to put a human in low-Earth-orbit is all that we can afford to do because to keep a human alive we have to orbit tons of supplies. They have been working for years to get the cost to orbit below $5,000 per pound.

It costs far more to send anything to Mars and the amount of supplies for the human is multiplied by a very large factor because of the length of the trip.

The Ride report had a budget at one point but it was removed before it was released because the cost estimate was about $400 billion and they did not think congress would swallow that large a sum for a manned Mars mission. They were right a senator asked the Congressional Budget Office to find out what the cost would be and they took the original Ride report budget and revised it and when Congress found out the cost they put the report in a file someplace and forgot about it.

My question is how does one determine the economic value of national pride and prestige?

- Posted by jsn

ad.. 30.
January 11th,
4:17 pm
Glad to see you have plenty of intelligent folks reading this website. Shades of Ayn Rand who lo! those many years ago when the first space flights flew, she said it was quite an accomplishment of mankind but the government shouldn't be in it (you may recall she didn't think the government should be in anything except defending the nation, and enforcing contracts, i.e., upholding the law). She strongly felt that the private sector would get to it when the time was right-economically feasible.

- Posted by freddi

ae.. 31.
January 11th,
4:39 pm
One practical argument in favor of space exploration that I didn't see mentioned is the probability that it will expand the resource pie.

No matter what economic paradigm you prefer, the bigger the pie, the more slices you can get out of it.

- Posted by J. Greene

af.. 32.
January 11th,
4:41 pm
I just can't shake the feeling that $7 billion spent on feeding people who are starving to death and/or suffering from treatable disease, could provide more future scientists than making already college-bound white kids in the US say "cool!" while watching a shuttle take off on TV.

I like the self-funding argument (that the money coming in from NASA patents exceeds the amount spent). but again - could that money be spent elsewhere and get greater returns? (either greater financial returns, or greater social returns like "reducing human suffering")

- Posted by Mike

ag.. 33.
January 11th,
5:16 pm
Responding to Bruce at 12:58 PM, I think it's important to note that the tasks accomplished by the X-prize folks are nowhere near the scale or complexity of actually launching into a sustainable orbit and re-entering at will. I do not intend to take away from the success of the X-prize workers, as it was certainly quite an accomplishment. However, there is a great divide between flying up 60 nm into the sky under rocket power and flying immediately back down and actually launching into and maintaining an orbit, let alone all the operations that take place once there.

- Posted by Matt R.

ah.. 34.
January 11th,
6:15 pm
Dr. Livingston:
"One could make the case that kids who benefited from the program went on through school to accomplish great things, and I don't doubt that - I simply could not document it in my research."
Could not document it or didn't even bother to try?
From the FIRST result presented by google for the search "school breakfast study": tml

"The objective of our first school breakfast study, which has just been accepted for publication, was to determine whether a relationship existed between increased participation in the school breakfast program and improvements in standardized measures of academic and psychosocial success in school-age children," said Dr. J. Michael Murphy, also of Massachusetts General Hospital and the Harvard Medical School. "Four months after the schools started a free breakfast program in one Philadelphia and two Baltimore public schools, the number of students eating breakfast had nearly doubled and reports on the students indicated they were significantly more attentive in the classroom, earned higher grades in math, and had significantly fewer behavioral and emotional problems."

Perhaps succeeding in math and gaining other skills necessary to even contemplate the possibility of getting a job in the space industry don't count as "great things"? Would Dr. Livingston care to guess whether more kids would go on to do great things if we spent an additional 400 billion dollars improving education rather than spending it on manned space exploration?

Overall: why doesn't it make more sense to firsty concentrate on developing the technology to send large payloads into orbit cheaply, then concentrate on getting large payloads to other planets (and back again) reliably before committing dollars and lives to manned space exploration? Going from the last 20 years of Mars missions, I don't think a 50% fatality rate would prove to be very inspirational.

Perhaps the panel could also address the sensibility of installing a missile defense system before getting the components to work.

- Posted by Hibob

ai.. 35.
January 11th,
6:35 pm
"Space exploration can also serve as a stimulus for children to enter the fields of science and engineering." This is such an important point, perhaps the strongest reason of all, for space exploration, and yet so easy to forget.

It is not enough to simply make more math and science classes available to children: you must make the students want to pay attention!

