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 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.

Leave A Comment

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  1. JPC says:

    Gee – everyone agrees.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 30 Thumb down 28
  2. Leszek Pawlowicz says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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    • Patrick J Whalen says:

      NASA is has now disbanded the shuttle program because of the national economic crisis. Would pushing for more scientific endeavors in space help to boost the economy? I think the more science and technological advances we can attain will continue to shed benefits on the nation in the form of national pride, jobs, and motivation to pursue challenges. What do you think now that the shuttle program is gone? How does space exploration move forward during these current economic times?

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 32 Thumb down 18
    • kevin says:

      Well here’s a counter argument. In the last 40 years NASA has transfered more than 1600 space technologies to the civilian sector which inturn led to 30,000 secondary applications of space technology providing daily benefits in Earth-bound hospitals, offices and homes . This was done cheaply and many companies that bought these technologies made a large amount of money. Some examples building the space shuttles main engines lead to the development of a new heart device. 7 technologies used in NASCAR F1 such as Carbon-Carbon brake pads which was developed to protect crafts and missiles during re-entry.

      The pacemakers used to treat cardiac patients as well as the remote monitoring devices for intensive care patients were derived from the telemetry systems that first monitored astronauts and spacecraft. Much of the portable medical equipment carried aboard ambulances has its roots in NASA’s needs for such portable equipment in space.

      NASA’s use of aluminized materials to serve as insulation for satellites and spacecraft helped lead to a revolution in reflective insulating materials ranging from survival blankets to wraps for water heaters to new types of interior home insulation. Extremely strong fire-retarding materials that were developed for use in the pure-oxygen air of early spacecraft

      ‘Composite materials, a mix of fibers and resins designed to provide great strength yet remain very light weight, have been synonymous with all aerospace applications from airplanes to NASA spacecraft and have advanced into lightweight, strong materials for helmets, tennis rackets and other sporting goods. NASA spawned further development of memory metals, metals that remember their former shape when bent, in its early space station studies and advanced forms of the materials are now used in common flexible metal eyeglass frames. Other glasses benefit from scratch-resistant coatings originally developed as a protective coating for delicate spacecraft parts. In footwear, a shock-absorbing spacerÓ technique originally developed for the boots of moonwalking astronauts has given birth to an entire new family of shock-absorbing tennis shoes and other athletic shoes.’

      ‘The smoke detectors now required by law to be placed in all homes and universally credited with saving countless lives are an end result of a technology originally developed for NASA’s early 1970s Skylab spacecraft. Quartz timing crystals which have led to the current status quo in wristwatches and small clocks were first developed for NASA as a highly accurate, lightweight and durable timing device for the lunar-bound Apollo spacecraft. On the moon, astronauts used specially developed portable, battery-powered electric tools to drill into the surface and take samples of the crust, tools that were the direct predecessor of today’s cordless screwdrivers, drills and other rechargeable power tools. Common bar codes now used for pricing in supermarkets are an advancement of technology originally developed for uses within NASA, such as maintaining a highly accurate inventory of millions of spacecraft parts. ”

      A cell culture device developed as part of space medicine research at JSC may allow scientists to better test new treatments for cancer and viruses without risking harm to patients. The study of how to grow plants in the most inhospitable location yet visited by humans the moon led to the development of a synthetic soil by JSC researchers that holds promise as a revolutionary fertilizer and soil on Earth. All this and far more. So just about every aspect of our lives were effected by space technologies or secondary technologies.

      So is that enough counter or do you want to know more.?

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 44 Thumb down 12
    • jdk1.0 says:

      1. Not sure what strip-mining funding means. Rational to spend money on manned missions over robot missions? Sure. Go look up Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson’s view on this. No kids growing up today care about unmanned space missions that don’t make it in the news and aren’t inspiring to anybody in the general public. We need kids in U.S. to care about math and science so that we have a chance to survive in a world that already far surpasses us in these areas. You probably complain that foreigners come here to take “our” jobs, but then you want to cut the funding that inspires our future scientists. Is that rational?

      2. 200 billion? Do you think that’s a large number? According to Brown University the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan cost DOUBLE that every single year! We’re talking trillions. Obviously it’s unrelated, but it makes the point that the U.S. is obviously made of money and the government will frivolously throw cash left and right for whatever reason, except to improve the sciences that don’t churn out bigger guns. Maybe if we appropriated 400 billion every year for the space station and other manned space research (instead of spending it to kill hundreds of thousands of people), NASA wouldn’t have to cut programs. NASA has been given 528 billion in the entirety of it’s existence! That same amount will be spent on war before the decade is up. Does that make sense?

      3. Cost? NASA costs on average 9 billion per year, roughly the amount of tax a large corporation evades in any given year. When NASA starts blowing a couple orders of magnitude more than that, then we can talk. The amount of technology we as a race have gained as a direct result of NASA ranges in the tens of trillions, if not more. I think we could do a lot better at pointing the finger elsewhere and give NASA the funding it, and the people of earth, deserve.

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  3. Jim Pharo says:

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  4. John Gringham says:

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  5. Mike Mogie says:

    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.

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  6. Michael Loewinger says:

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    • Nick Kandas says:

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  7. Peter says:

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    • Matt says:

      If NASA was allowed to keep 1/8th of the royalties its discoveries make they would be self sufficient, never costing the taxpayer money except perhapts for the greatest of projects.

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 29 Thumb down 5
  8. Will McBurnett says:

    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?


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  9. Bruce says:

    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?

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 13 Thumb down 13
  10. frankenduf says:

    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)

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 5
  11. Erik Fitzpatrick says:

    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?

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1
  12. Ari says:

    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)?

    Thumb up 5 Thumb down 6
  13. Chance says:

    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.

    Thumb up 8 Thumb down 5
  14. Jonny_eh says:

    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.

    Thumb up 8 Thumb down 4
  15. Tim says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  16. misterb says:

    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.

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2
  17. Glenn Dale says:

    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.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  18. Peter says:

    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.

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  19. Eric says:

    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.

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  20. Alex says:

    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?

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  21. James says:

    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?

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  22. Will says:

    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.

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  23. James says:

    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.

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  24. mwfair says:

    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’

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  25. cHANCE says:

    “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.

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  26. The People says:

    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.

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  27. John says:

    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.

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  28. Lisa says:

    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.

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  29. jsn says:

    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?

