Is Space Exploration Worth the Cost? A Freakonomics Quorum

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 NASAWatch.com 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.


TruePath

Ughh, this discussion totally seems to overlook opportunity cost. Yes, I agree space exploration is 'worth it' compared to the choice of not using that money for scientific research. However, that isn't the important quesiton. The important question is DOES THE SPACE PROGRAM PROVIDE MORE BENEFIT PER DOLLAR THAN GIVING ALL THAT MONEY TO THE NSF AND NIH. Both of these research programs will have spin offs, create jobs, further education etc.. etc.. and won't waste large parts of their budgets just on getting things out of earth's gravity well.

Now maybe there is a compelling reason to think that we couldn't practically just spend space money on other forms of science research but if so I haven't heard it here.

Ron Carlson

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

Danny W

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?

Diversity

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.

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destinationspace

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.

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Charles B

An interesting point rarely made is that the benefits of aerospace science have resulted in new materials, techniques and products in different areas in the private sector through technology transfer. In all likelihood, the government has earned their investment in space back in taxes gained through earnings of companies monetizing derivatives.

As to "renewable energy research" being the focus, ask yourself where the first practical usage of fuel cells was...yes, you may have guessed it...space.

Amir

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.

Doug Dinsdale

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.

Rann Fox

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.

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hibob

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."

I

Robert Sutherland

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.

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Scott

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!

Nobody

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?

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David Rozum

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.

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Kevin

Hmmm...no 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.

misterb

Several of the people above (or 1 person + sockpuppets) mentioned that PC's were an outcome of the space program. I'd like to see a cite, because I'm quite familiar with the origins of the PC and this doesn't make sense to me. The transistor was invented by Bell Labs before the space program started - the microprocessor came out of the calculator business with Japanese funding. The software was stolen from Xerox and Bell Labs. Exactly what part of the PC did you think came from NASA? While NASA definitely was an early user of computers - they tended to be as much as a decade behind commercial microprocessors because of concerns about higher radiation levels in space. Perhaps one of the actual space scientists who posted earlier was around long enough ago that they would be familiar with this claim.

Michael Z. Williamson

Modern computers are a DIRECT spinoff of the space program's need for small, compact computing power.

Therefore, everyone opposed to space exploration should only post here by letter mail.

They must also stop watching satellite TV, ignore all satellite weather reports and stop blathering about "global warming," which is a study largely supported by satellites and space probes (which show that all planets and Pluto are experiencing warming, but I digress).

They can then take the pittance generated by the resulting national poverty and use it to feed the millions of ignorant children being wiped out by storms, diseases and poor transportation networks that don't have computers.

Possibly some nearby equally poor neighbor will invade and fight over chickens.

Ah, space exploration. and evil created by that great capitalist entity, the USSR.

Thanatos Savehn

How about "neither"?

The State doesn't do exploration well because it doesn't do risk well. And as society has become more risk averse (compare the coverage of a few coal mining deaths last year to that of the many hundreds who died yearly in the 60s) the State has become increasingly inept at exploration. So, if we're going to see space exploration we're going to need individuals taking chances. Nothing new really.

That's not, however, to say that the State has no role. The State can facilitate the invention of propulsion systems that will make space travel feasible. Thereafter, it should just stay out of the way, let individuals undertake the risks and seize the rewards (assuming there are any) and then take its cut via taxes - until, of course, those who take the risks millions of miles away have their own "When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of Mars, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and Nature's God entitle them ..." moment.

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Alon Ziv

I wonder how so many prople are advocating space colonization, yet no-one has quoted Bruce Sterling:
"I'll believe in people settling Mars at about the same time I see people settling the Gobi Desert".

Charles Stross' thoughtful debunking of the concept, in his column is titled "The High Frontier, Redux", is also worth a read. He looks (directly!) at the cost of spaceflight, and does not find it an attractive proposition. Sure, all agree that space exploration is important--but in the absence of technology indistinguishable from magic, space travel (and colonization) is not viable.

Alex Railean

Interesting information, but the review is incomplete without including some comments from people who have a different view regarding this topic.

In my opinion, you should have included feedback from people who are known to be against space exploration. This is more efficient than discussing this with "musicians and historians" (as other commenters have pointed out) - even though they are not working in the field of sci-tech, they could still be pro space exploration, thus the quorum is still not ballanced.