- Posted by Crash

aj.. 36.
January 11th,
6:47 pm
As an individual, I think it's important to have a hobby. painting, music, programming, reading, rock climbing, etc. Such past times open the mind (and sometimes the body) to new horizons. I've always looked at the space program in the same way: sort of a "hobby" for our country. The cost isn't that important. It's what we get out of it: pride, a sense of accomplishment, new knowledge, and every once in a while, something that is economically fruitful.

- Posted by Rip

ak.. 37.
January 11th,
7:19 pm
Government support is vital in the beginning. And we're still in the beginning of space exploration. We're still building the ships and acquiring the knowhow for space travel. This is analogous to Portugal and Spain funding navigation research in the 15th century.

But many bloggers are right: the government should NOT expect to continue overseeing and funding the entire space operation for the next century. At some point, and economics will drive that, private organizations will enter in. But only when they know they can make MONEY! And only when the RISK is acceptable. Remember, insurance companies will be looking over their shoulders.

So, all this debate over government versus private space exploration boils down to this: let the government envigorate the private sector through technology transfer and lending them infrastructure (deep space communications, etc.) When the first company drags a big piece of an asteroid back and nets a few trillion dollars from the metals, other companies will be clamoring to follow!

And don't worry, that will be the start of the real "Star Wars". Wars are always fought over prize territory. Trillion dollar asteroids will be prime areas for interplanetary murder and intrigue. Don't think so? Just read the bloodthirsty history of ocean exploration by the Europeans.

- Posted by Hobart

al.. 38.
January 11th,
8:10 pm
We are spending 100 billion dollars plus in Iraq a year and there are issues with NASA's budget? The budget "is" a real future problem, but NASA isn't it.. A pie chart of the federal budget would indicate as much. The biggest shame is that in the 1970's we gave up the capability of the Saturn V. We likely could have put up a space station in a few flights. Wernher Von Braun had plans to reach Mars using the Saturn V architecture that never came to pass. It was a great loss to the Nation to lose the capability. The only "real" motivator for a large percentage of society appears unfortunately to be outdone by other nations. Hopefully our leadership will continue to be bold in the way of the King and Queen of Spain and Thomas Jefferson. Christopher Columbus and Lewis and Clark have historically proven the benefits of human exploration. It is hard to imagine that we as a society have reached a point where we will knowingly cease to Explore. NASA isn't necessarily asking for more funding to replace that Saturn V capability (they have asked for some funding to meet President's directives for dates and Shuttle transition, etc), just the existing funding percentages.

- Posted by Dan

am.. 39.
January 11th,
9:02 pm
Hibob at 6:15 pm has the only point worth reading about. Space elevators really would work to move large payloads out of the gravitational well of earth. Stanford, Harvard, Cal Tech physicists all agree: making a light cable strong enough is the only large technological hurdle. Lets actually educate our children so that they see these types of challenges as the truly rewarding pursuits, rather than just getting to be on the cover of people magazine (as a successful space explorer rather than a celebrity).

- Posted by Wortles

an.. 40.
January 11th,
9:31 pm

Dumping money in the education system via the federal government has not improved it one iota. What justification is there to flush and additional 400 gigabucks down the crapper?

- Posted by Mike P

ao.. 41.
January 11th,
9:57 pm
Human space exploration is what catalyzed my interest in engineering, leading me to a career as a professional engineer. The US is inherently short of trained engineers, and is falling farther behind every day (S. Korea, a nation a fraction the size of the US graduates as many engineers annually as the US).

This lack of engineers will be felt throughout the economy, not just in aerospace. It is imperative for our nation to maintain its technical leadership, if for nothing else than a strong economy.

Based on my experience and the opinions of many of my peers, seeing the Space Shuttle launch as kids was the catalyst to get us into the profession (whether it be aerospace, automotive, consumer electronics, etc.).

The above is just one example of the many intangible benefits of space travel. As the private sector ramps-up, the benefits will only increase. However, NASA and the government need to remain involved. Drawing a parallel from the aviation side, while commercial aviation has advanced itself over the years, it is typically one step behind the military and gleans much of its technological advances from previous military work (i.e. 787 composite technology from B-2 technology).