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  30. freddi says:

    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.

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  31. J. Greene says:

    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.

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  32. Mike says:

    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”)

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  33. Matt R. says:

    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.

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  34. Hibob says:

    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”:

    “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.

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  35. Crash says:

    “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!

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  36. Rip says:

    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.

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  37. Hobart says:

    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.

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  38. Dan says:

    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.

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  39. Wortles says:

    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).

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  40. Mike P says:


    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?

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  41. Ryan says:

    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

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  42. GMoney says:

    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.

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  43. 1spacescientist says:

    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 allocated…it’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.

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  44. space4earth says:

    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.

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  45. says:

    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?

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  46. shecky says:

    “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.

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  47. mark says:

    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?

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  48. Ron Carlson says:

    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

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  49. Peter says:

    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:

    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 ( 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).

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  50. Danny W says:

    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?

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  51. Diversity says:

    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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  52. mthomas says:

    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

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  53. Robert Zeh says:

    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.

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  54. royabammart says:

    Make love, not war!

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  55. scout29c says:

    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!

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  56. destinationspace says:

    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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  57. Amir says:

    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.

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  58. Doug Dinsdale says:

    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.

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  59. Paul robbing Peter says:

    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.

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  60. Chance says:

    “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.

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  61. Rann Fox says:

    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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  62. hibob says:

    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.”


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  63. Scott says:

    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!

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  64. Robert Sutherland says:

    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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  65. Fanucon says:

    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….

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  66. Eduardo says:

    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?

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  67. Douglas Reay says:

    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.

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  68. Bill Kurtin says:

    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.

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  69. Nobody says:

    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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  70. Farrell McGovern says:

    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…

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  71. Gerbal says:

    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.

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  72. David Rozum says:

    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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  73. Kevin says:

    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.

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  74. Jack Kennedy says:

    “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.

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  75. Mike Boitano says:

    Extra Solar Planetary Exploration

    I think the study of extra solar planetary exploration is the single most important goal for the long term interests of mankind.

    My first prediction for the future is, Life and other forms of intelligence absolutely exists out there somewhere, it is merely up to Us to find it.

    My second prediction for the future is, if long range travel proves to be impossible (Einstein’s contention that We can not exceed the speed of light), then the ability to create forms of real-time/long range communications with other intelligent life forms will become the only other possible type of interaction.

    And, if My previous predictions are finally proven wrong at some point in history, then My third prediction most certainly will finally be proven.

    That is, as the only known life forms in the Universe, it is Our highest ethical and moral imperative to insure ALL Our species on this Planet remain intact. ALL variations, no exceptions. Because, if this Planet is proven to be the first or the last place in this Universe at which Life itself is fostered, then it most certainly deserves to be maintained by this Human Race.

    ? 2007 Mike Boitano

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  76. Szundi says:

    Sometimes it’s cheper to send a human that was just told what to do. And he/she does it. Robots have to be programmed that costs a lot of time that costs a lot of money. Either way you pay your ass off :)

    So robotic missions are ok for sending home pictures and checking something, but if a small creativity is needed, if something about the details are unknown, what do you program into your bot? Think about that. And believe me, AI is nowhere nowadays from reality.

    I wonder why not sending out suicidal human missions. Why are we so shy about that? I’m sure there would be a very long queue of people want to give their lifes for humanity and science for such a mission. Human missions cost a lot because of they want to bring back them to Earth.

    Bot’s and returning humans are expensive :)

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  77. misterb says:

    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.

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  78. Santhip Krishnan Kanholy says:

    Are humans really required to conquer space? It basically points to a fundamental question: Are we required to find answers to the questions we ask at all? personally, I think that it is the spirit of enquiry, the human spirit which have been expressed in the missions to moon and other human spaceflight programs. Obviously as is the case with other “Earthbound” programs, money which can be used for numerous other purposes, is required as well. The government is governing people. So its upto the government to look at the welfare of the people. All these programs must be taken care of by the govt. But it should never forget the responsibility to give life for the spirit of enquiry to paint our imagination, as they have to govern we humans

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  79. ThatGuy says:


    It is the sole purpose of the human race.

    There is no cost. There is only do or die.

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  80. Dan says:

    My copy of Freakonomics, still unread, has just moved down a couple of notches in the stack. I mean, if the research which went into selecting this panel gives us insight into the research that went into Freakonomics, then why bother reading it, and what’s all the fuss about?

    No one has tried the experiment that’s a must for drawing a conclusion on this. Using exactly the same budget as NASA has had since landing on the moon, devote that budget for the next 35 years to instrument-only space exploration unhampered by Shuttleconomics. Then look at the GDP of the US, or the planet, or the number of testimonials you can collect from people who were inspired by it, and compare that to the fruits of these past 35 years. When then that’s done, we have something to talk about. Until then, the opinions of these panelists are faith-based.

    And finally, a wise old veteran of an Apollo contractor told me that the greatest benefit of manned space flight was that it got some money devoted to unmanned space flight. Without the former, Congress would have no interest in the latter.

    BTW, I will accept that Apollo was worth the effort. The Cold War was my favorite war of the 20th century. Long live the Cold War! But what Apollo teaches us about how to proceed today, I’m not so sure.

    – Dan in Palo Alto, a fellow student of Ron McNair

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  81. Michael Z. Williamson says:

    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.

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  82. Pal says:

    While I see the value in space exploration and I’m sure there are numerous spin offs to be gain from such ventures. Not one cent should be spent till planetary concerns are dealt with.
    That means feed the hungry…
    Shelter the homeless…
    Educate the ignorant…
    Bring down our populations in line with planetary sensibility…. Use the science to first reestablish a healthy ecological balance… Once we have a sustainable equation on earth then maybe we can look to the starts again…

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  83. Field says:

    I have gone from enthusiasm about national manned exploration to disgust. I don’t know whether it should be funded, but I don’t feel that NASA in its current form is competent to run it. Their budget estimates are a standing joke, they run things with government thrift, and they get jerked around by the whim of politicians. In the absence of a true ambitious vision (does anybody still think Bush’s stuff will work out??) I think NASA should focus on unmanned exploration, leaving manned stuff to people who know what they’re doing (Scaled Composites, Bigelow Aerospace, etc)

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  84. Thanatos Savehn says:

    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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  85. Alon Ziv says:

    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.

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  86. Alex Railean says:

    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.