Finally, while solving our current social issues is important, it is just as important to always keep the big picture in sight. Earth is fragile, and it is a fact that history repeats itself, which lends to the extinction of the human race if we remain Earth-bound. Human spaceflight is our only option to mitigate our risk by colonizing other planets. In some respects, this is our duty as the primary purpose of life (biologically) is procreation and the survival of the species.

While this may not happen tomorrow, we need to start preparing today. Just think how long it was from the early use of the sail (Phoenicians in 1200 BC) until it was ready for use in long journeys of colonization (1400's AD). Or even the gap between the Viking's & Columbus' discovery of America until long-term European settlers appeared on the continent.

A human spaceflight program is cheap insurance (that ends up paying for itself through economic returns).

"It's human nature to stretch, to go, to see, to understand. Exploration is not a choice, really; it's an imperative." - Astronaut Michael Collins

- Posted by Ryan

ap.. 42.
January 11th,
10:23 pm
all the public/private/"feed the starving children"/robots/economic benefits/national pride etc etc etc ad nauseum distractions to the side, we really have no choice.we must go into "space", manned flights. for if we don't , that's it for mankind. over. think about it, the big picture, in broader and more fundamental terms. it is our biological imperative, as much as is reproduction, to move forward, to advance, to engage our world, and that includes what we arbitrarily call "space", like it's so different. granted, it has different qualities and characteristics than the surface of our cozy little planet and presents us with different challenges, but it's not like that is so different from anything that has been accomplished in the past. not so long ago the world was flat and the sun circled the earth; more recently there were serious discussions about whether man could survive traveling over 60 miles per hour. with the will to do it, this can be done and must be done. now here's the punchline. if we don't, mankind, homo sapiens, is relegated to a dismal little backwater in the march of life in our universe and will surely dry up and blow away. everything, the egyptians, the greeks, the romans, the english, dutch, spanish, portuguese, americans, chinese, russians. all forgotten. right now we're the only game in town so it falls on us. also, i'm convinced that with the will, it can be done. i also don't believe that we deserve the (in)distinction of ending our species. so let's go. let's do it.

- Posted by GMoney

aq.. 43.
January 11th,
10:32 pm
As someone who has spent 15 years as a space scientist specializing in building robotic telescopes, I can tell you firsthand that the human spaceflight program is overreaching. There is no way that we can go to the Moon or Mars for the budget that is's off by a factor of at least 10. There's a reason why it's called rocket science - it's really, really hard. If you look at the number of patents issued and numbers of scientific results published, almost all of them come from robotic missions. Let's look at the list: Voyager, Pioneer, Viking, NEAR, Galileo, Cassini, Spirit & Opportunity, Pathfinder, Spitzer, Hubble, FUSE, Galex, Chandra, Ulysses, Messenger, GRO, plus a plethora of Earth-observing satellites - these are our nation's armada of robots, providing observations all the way from radio waves to gamma rays. It's an amazing list, and they've given rise to literally hundreds of thousands of new discoveries. Compare that with the Space Shuttle and hobbled Space Station - not even close.

However, I don't advocate completely cutting off the human space program. Realistically, you just can't shut down the Kennedy Space Center and Houston - that would require firing some tens of thousands (if not more) of people, most of whom are engineers. Politically, that will not ever happen. And it's probably not a good idea; the US desperately needs to maintain a talent pool of technically educated workers.

But what really needs to stop right now is the pillaging of the robotic programs to feed the human spaceflight beast. So far, about $3 billion has been moved by Michael Griffin from the science directorates to the so-called Exploration directorate. I'm currently working on a medium-sized mission worth about $300 million - that $3B would pay for 10 missions the size of mine! And I guarantee that you, the taxpayer, will get more science value per dollar from my project than from the Space Shuttle.

- Posted by 1spacescientist

ar.. 44.
January 11th,
11:28 pm
It would be great if postings on both sides of the question included some credentials if they intend to make technical based assessments. The quorom members gave their credential, so should we all.

I too have been 15 years designing space missions - human and robotic. I have help devised aircraft to fly over other worlds, machines to move cargo over the surface of the moon and mars, and probes to visit unique obejcts in the solar system. There are often many engineering solutions to a problem. Some will cost more than others, while some will be more or less capable or risky, or take longer than others. The value will be in the getting there as much as the being there.