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  87. JH says:

    Ditto on the reference to Professor Bob Park. He argues for un-manned spaceflight as eloquently as anyone I’ve read.

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  88. Frank Grassi says:

    The Space Age has come and gone and humanity needs to focus on renewable energy as the main aim of science research. High altitude winds can supply the all of mankind with all the energy it needs.
    Wind is Sun’s heat transformed into kinetic energy through the greatest solar collector currently available, Earth’s atmosphere. Wind total power is estimated between 1,700 and 3,500 Tera Watt; by comparison, the whole mankind primary energy needs are estimated at approx. 14 TW.
    I have discovered a means of producing electric power from the wind that is many times more efficient then the horizontal turbines now in use. My patent pending wind machine will power the 21st. Century! Imagine a 50 MW wind power plant that is operational 100% of the time. There will not be need to cover the landscape with thousands of ugly wind turbines.
    Now back to the subject: I am a dreamer, but my dream can fill the most important human need for energy, but most of the comments and almost universal agreement of this blog regarding the need for human space exploration borders on insanity. We are exploring Mars and yes go back to the Moon with robots, but don’t make it a race of our technological powerless. Yes I mean “powerless”! Like in immobilized, incapable, weak, ineffective, pathetic, limp ……
    Why would I say such mean things about our space efforts? What have we done in human space exploration in the last 35 years? Zilch! To think that $7 Billion or $200 Billion will change the fundamentals of space exploration is insane. The Space station is a total waste; the new super duper rockets are going back to the long tube and the decision of how to land them is up in space.

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  89. jsn says:

    The Intel 8080 was developed by them as a special purpose controller for a customer. Evidently that application did not come to fruition (I don’t recall the details) and Intel put the chip on the market. Computer hobby folks bought it and developed the Altair which spawned a new industry. I don’t recall what chip Apple used but they had one of the first single board computers with floppy drives.

    The BIOS was very small because memory in those days was very expensive and ROM programers were few and far between. Was the BIOS copied? I don’t know they all do the same sorts of stuff and the case of the early microcomputers they were probably stripped down versions of something.

    The first line editor was a copy of SOS (Son of stopgap) and I don’t remember who the original author of that program was. Poly 88 had one of the first screen editors and I had a copy of that when I was on sabbatical at JPL. I borrowed a dot matrix printer that could do upper and lower case letters and and six of us wrote a proposal in two days using that hardware.
    That got a lot of attention.

    NASA flew the first computer that was special built for them by IBM but later on they flew a Commodore 88 on at least one mission.

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  90. Charles B says:

    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.

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  91. gangho says:

    The right reasons to explore space are very far from the demagogery that the special interests are likely to engage in in order to get any future space program budget boost. The right reason is that, to remain human, we have to go beyond. Space is the “infinite beyond” for us to go to. The wrong reasons for space exploration that are likely to be aired on TV and in the papers, have to do with technology spinoffs, education benefits, and other secondary stuff. And such arguments will not work.

    Don’t know how sincere were the five people on the panel in giving their reasons for believing in the manned space programs, but the rest of us will be well served by observing that the one overriding driving force for the first space race was fear. The sputniks and the Apollos were created to deliver the nuclear warheads, the whole rest of the space programs were spinoffs themselves. However cynical this observation, fear has been and will remain the greatest common denominator and most efficient way to make people make sacrifices (just note the continued focus on beating the Russians to the moon or now Chinese to whatever else).

    So, here is the homework for you space program advocates: come up with a plausible source of fear, get the mass media revved up about it, seat back and watch the money flowing in your direction.

    The need to go beyond is an axiom of human nature. Other arguments cater to folks who lost or never had curiosity to tear their butts off the couch. For them, the only remaining argument is fear.

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  92. Charlie S says:

    The observation that space exploration creates wealth and jobs would also apply to building pyramids on the banks of the Potomac: lots of jobs, patents to get the work done better or cheaper, and pennys per taxpayer in cost.

    Although “life in some form” might survive space through environmentally protected travel for short periods, we are losing focus and funding for the tremendous benefits of robotic space exploration. The romance and adventure of science-fiction, television fantasys along with self-serving bombast from have self-interested parties have warped public opinion on this issue.

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  93. Nate Welch says:

    To quote a previous comment,
    “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.”

    Evidently this person doesn’t know what society is like these days. These supposed already college-bound white kids can’t get in to school. They can’t get the Federal Student Aid that many others receive. If your from a middle class American family and white,you might as well forget about any help from Uncle Sam.

    Everyone seems to think that it’s a waste of money. I think that things like the war in Iraq or the other superficial budget expenses are the real waste.

    What ever happened to the Manifest Destiny? It shouldn’t be limited from sea to shinning sea! There is no limit.
    We owe it to the world to pave the way forward into space.

    I believe this was best summed up here,
    It is the sole purpose of the human race.
    There is no cost. There is only do or die.

    – Posted by ThatGuy”

    Remove the power of that almighty dollar that all of you seem so obsessed with. Have we as humans lost our edge by deciding on key issues based upon the economic concerns?
    Money should never play a role in science. It’s further proof to me that I am right in saying that the world has lost it’s freedom to money. You people make me sick.
    I read how you argue how this should be spent and this and that should be spent. THERE IS NO DOLLAR VALUE ON HUMAN KNOWLEDGE OR GREATNESS YOU IDIOTS!

    Get in your SUV’s and get your starbucks and get back to worshiping the dollar so the REAL thinkers can push the limits of humanity and STAY OUT OF IT!

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  94. Singhapan Sinhaseni says:

    If we are to look at space program as investment, I think it is important to see whether government can spend it better on something else or not? of course, there are many alternative that could yield better return on investment but there are also qualitative benefit we have to think about. I personally think that putting money into something that would help the survival of mankind if things turn out very badly is a type of benefit that can’t be substitute.

    Let’s face it, if we don’t spend it on space program, then there will be no space program in US. Isn’t this is like a thing that government suppose to do because space exploration is not really economically rewarding project for private firm.

    And let’s look at it on global scale, shouldn’t we doing things that we have absolute advantage on? For all the economic inefficiency it has, isn’t that still much more efficient than let China sending man to the moon. Seriously, China sending man to the moon doesn’t really contribute to advancement of mankind.

    There is one more thing, if the government should spending money on things that is benefit to the US then they should not build particle accelerator, that a complete waste of money. CERN is already doing a good job at that, put those money into NASA would be a much better use of money

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  95. fjd says:

    The controversial question is not whether space exploration is worth the cost but rather whether manned space exploration is worth the cost. Big difference.

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  96. Tonio says:

    The $8 of economic benefit for every $1 spent figure is misleading, and certainly an economist should point out that most government spending delivers a better return on investment.

    E.g. in Australia the threshold for road work is around 20:1.

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  97. Barry says:

    Imagine how much we would have learned about the New World if we’d just sent a small boat with an iPod in it across the Atlantic…

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  98. TruePath says:

    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.

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  99. Marshall Eubanks says:

    If you want some anti-manned space flight opinions, you should have included Bob Park of the U Maryland – or you could just search his newsletter at In my opinion, the Moon / Mars initiative will not survive the W administration, no matter who is the next President, so those are basically moot now.

    Space travel is hard, and as long as it costs a good fraction of a Million Dollars to lift a pound into orbit it will be hard to justify sending people into orbit, much less beyond. If we want to become a true spacefaring civilization, we need to substantially lower the cost to get into space and the cost of producing energy once we are there. (Energy is what it takes to get to interesting places in a timely fashion, once you are in orbit.)

    So, in my humble opinion what NASA should be doing for manned spaceflight is to put serious money into space elevators, as that is the only way I can see to get into orbit for a reasonable cost. (Some money for Helium 3 fusion wouldn’t hurt either.)

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  100. Elio says:

    No flying cars, but there are plenty of flying pigs just from reading some comments. Billions are spent at the whims of a few, yet we have a museum for creationism, we have starvation, wars around the world and 20 million homeless on the streets. We want to escape the fate of the dinosaurs, what if it was a gamma ray burst ? We want to explore space yet we don’t know what is in our backyard or at the bottom of the seas ? We are facing global warming yet we think the solution is in outer space ?? The real problem is between our ears and the solution is there too!

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  101. Roy B. says:

    It is very interesting to read the various comments. What they seems to show is that people certainly habe different experiences, educational levels, and philosophies. Some of the “Give the money to the poor” advocates ignore the fact that the “poor” always think of themselves as poor, no matter how much money they have. A person. who has $50 million, is poor compared to someone who has $50 billion. But he is extreamly wealthy compared to someone begging for spare change to get some food. Then, there the people, who think that they are the “chosen” ones and only they have the right to think about such things like spending the money to put mankind on some distant planet. Obviously, people don’t have the same experiences, education, wealth, religious and political backgrounds. Everyone has a right to voice an opinion, no matter how right, or, wrong it may be. —I do have to smile a bit when someone like G Scott Hubbard declares that James Van Allen discovered the magnetic field lines that go from the North Pole to the South Pole. As I remember it at the time, he was one of the several scientists, and their support groups, That had engineered the experiment and satalite that they managed to get lofted into orbit. I suspect that it was designed to go into a circular orbit. Instead, it went into an oblong path which was closer to the earthon part of the orbit and farther away on part of it. After a few days, they realized they had a problem with their alpha detector, which seemed to give them eratic signals and would just shut down just when they were getting a strong partical signal. They sent out a call for help to the national labatories to see if someone could tell them what the problem was. I was working at the Livermore Lab. when the call came through. I knew exactly what the problem was because several of us had been instructed about how the detectors were made by a person who was in charge of seeing that the detectors were calibrated and ready for use by the the people doing experiments. The nature of the detectors was that they would work well until the radiation levels was so high that the gas in them would turn to a plasma and short out the signal. When the particle level dropped, they would start working again. I told some of the experimenters and I think one of them called to relay the information. Van Allen must have answered the phone and told the others. They realized that they had discovered something new and decided to name the discovery after Van Allen.

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  102. Anonymous says:

    Not that I disagree….but…

    Well they are “Experts” in the space field….
    If my pay check is related to space exploration … can I be unbiased???

    If they don’t believe in what they are doing … do you think they would still be in this field?

    Disappointing that Freakanomics Blog is not excercising due consideration on economics of choosing perspectives. They should throw in some knowledgable critics of the programme!

    “If it is no good then why is china, india and soviet doing it?” … I expect smarter arguments than that. It could well be that China, India and Soviet is thinking… “If the Americans are doing it …. It must be important!”

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  103. D. Johnson says:

    Did I read correctly that someone said money should never play a role in science? I’ve read some crazy things on this blog, but that may just take the cake.

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  104. space4earth says:

    Lets look at some actual historical figure to put things in perspective when some talk about “billions and billions” of spending and ” shifting spending”. Two years are selected to define a period, 1966 and 2006. Real growth based on 526% inflation over the period.

    US OUTLAYS (350% real growth in the period)
    1966 $ 135 B
    2066 $ $2,4373 B
    350% REAL GROWTH

    US OUTLAYS % OF US GNP (314% real growth of GNP in the period)
    1966 17%
    2006 19%

    TOP 5 DEPARTMENTS in 2006
    Health and Human Services (real growth 2120%)
    1966 4.2%
    2006 26%
    Treasury (real growth 730%)
    1966 8.7%
    2006 18%
    Defense (real growth 140%)
    1966 42%
    2006 17%
    Agriculture (real growth 270%)
    1966 4.2%
    2006 3.2%
    Veterans Affairs (real growth 212%
    1966 4.4%
    2006 2.7%

    10th FROM THE BOTTOM 2006
    NASA (53% real growth, less than inflation)
    1966 4.4%
    2006 0.67%

    Others below NASA
    Interior, State, EPA, Commerce, The Judiciary, NSF, Corps of Engineers, Small Business, and GSA

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  105. Peter says:

    The comments are addressing the two questions posed by the original blog post:
    1) Is space exploration worth the cost? (in the post title)
    2) How much money to spend on manned space travel? (in the post body)

    A link for this elusive ‘fifty six billion’ that NASA gets in revenue?

    And even if i were to believe that number, it’d be a specious claim, at best. In short, “things don’t work like that.” And this is precisely the reason why NASA never attempts to justify their uselessness this way – ‘look guys – we are like making money and stuff – lots of it!’.

    Instead of keeping a human alive in orbit, i say we keep a bunch more alive right here on earth. Our infant mortality rates are the highest in the industrialized world – how bout a few billion for the kids, yo?