As my handle suggests, space can and should be used to benefit earth and that's how I approach my work.

- My opinion, which is strictly my own.

- Posted by space4earth

as.. 45.
January 12th,
12:02 am
Instead of space travel, why don't we just declassify the pictures of the far side of the moon? What is there, anyway? Why do we need to classify pictures of a bunch of moon craters? If we spend billions upon billions to travel into space and then the information is kept secret, what have we gained?

- Posted by

at.. 46.
January 12th,
1:04 am
"But the kids love it!"

That is the most compelling reason to send humans into space? I suppose it makes a good welfare program, too, subsidizing all those high tech jobs.

You've got to be kidding.

- Posted by shecky

au.. 47.
January 12th,
2:16 am
I question that the Hoover Dam produced no inspirational or motivational effect, as David Livingston suggests. The huge western dams were a great source of pride in the time that they were built; there were songs written about them, such as "Grand Coulie Dam" by Woody Guthrie. Read the first verse of that song and if you think that the big dams didn't motivate or inspire the population of the 1930s or 1940s, then you just didn't look hard enough.

"Well the world owns seven wonders as the travellers always tell.
Some gardens and some towers, I guess you know them well.
But now the greatest wonder is in Uncle Sam's fair land.
That King Columbia river and the great Grand Coulee Dam."

Looking at today, the Hoover Dam to this day is a huge tourist site. I'm not talking about the lake, I mean the dam. People who go tend to come away impressed by the magnitude of the engineering feat. Is that not inspirational or motivating? Maybe not on the same scale as the space program, but I'd say it's because we take things for granted as they age.

Another point on that example, the recognition of the environmental cost of dams today makes it a red herring of an argument, many people today aren't inspired by dams because of the environmental damage they generate alongside the electricity and reservoirs. E.g., look at what had to be done for China's Three Gorges Dam, and what it's lake will swallow.

Also, sure, the moon landing is inspirational, and one of the top scientific achievements of all of human history.which makes it an unrepresentative sample of manned spaceflight. 99% of all manned spaceflight has been orbital. If we stop investing in the space shuttle, or ISS, 30 years from now, people will have forgotten about them. How many remember Apollo-Soyuz, or Skylab (for its science impact.not its earth impact :) )? Important in their day, but I bet that most born after 1975, unless they're space geeks, don't know of them and aren't inspired by them. Let's compare that to the dams and we come out even; or maybe dams come out ahead?

- Posted by mark

av.. 48.
January 12th,
5:31 am
I think that the exploration and colonization of Mars is imperative shold we wish to insure the long term survival of the human race.

As we all know, a huge body from space crashed into the Yucatan region of Planet Earth ~65,000,000 years ago effectively killing most life on Earth, including those rough tough dinosaurs.

The same fate awaits us today should Earth be clobbered by another huge body.

I think that human exploration and colonization of Mars is necessary to insure the survival of the human race, as well as serving as a motivating force to develop new and faster methods of propulsion that could eventually take Mankind to other solar systems in the search for planets very similar to Earth.

I forget where I read it, but someone from Lockheed's famed Skunk Works(?) once said we are just a few equations away from interstellar travel.

Ron Carlson

- Posted by Ron Carlson

aw.. 49.
January 12th,
5:34 am
And for those thinking that $17B will make a big difference in other areas think again. Like the aforementioned Bike trails. No way you could get them done for $17B.

The actual number quoted in the original post is only $7B.

I was thinking of only spending $2B of it.

I'm not sure if we could get or would even want dedicated bike lanes in all places, but the point is to offer a different/better mode of transportation, and spend the money on a program that would actually be useful to people - what is called 'social benefit'.

For instance, NYC just completed a rework of the bicycle lanes on 9th Ave that now provides for physical separation of bicycle traffic from auto traffic - the main point behind any type of bicycle path (video: -physically-separated-bike


That rework is part of a three year project in which 200 miles of bicycle lanes that NYC will be reconstituted in a similar fashion or created from scratch. It will cost $30,000 per mile for the bike lanes ( tml). That's $6 Million total for the 200 miles NYC is putting in or re-working during their current 3-year plan.

So, if we assume the cost of producing and/or re-working bicycle lanes in NYC is comparable to other large U.S. cities, and then we spend a total of $2 Billion, we could outfit the top 10 largest cities in America with 6,600 miles of bicycle lanes. Each.

Of course, creating these bicycle lanes would creative massive social benefit - from health and general well-being to less pollution to boosts in the bicycle economy to improved traffic flow to etc.

Again, that's the reason programs like NASA and the Pentagon System are so crucial - they prop up the aviation and high-tech sectors of the economy by injecting them with hundreds of billions of dollars a year (thus transferring wealth from the middle class to the wealthy), but they don't have any of the unwanted side effects - actual social benefit, or any increase in social organizing (people getting together to make good things happen -> rich people don't like this).

- Posted by Peter

ax.. 50.
January 12th,
8:14 am
To my knowledge there is no restriction to the private sector to explore space, manned or unmanned. I wander if I would have invested my $10.00, and been first to go to the moon, could I have claimed it for myself and not allow anyone else to trespass on my property?

- Posted by Danny W

ay.. 51.
January 12th,
8:31 am
Some humans are willing and able to pay large sums to get into space. (Is this the first lesson in capatalist economics that modern Russia has taught the USA?). The private sector is therefore willing to risk worthwhile sums of money to get them there. The standard modern economic prescription is therefore that if there is a public interest in humans getting into space (a proposition that has my vote), the most efficient way of giving effective expression to that interest is likely to be in designing efficient subsidies to reward the firms who succeed.

Unmanned space flight beyond earth orbit is not yet attracting people who see ways of making money out of it. It clearly is public interest territory, like really fundamental physics. For now, as in fifteenth and sixteenth century exploration, competition between governments may well be the best way to get the work done. But in due course (as with the physics) we will have to move towards working as the single species on a small planet that space exploation remnds us that we are.

- Posted by Diversity

az.. 52.
January 12th,
9:34 am
One day the Earth will be snuffed out and man had better start looking to space exploration, planetary colonization, and space mining if he wants to survive. Present day rocket propulsion technology cannot meet any of these demands and therefore the future of mankind is already dead. One is now presented to change the final chapter of mankind's Interplanetary and Interstellar travel.

The Space Shuttle using an Advanced Electric Propulsion Linear Electron Beam Particle Accelerator (LINAC) for light speed electron particle propulsion using the Sunyaev-Zel'dovich effect and Birkeland currents is a unique concept.

for more

- Posted by mthomas

ba.. 53.
January 12th,
10:20 am
While it's true that robotic missions have produced more science then the Space Shuttle or ISS, that isn't the best comparison. The appropriate comparison is to Apollo (where we actually went somewhere), which produced plenty of good science.

The Space Shuttle was not intended to produce good science. It's supposed to be a transportation system.

ISS. well that's pretty much a disaster.

- Posted by Robert Zeh

bb.. 54.
January 12th,
11:19 am
Make love, not war!

- Posted by royabammart

bc.. 55.
January 12th,
11:27 am
Gee, I'm glad I read the comments before wasting time reading the original post. Commenters were repetitious on one major spoiler: everybody agrees we should continue to spend money on space exploration.

I agree. However, it's where and how you spend the money that is the question, and of course, the metaphorical gorilla in this argument is manned exploration. Which, to run with this metaphor, costs more than the cost of bringing Kong to New York and his date with Fay Ray and the Empire State Building.-which to truly wring out this metaphor, is the same thing that happens with manned space exportation.

I did read enough of the initial Feakonomica to see Werner Von Braun's name mentioned and recalled a quote from long ago attributed to him. I believe it was after we landed on the moon and someone had asked Von Braun if he likened it to Columbus landing in the Americas, and his reply was it was more like the first amphibian climbing out of the water and onto land.

So the question is should the lungfish continue to expend valuable resources exploring life outside of water on land. What could it possible lead to? Of what value could possibly be derived by conquering the land when life in the water had been doing just fine for billions of years? Duh!

- Posted by scout29c

bd.. 56.
January 12th,
1:40 pm
Why must everything have a business (money) reason for doing it? That's a bit narrow-minded, isn't it? It's kind of sad that an in-tangible idea (yes money is just an idea) would prevent us from learning, exploring, and expading out into space.

I think one of the responsibilities of the government is to do the things that need to be done, despite whether or not an immediate monetary payoff exists. Things that, in the long-term, may be better for society.