    I’d like to see some numbers on the cost of enforcing those NASA patents. How much do the Justice Department, the Commerce Department, the USPTO, and other government organizations spend to make this patent system happen, and this licensing system run?

    If taxpayers are paying to create all of this wonderful new technology, why isn’t this research being provided to the public for free?

    One of the many drawbacks of NASA is that it helps move us closer to the weaponization of space – yet another danger to the existence of life on earth. Controlling space will give the US government ‘full spectrum dominance’ – there is nothing laudatory about that, and it has nothing to do with ‘space exploration’ – it has to be with maintaining our imperialist stance.

    The Yucatan-Asteroid-as-cause-for-dino-extinction theory may not be correct. It may have been insects that killed the dinos over a long period of time.

    ‘Nobody’ makes very good arguments for killing NASA.

    The USSR was state capitalist, just like the U.S. is.

    If the Intel 8080 was developed by NASA, then someone best update the wiki:

    Thanks to tens of billions of dollars of taxpayer money over the last several decades, we now have Tang and Tempur-Pedic mattresses. Brilliant.

    I agree on ixnaying the various particle accelerators – like NASA, they’re a total waste of my money.

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  106. Charley says:

    Manned exploration of Mars is inevitable, but I think it should take longer than NASA is saying now. Robotic exploration is vastly more cost-effective than manned for opening a new frontier, such as the lunar poles or anywhere on Mars. After many years, robots will have answered the basic scientific and engineering questions and paved the way for manned exploration with tolerable cost and risk. What’ll kill us (literally) is hurrying through the preparatory research by robots.

    Entrepreneurial investment will not show up in this arena until (a) a viable service sector is fostered, e.g. commercial passenger and cargo delivery to space, paid either by private passengers or by governments; or (b) mining by a conventional business plan becomes viable. Companies will not put a dime into Mars exploration without a customer and a business plan; and the only customer today is still the government sector. Entrepreneurship does not equate to business folly. The model is definitely not Don Quixote — more like Elon Musk. And businesses will be necessarily risk-averse: e.g. the first fatality in a “Virgin Space”-like operation might be waved off, but the second could wipe out the company.

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  107. TaxThePoor says:

    Space exploration seems to mainly serve political and defense purposes and as such is worth every tax dollar spent on it. Just don’t call it science.

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  108. Bruce Hayde says:

    I think that the problem here is that what has been offered here is a false choice. The choice being proposed is the NASA way or no way. But NASA has done a piss poor job of spending the manned space flight money it has gotten since we were last on the moon. The space shuttle looked good on paper, as a cheaper way to get into space than disposible rockets, that is, until it came in many times over budget, and now costs much more per flight than rockets do. And never mind that the cost locked us into obsolete technology. And, as mentioned above, the Intenational Space Station has been about as bad.

    I view the NASA view of space travel as one of the better examples of why we shouldn’t trust the government to do much of anything. In my view, it has been horribly implimented and managed for decades.

    I do believe we will see man in space, but not in the end, with much help from our government. All of those great suggestions about spinoff are much more persuasive if the costs are a fraction, and someone outside the government is actually trying to capture those benefits to fund space flight. You may downplay the X Prize, etc. by what was accomplished, but the reality is that far more was accomplished for a small fraction of the NASA budget than NASA has done for a long time with its budget. Yes, it is a big jump from going into “space” and getting to the moon. But at least the winner was fully reusable, compared to what NASA has given us – a system where most of the weight and size going up is discarded, 30 years and many billions spent after Apollo. Keep in mind that it is likely that one flight of the Space Shuttle probably costs more than all the money spent on the X Prize.

    If there is money out there, the private sector will find it. If not, then why are we going?

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  109. Mahesh says:

    Is there any hard data behind Hubbard’s statement that “…for every dollar we spend on the space program, the U.S. economy receives about $8 of economic benefit”? When it comes to how my tax dollars are spent, I’d like to see accountability, hard numbers and the ROI on patents, etc., whether it is the space program, elementary education, or even the war in Iraq (not that I support it).

    Just because I like the idea of space exploration doesn’t mean that I want to spend unaccounted dollars on it. If you don’t like it, start your own private company and run it how you like.

    While the goals of colonization, mining and a hedge against catastrophe are all good points, an even better point is that all these can be done FOR PROFIT.

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  110. GLK says:

    The biggest problem NASA has is a lack of marketing. Consequently, too few people understand how much of the technology that touches their daily lives is either the direct or indirect result of the space program. Therefore, too few understand its value.

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  111. Dev Mankad says:

    Yeah, yeah, You can use “words” to prove anything.

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  112. KGyST says:

    I wonder that the people who were asked didn’t say one of the most important answer: the Earth is quite overpopulated, and if we study the environmentalist answers to the questions of the sustainable development, it turns out that with renewable resources we can sustain the life of 1 billion people or so (possible 2 or 3, but not 6-10). We are much more on the Earth. Since getting the Earth to such a status is infeasible (ie killing most of the Earth’s inhabitants, You, Me), on the long term we have only one chance: to live in a deteriorating environment and to fix it continuously, or to move people out of the Earth – to space.

    The two sollutions in fact are quite the same: building self-sustaining environments out there and terraforming planets, like Mars is a simplified question of mending our biosphere. Sustaining an even simple biosphere is quite out of our reach, as the Biosphere-2 experiment shows, and understanding the biosphere is far from complete understanding of our planet Earth as a system (atmosphere, sea currents, etc).

    There an easily understandable example of this: the civilization of the Easter Islands. Polynesian people reached these islands with triremes made of large wood trunks, and made a relatively developed civilization. But they consumed the wood on the islands, and when they noticed this, there were simply not enough large trees to leave the islands. They struck there, and when Europeans found them, their civilization was fallen apart.

    So, my opinion to ‘escape’ to space is quite simple: we must do it right now, because we have the resources to do it, and it is not obvious that with an environment getting worse and worse we will able to do it within 100 years later. So, not developing means falling behind.

    And to get to the first astronauts to the Mars takes 20 years. Of this 100 year.

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  113. Monte Davis says:

    The central economic fact behind the high cost of space activity (scientific as well as manned) is that that we do very little of it. So it’s never experienced either significant economies of scale or a rapid learning curve. The whole world, civil and military, averages a few score launches, a few hundred tons a year to orbit and beyond. At that scale neither ships nor railroads, gasoline vehicles nor airplanes, would ever have progressed much beyond expensive, bleeding-edge rarities. It’s a chicken-and-egg problem: the best way to make it cheaper is to do lots more, but at these prices we can’t.