And spending only .7% on such risky endeavours is not a bad investment. Let private industry focus on making money, and let government focus on the other things. Eventually, private industry will make space profitable, but even with all that NASA has learned and documented over the years, even the leading private space company (SpaceX) is struggling to get into orbit. Imagine where they'd be without all of the knowledge previously gained by NASA programs.

- Posted by destinationspace

be.. 57.
January 12th,
2:20 pm
The Economics of Space Travel aren't premised in any sort of ROI or sensible cost structure. The people who build these things are building Temples and will do so to participate in history.

Incentives like the X-Prize are a seed allow people to "bet" on various sides and changes the model of hi-tech R&D substantially.

- Posted by Amir

bf.. 58.
January 12th,
2:44 pm
Surely there must be a better way to drum up support for space exploration than starting off with a mention of a former Nazi wonder weapon architect trying to beat the hated Soviet empire.

- Posted by Doug Dinsdale

bg.. 59.
January 12th,
2:48 pm
1spacescientist pooh-poohs the Shuttle and Space Station for the great achievements of our robotic probes. This '15-year rocket scientist' failed to remember that Galileo, Hubble, Chandra, GRO, plus a plethora of earth observing satellites were launched by the Shuttle. The Space Station was and is an experiment in co-operation between superpowers. I consider actually promoting common humanity above nationalist isolation to be neither fantasist nor religious (in the negative connotations of the word). I'd rather waste money on peace than war. It's a worthy national hobby.

- Posted by Paul robbing Peter

bh.. 60.
January 12th,
2:56 pm
"I think it's important to note that the tasks accomplished by the X-prize folks are nowhere near the scale or complexity of actually launching into a sustainable orbit and re-entering at will. I do not intend to take away from the success of the X-prize workers, as it was certainly quite an accomplishment. However, there is a great divide between flying up 60 nm into the sky under rocket power and flying immediately back down and actually launching into and maintaining an orbit, let alone all the operations that take place once there."

@ Matt R #33 That is all very true, but if a fairly successful competitive suborbital tourist market develops, it will help spur the orbital tourist market. Basically if Branson gets a thousand people on SS2 and it's sister ships, (over a few years ofcourse) he'll have a pretty good case for buying a couple of Bigelow's inflatable space stations and some SpaceX falcons or human rated Atlas rockets along with them. I know this is a lot of ifs and maybes, but the potential is more exciting now than any other time in recent space history, in my opinion.

- Posted by Chance

bi.. 61.
January 12th,
3:26 pm
This far down on the comment list nobody will see this, but Here is my 2 cents worth.
I notice that the liberal minded folks are groaning about the money being spent on the space program, better yet lets go back many years and call it by the name that got us to the moon The Space Race, when so many people are unemployed and hungry. The money being spent on space would not feed and house the people in the metro areas so let's be realistic here. Oh BTW don't forget that the PC your using to make your negative comments was made possiable by the space race!!
If you do not invest money on something that will make money in the long run you are just spending it not making money and THAT is a real good way to go broke. The short sided people in this country don't realise that the space race WILL help cure unemployment and hunger by providing job in both the HI-Tech and laborer fields for years to come if we just get off our butts and get cracking.
The kids of this generation need a drive to get there education up to the level of other countrys! We used to be the smart ones now we are second rate.

- Posted by Rann Fox

bj.. 62.
January 12th,
3:34 pm
Crash #35: I think I addressed your point "It is not enough to simply make more math and science classes available to children: you must make the students want to pay attention!":

from the study on the school breakfast program:

"reports on the students indicated they were significantly more attentive in the classroom, earned higher grades in math, and had significantly fewer behavioral and emotional problems."


- Posted by hibob

bk.. 63.
January 12th,
4:49 pm
For such a long post, it would be great if you could fix the site so that your blog posts print nicely. Right now, you get:

Page 1: Mostly blank
Page 2: As much of your posting that will fit on 1 page
Page 3: Mostly blank

My workaround: Copy the post into Word and print it from there. Too bad it's not easier!

- Posted by Scott

bl.. 64.
January 12th,
5:08 pm
The idea that space offers a haven to Humans facing global catastrophe is an astounding sickness that betrays an avid science fiction reader. Space exploration is a metaphor for escaping worldly problems. Let's restore focus within. We need to re-establish emotional and spiritual balance in our lives, balance absent because modern science is founded on the so-called enlightenment philosophers to whom the maxim "know thyself" was lost. Our spiritual poverty kills the world through emotionally desperate overconsumption and space is spiritual methamphetamine, a distructive form of entertainment. The space program is evil. Why fear if China, Japan, India, or others take over the space race? First, the fear is racist. It is far healthier to address racism. Next, why are other countries going to space? It is because America has decisively shown that missles, satellites, and nuclear power are for vicious bullying. Even England wants to go its own way now. If the space program is at all altruistic and free of racism and militaristic bullying, we should gladly turn it over to the United Nations so all Humanity may participate. We won't because the space program is driven by the hidden hand of elite privilege and greed. It seems no coincidence that America was lead into this program by a Nazi who intensely hated Russian socialism. The space program is fundamentally in no wise a program for the betterment of Humans, unless you own the right companies.

- Posted by Robert Sutherland

bm.. 65.
January 12th,
5:12 pm
Space Exploration provides Many new scientific possibilities, including producing new drugs. It should not be held to Solely Scientific, as Solely Science produces No money. but allowing coorporations to promote exploration also adds the possibilities of streamlining Space Tourism and could potentially open up new and exciting forms of space propulsion and many many other great opportunities. Stay open minded about capitalism..

- Posted by Fanucon

bn.. 66.
January 12th,
5:52 pm
Remarkable opinions of the experts that make all right the space investments when research for health, economic resources, development of many technologies in many fields of science, and not so all right when developed for even more deadly knowledge as new weapons, but isn't also true that one of the reasons for space travels is a already coming new glacial era, something faster and even more terrible to mankind that the greenhouse efect?

- Posted by Eduardo

bo.. 67.
January 12th,
6:18 pm
Humankind must head for the stars. There is no other future for us. To cease to grow is to die.

But with the best will in the world, there are only limited funds for space exploration that can be made available each year. The question is, how best to use them? Where should we put the money over the next 10 to 20 years, mainly into robotic exploration or mainly into human exploration, so that in 50 years we have not just a handful of astronauts, but whole towns and cities?

I say "mainly" because it will always be worth doing some human exploration to keep the public interest, and worth doing some robotic exploration to reach the parts that humans cannot. But the big ticket items - sending a human to mars, or landing solar powered lunar buggies with robot arms remotely controlled from Earth - there lies the dilemma.

There are certainly still things we need to learn about humans in space. How to stop bone damage. How to keep them sane. How to integrate them into a closed biosystem that can provide clean food, air and water. How to protect them from radiation and solar flares.

But that is not the big hurdle for villages in space. A living growing community of 300 or more people beyond our atmosphere cannot survive on Earth supplied materials. To become independent requires gathering and working a majority of their needed bulky resources from beyond the Earth's gravity well. And to do that, we need robots.

- Posted by Douglas Reay

bp.. 68.
January 12th,
8:24 pm
Well your social critic is not just saving seven billion dollars by eliminating the space program he is eliminating the fifty six billion dollars that the government gets back in royalties on patents and licenses generated by the space program, and those funds will have to be made up from taxes to fund the social programs you would like to have. Dealing with the corporations in this country is a pressing issue. It reaches in to all aspects of government and this has to be addressed by society with or without the space program.

Have you not ever heard of the national labs? A lot of the work of space exploration has been done by them, and this benefits all of us, and gives them something else to do beside making bombs.

Oh, but this gives the lie to all the hue and cry for a Market based program. Yes the government can do! and do a good job. Not like the effort to privatize utilities, or war. we don't need any more Enron fiasco, or KBR rip offs.

Yes I remember the great moments in recent American history like the landings on the Moon, and the grand tours of the solar system by the Pioneer, and Voyager missions. far better a trip to Mars then a war in the middle east.

- Posted by Bill Kurtin

bq.. 69.
January 12th,
9:44 pm
What depressingly weak arguments from people that should know better.

When I was young I thought space exploration was the natural progress of humanity, something that we should all strive toward. Like many others I love science fiction. When I grew up I realized people can't really explore space in any way meaningful in a human time scale. The benefits of space exploration are an illusion and far from the idea that people could be space tourists.