    The faith expressed in some posts here that private enterprise — SpaceX, Virgin Galactic et al — will quickly make all the difference is touching but misplaced. Yes, they will enjoy some efficiencies that NASA and its contractors don’t, and I wish them all success — but they’re still starting in an extremely high-cost, low-volume economic space.

    Absent some improbably large surge in market demand (NB that “I think space is exciting and important to mankind’s future” does not translate for many of us into “Here’s my $100K for a Branson ticket”), both “government space” and the new private startups have a long way to go before we’re likely to see a rapid virtuous circle of increasing volume and declining costs.

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  114. AsteroidMiner says:

    Some math for y’all:

    The space shuttle can bring back 35,000 pounds from orbit. It was originally designed to be launched once/week, but has been scaled back to once/month. Each launch costs about $100 million.

    Many asteroids are know to br rich in precious metals, such as gold and platinum. A small asteroid with the length and width of a football field could potentially contain TRILLIONS of dollars worth or metals.

    Many of these asteroids routinely pass close to earth (google the NEAR program). The cost of capturing one, bringing it into earth orbit and establishing on it a small nuclear or solar-powered mining and processing plant would be less than returning to the moon.

    Platinum is currently $1000/ounce. Thats $16,0000/pound x 35,000 pounds/trip means each shuttle load would retrieve $560 million in platinum – $100 million lauch costs = $460 million profit per trip per month, or $5.5 billion/year. How’s that for ROI? That’s 1/3 of NASA’s budget. And the shuttle could be flown totally automated, without any crew (like the Russians did in ’88 with their Buran). This would reduce risk, and possibly cost as well.

    Currently only 130 tons of platinum are mined anually, mainly in Russia and South Africa. at 17 tons/trip x 12 trips/year, the U.S. would produce more platinum than the rest of the world COMBINED. More supply = lower price. Hello, Fuel Cell Cars that no longer cost $1 million! Goodbye, global-warming-causing internal combustion fossil fuel enegines.
    And imagine if the replacement for the shuttle is able to increase flights up to once/week with the same payload, while reducing launch costs. Now, throw gold into the equation (2500 tons terrestrial last year). Do you see ROI now?

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  115. Mani says:


    I know I’m eons too late, but –

    We should send astronauts into space because kids think it’s cool? Kids also think Dinosaurs are cool; why aren’t we spending that “insignificant” $7bn on creating an American “Jurassic Park”? It’s about as plausible and informative as terraforming Mars in our lifetime (if not more so; recreating an entire, extinct, organism from eons-old genes is infinitely more impressive and useful than putting Buck Rogers Jr. on a red rock and bringing him back).

    As for manned vs unmanned…efficiency models aside, the only argument for manned travel in that “quorum” seemed to be that only a human can explain subjective human experience to other humans.


    I wasn’t aware that was why we were going to Mars in the first place – to describe it to people prettily.


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  116. Gabriel says:

    I am all for critical thinking here and objective views, but I see a serious flaw in the arguments of these posters who are complaining so loudly about funding for humans in space. The arguments against all assume that the pennies we spend on the space program could be better spent elsewhere, and this implies a sense of both proper management spending and priorities, and a willingness to spend the money on such alternative high ideals and causes. This is what it means to be a hypocrite – to spend billions on alcohol, advertising, unecessary vehicles that consume unecessary gas and other embarrasing expenditures. Where is the critism of these expenses? We spend untold billions on our luxuries, and terrible amounts less on improving our existence. Yet you people have the gall to go after the dreamers and their pennies they use and cry “foul”. Hypocrites, pure and simple.

    Let the dreamers continue, and bring you still the benefits of manned and other exploration.

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  117. atg says:

    I think a panel of non-proffesionals would have reached the same conclusions. There is no such thing as science per dollar,

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  118. Mani says:

    Gabriel (#117):
    “Where is the critism of these expenses?”
    In the comments sections of blog posts about those expenses.

    Where they’re relevant, versus here, which is about space travel.

    Your allegations against these “hypocrites” assume far too much.

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  119. Peter Davey says:

    My own support for space travel is based, in part, on two quotations.
    The first is from the Russian scientist, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky: “The Earth is the cradle of Mankind, but no-one stays in the cradle forever.”
    The second is from the American science-fiction writer, Robert A Heinlein: “The Earth is simply far too small and fragile a basket for the human race to continue to keep all of its eggs in”. To which one of his colleagues, Larry Niven, has added a rider: “The dinosaurs had no space programme”.

    It was Adam Smith who once said that opulence must take second place to defence – our survival must come before our prosperity, although I believe that a properly managed space programme can actually ensure both.

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  120. Deniz says:

    I’d like to thank all the readers for their thoughtful comments. The arguments for space travel were in my opinion, very flakey at best. I am upset that the writer in the blog introduced this article like this:

    “…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.”

    Easily one of the best quorums? I kind of doubt it.I also don’t think their answers were especially thoughtful or well-considered, but rather stock arguments often heard in space-exploration debates–and they are definitely not “fascinating”, at least not to me. As well, their respective areas of expertise and experience (technical knowledge and managing research institutions) does not seem to relate directly to this question, which is a public policy question for which questions of economics, politics and justice seem more salient.
    So, I’d like to strongly censure the blog author who has over-hyped this article. Surely even a moderately educated person would recognize the deficiencies in the answers, let alone the fact that there are no dissenting voices present, which would have provided a clue even for the clueless. I’m very disappointed at this mostly uninformative article (save the reader comments).

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  121. One square foot says:

    I think space exploration is necessary. In every age and every time of the earth, there will be a disparity between the wealthy and the not so wealthy. Hopefully if it is a good society, the disparity will exist not because of heredity or brutal dictatorship, but because the wealthier contributed more to society and the services they brought were ones people felt were valuable.

    While we certainly have many problems in society, none is larger than the survival of the species. That is why climate change is such a big threat, and this is also why space exploration (and nuclear arms proliferation) is so important.

    We are currently vulnerable to the extinction of the species because we have one place to live, and if it gets messed up it is over. We should take care of this place as best we can, but establish other livable habitats as soon as possible to maximize the likelihood our society survives.

    I am sorry to see that some people on this thread are viewing this from a fairly narrow view (space is useless and expensive, lets deal w/ domestic issues). As people point out, it is a fraction of our budget. Other items like our massive defense budget should be tackled and whittled down first.

    Its like when people say “I don’t have time”.

    What they really mean is “Its not a priority”.

    We need to examine our priorities and see if our inefficient healthcare system and our paralyzing defense budget is really worth it. What can we do there to cut down and streamline this process?

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  122. Paul says:

    Let’s quote Carl Sagan:

    “Spaceflight or Extinction.”

    Beat that argument.

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  123. Bob Jones says:

    I see a lot of comments here that all lean one way.

    The single most common idea is that “If I just had all of NASA’s budget for [insert pet project here] it would be so much better.

    Too bad that’s all bunk. For the social engineers, Entitlements are currently the largest part of the federal budget. Adding another 1/2% to the 35+% you already have won’t make any measurable difference.

    The robot fanatics ignore a lot too. The most successful robot mission to date has been the Spirit and Opportunity rovers on Mars. (Orbiting cameras probably come in second. We use a lot of orbiting cameras and radio relays here on earth too.) What the robot people don’t want us to realize is that in 4 years the rovers on Mars have each gone about the length of a football field, and done what one trained geologist would have done in about an hour. If we could get one there, a man in the field is orders of magnitude better than any machine alone. Cameras, radar units, etc. where one function is all they do can do the job better, but when anything that was not anticipated in the design comes up, they simply fail. By definition, when exploring new terrain there are things that the designers are not able to anticipate. Right now, in exploring Mars, we don’t even know the extent of what we don’t know. The more we can learn about Mars, the more we will find new surprises about Earth too.

    Another falsehood being perpetuated here is that NASA didn’t have anything to do with microelectronics. Not true. NASA sent people to the moon from 1969 to 1972. The first pocket calculators came out in 1973, using chips that were designed for the Space Program. PC’s like the Altair came several years later,and the microprocessors used combined several earlier logic functions on a single chip. That process is still going on today. The first Intel microprocessor was not created from bare cloth. It was an extension of what NASA had paid for several years earlier. That work in turn was an extension of what the computer industry had done in the proceeding ten years. Contrary to what several posters have stated, there were computers on the Apollo and LEM craft. They were less powerful than the cheapest programmable calculator available today, but for that time, they defined the state of the art.

    Do I think NASA should continue to send people into orbit? of course. Is the current set of programs good? That is a more difficult problem.

    First, we should recognize that ISS is not a science program. it is a political program.

    Second, don’t worry about the goal of a manned mission to Mars. Simply put, we don’t know how to do it yet.

    The priority right now should be on advancing the technology. With better technology, we can send more robots out there, and make better use of the people we can send. NASA should remember it’s origins. It’s less about exploring than it is about developing the technologies to be used by the explorers. Returning to the moon is good. That is an excellent test bed for the systems we will need to send people to Mars and keep them alive. But, not with the current budget. The current systems are not the ultimate systems, nor are the next ones the final word.

    We need to be ready to explore all the options. Something better than what we have will one day come along. If we have too much invested in some technology, we may miss something better.

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  124. Eric says:

    “What the robot people don’t want us to realize is that in 4 years the rovers on Mars have each gone about the length of a football field”

    I know this is nitpicking, but…

    The rovers have each gone over 4km. That’s much further than a football field… But the rest of your comment, I agree completely.

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  125. NERVA says:

    The nation needs to spend more money on manned space activities. The 1 percent idea is a good one (I’d increase it to 2 or 3 percent). And we need to do something more than puttng an American on the ISS two or three times a year. Go back to the Moon and set up a permanent presence, send crews to the near earth asteroids to evaluate resources uses. A manned mission to Mars is another good idea. The thrust of the American space program should be exploring, developing and colonizing the Solar System. Finally. the altspace movement should have a bigger say in what’s going on with the American space program. There should be more incentives (as in gov’t sponsored X-Prizes) to private companies to get us back to the Moon, or the asteroids, Mars, etc.

    The above post by Mr. Jones is correct. The entitlements portion of the federal budget is 60%. That’s where we need to look for savings.

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  126. lashana says:

    I think we have really good reasons to why we should not be space traveling for one look at all the money we have put into the other things we need that we are just not spending the money on..

    We could be useing the money for AIDS or Cancer things we need to find out to save people not put thiem into more danger…Why well why not we need to keep these people alive

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  127. Joe says:

    I go all in with space exploration because we can learn so much from it and that is important. As for money, if we discover something in space we can bring it back and make all or more of the money we spent back from the peoples intrest.

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  128. SpaceCowboy says:

    The current plan is to crash two rockets into the moon to see if there is frozen water under the surface. So if the mission is a success and they do discover frozen water, then what? How is knowing that going to benefitial to anyone or anything on Earth? Or will bringing it back and selling bottled moon water be the income for the space program that Joe was talking about?

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  129. Nerd on Planet X says:

    I think that space exploration should be given more money

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  130. Birochan says:

    Space exploration brought us all new technologies to live our life easily. Money should be spent on explorations, which might bring even more techonologies for next generation.

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  131. anonamous says:

    we need space exploratio!!!! bye!

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  132. Chris Dreyer says:

    Bob Jones’ post number 124 lists excellent counter points to almost all of my objections to the anti-spaceflight posts. I do support manned and unmanned exploration of space.

    I’m not fully happy with the response from the experts. They experts talk about ROI and cost relative to other spending priorities. The host set the question up this way after all. The value of space exploration is not measurable in the same way as the value of heating your home, paying the mortgage, or buy food. It’s not even analogous to corporate ROI, even though you can estimate the ROI of a dollar spent on space exploration, science, and other research. The value of space exploration is measured over a time scale that is not described any common economic measure.

    To draw a better analogy for the value of space exploration using the home expenses analogy, is to imagine that your home is the only home you can ever have. Assume you’re a family of 5 in a 4 bedroom house. What would you do if you know that every few years you’ll have a new kid, and this will go on forever? What would you do if an outside force (flood, wind, asteroid) could destroy your home some day? Remember, you can’t move (or even leave the house) and there’s no FEMA.

    The wall will slowly crumble and we should fix that while we can. People will get sick and we should find cures for diseases. We’ll need to power the home and need find new sources of power. All of these problems are helped by funding for science and engineering in any area, that includes manned space exploration. I also think more funding should be put into NSF, NIH, and DOE as well.