Money spent on space programs do have financial benefits for some well-to-do people on Earth. But really this is akin to the broken window economic theory, that breaking a window has some economic benefit because it employs a glazier. The fact is that the money spent on space programs could be applied to other areas that provide a much greater return on the investment. It's a distortion to claim everything that has something to do with space as a benefit of space exploration. GPS and weather satellites focused on the Earth have nothing do with space exploration.

Also, just because a lot more money is wasted elsewhere doesn't justify further waste. If you spend $100 at a casino, does that automatically make it ok to throw another $10 into the gutter?

I find the idea that space should be explored for reasons of national pride the most absurd of all. Hysterical nationalism is not something to be cultivated, it's disease like racism and religious fundamentalism, through which the people allow themselves to be controlled.

Even in the most fantastic scenarios of travelling to other stars, the chances of you or your descendents being part of that journey are hopelessly negligible. They're much more likely to be digging for scraps in the dirt following WW5. The only people that may benefit from space exploration at some distant point in the future are the children of people like Murdoch and Bush, after they've made the planet uninhabitable.

I'm not against space exploration, but until we ensure life on Earth can remain reasonably stable and healthy, it's a gross waste of resources.

It's a shame that people involved in science have made such obviously self interested arguments. What happened to their scientific objectivity?

- Posted by Nobody

br.. 70.
January 12th,
9:45 pm
All those people saying that spending money on space is a waste should just consider the fact that the very technology that we are using right now is a spin-off of the US Space Program! If it were not for the space program, the computer industry would have had no reason to make things smaller, and the microcomputer revolution would never have happened.

- Posted by Farrell McGovern

bs.. 71.
January 12th,
10:03 pm
I have an idea, Why don't we give nasa say a third to a half of the revenue their patents bring in? This will encourage innovation and fund nasa with little or no burden on the tax payer.
Space exploration (manned or unmanned) is necessary and good and 15-30 bill a year will not be missed from our defecit.

- Posted by Gerbal

bt.. 72.
January 12th,
10:12 pm
Some of these comments are odd. Space exploration vs. school lunches? Why not highway funding or Medicaid or farm subsidies or anything else vs. school lunches? Although no one actually mentioned a number, assuming that revenues from NASA patents are going into the general fund, one can say that space exploration is funding school lunches.

Many of those commenting seem to think that the US was the only player in space. In fact, it was the USSR that initiated space exploration. We then quickly realized the strategic value of space exploration. There was a time-out when the USSR collapsed, but Russia is an oil power and has a goal to be first to Mars. China is, of course, also in the manned space exploration business.

US businesses have shown interest in space tourism, and maybe some pharmaceutical applications, but none have the strategic vision or budgets necessary for establishing manned mining colonies. I can't think of a single corporation that would invest the >$10B annually for 20 years for that purpose. Their shareholders would kill them!

Manned space exploration, like school lunches and education, is an investment that we must make. It provides a focus not only for exploring worlds, but for exploring the technologies needed to enable it.

- Posted by David Rozum

bu.. 73.
January 12th,
10:23 pm wonder that 6 people intimately involved in space programs all agree that they're worthwhile.

Why don't you round out the panel? Ask some professional musicians, art historians, and AIDS workers if they feel that it is worth all the money that we're throwing at it.

This brings up what I don't understand about the US: leave health care up to the free market (because it knows best), but make sure the space program is essentially completely gov't funded.

- Posted by Kevin

bv.. 74.
January 12th,
11:13 pm
"O Brother Where Art Thou?"

Would some kind New York Times reporter mind asking Senator Obama the same question please.

On November 20 at a New Hampshire high school he proposed delay of the NASA Vision for Space Exploration Constellation and transfer $18-billion to the US Department of Education.

Yet this same presidential candidate offered-up a "Plan For American Leadership in Space" that suggests that we must close the gap between the space shuttle retirement in 2010 and a new space launch vehicle.

Would someone kindly explain what this double-speak means to thousands of American aerospace workers and space advocates across the United States? Does Obama support a return to the moon by 2020 or not?

I am certain that primary voters in Florida, Texas, California, Alabama, Mississppi, New Mexico and Virginia really would like to know. Please help by posing the question.

- Posted by Jack Kennedy

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