    NASA is the only agency developing solutions to the long term problems. Business looks at problems on quarter years or 1 or 2 for the most visionary. Climate and energy are problems we need solutions to in 20 years. Health is an ongoing problem, we always need solutions. Space exploration will provide a solution for the 200 year problem of the earth reaching the maximum sustainable human population and asteroid impact.

    The original question was posed by pitting the funding against issues of short term priority, but space exploration seeks solutions to problems that exist over a much longer time scale.

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  133. Chrisitna Dejnozka says:

    Space travel has always been a goal for humans. There were competing nations; Soviet Union and the US were the ones who wanted to launch the first man made object into space. How much were these countries willing to pay for this space creation? Space exploration requires government funding and the support of society. Space exploration comes with risks, benefits, costs, and a lot of time that is needed to be able to discover new mystic planets and stars. Without the support of the public we wouldn’t have as much funding, I think we should spend more money on space exploration.
    The “Space Race” as it is called was a competitive race between the Soviet Union and the US to be the first to launch the first man made object to orbit the earth. If the public knew the benefits of launching a new satellite then there would be more public support. The first shuttle to be launched was Sputnik a Soviet space craft, launched October 4, 1957. The launching of sputnik was a success in more ways than one. Because of Sputnik, scientists were able to identify the density of high atmospheric layers. This provided information on radio signals distributed in the ionosphere. Another discovery was that Sputnik was filled with pressurized nitrogen, which provided the first opportunity for meteoroid detection.
    The mission was an experience that was rewarding, creating motivation for another rocket to be launched and causing more and more people became interested in space exploration.
    As more and more people became interested in space travel and landing the first man on the moon, funding seemed to increase. To be able to continue space exploration the public must know the benefits of space exploration which will inspire then to fund it more. NASA needs people to take an interest in space exploration now more than ever, since funding is limited to about 7 billion dollars. NASA needs new ideas from fresh new young minds. People need to have the will and the curiosity to want to be able to think up these new ideas. NASA needs to advertise and give presentations in schools to promote that they need people to take an interest in inventing new robots for space travel. There are a lot of benefits with space explorations, and then there are the risks.
    We as the United States and perhaps other countries have benefited form space exploration. NASA has shared the invention of satellites and now we have satellites for weather watch, satellites for communication and sensor satellites that NASA shares with the department of the interior. NASA also has space programs to give kids who want to know and explore space, a feeling actually being there. I know that the zero gravity station they have gives kids the chance to feel what it feels like to be in space to float in mid air. That is something even an adult would like to experience, it would bring out the inner kid them, connecting them to space traveling. These are some of the positive aspects of space exploration.
    The risks of space exploration are not related to the general public but to the individual who is traveling into space. Not only is sending humans into space expensive it is very risky. People have died in these missions, and an example is the crash landing of the first manned Soyuz spacecraft in 1967 to the explosion of the shuttle orbiter Columbia in 2003, 18 people died during this mission. As Joan Vernikos stated: “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 common place, 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.” Even though we have all these discoveries about space and we have launched all these shuttles, there are still a lot of new technologies to be invented to help further explore space. A machine needs to be invented that will create air in space so humans were less at risk. There is absolutely no air, even in our own earths atmosphere the higher we get the denser the air becomes. The pressure of leaving earth’s gravitational pull can also impact the human body. Not to mention the hygiene situation in the shuttles, the food is not of proper nutrition. There are many endangering aspects to human space travel. But without risks there are no benefits. With each mission and launch there is always a new discovery.
    So the question on everyone’s mind is manned space exploration worth the amount of money being spent. Some would argue that space exploration is worth every penny; however others would rather spend the money on education or to help better society. How does someone decide on where the money goes, because we need the money for education to encourage new generations to take on science and make it their careers, but on the other had if we don’t have funding for space exploration then where are these new generations going to work on, there’s only so much you can do with the amount of money given.
    Based on the first launching of Sputnik, then the first man on he moon, we have grown and learned a lot of things that we would have never dreamed of if space explorations wasn’t funded. Is manned space exploration worth the cost? yes it is. I would rather spend seven billion dollars on manned space explorations that killing the lives of our men in the Iraq war. Many would agree that NASA spends their money in great ways and hopefully more funding will go toward manned space exploration and not the war or useless government issues. We await the day when we all can walk on the moon.

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  134. Donisha Williams says:

    Well I’m kind of on the fence about this matter, Yes or No on space exploration? I think that some of the money being used on space exploration from the government can be used in more important places right now. Places like: starving people, better schools, medical research for major illnesses, and paying off some of our dept that we have with other countries. What I’m trying to say is that we can take a little break on space exploration to do other projects that seem more important at this point in time. Although space technology is responsible for major developments in our society, there are other important matters that take precedence. On the other hand, we might just miss out on the next big breakthrough in technology and also people might be disappointed if we took a break on space exploration and lose there interest in science all together.

    For a person to make a such big decision, on weather space exploration is worth the cost or not, its pretty hard. I mean there are pros and cons on both sides of this argument.

    One of the negative points about taking a break on space exploration is that people might ask, What about the inspiration that children get when seeing people and robots go into space? Or what will happen to there future? I say that we have not done anything major in the last few years to really support that idea. In order to get inspired we have to give inspiration. For instance we have not sent anyone on the moon or any plant in years. These are matters that make people wonder, why is the government even spending money on space exploration when there are other things that can be done. As humans we see, we want, we get. And for sure if we see another human do something great we then might just be a little more inspired then if we where to see a robot do it. That’s one point for (Yes) on space exploration.

    However I don’t think inspiration is worth the cost of human lives. I think one of you bloggers said it best with “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-bond white kids in the U.S say “cool!” While watching a shuttle take off on TV.” Do we as humans care about the human race outside America at all?

    This brings up a positive reason to not do space exploration. If we do take that money, we can use it on more important matters that are right under our noses. Like for people that are starving all over the world. Not only in other countries but right here in our own backyards. Families are on the verge of being put out in the streets because of the price of food, electric, gas, water, etc.. Do we realize that more and more each day people right here in America are experiencing poverty? Can we stand by and just watch our fellow Americans fall down deeper and deeper while we continue to study space and try to run away from our problems by looking for other forms of life? That’s one point for (No) on space exploration.

    On the other hand, with out some of the technology we have to day some of us would not be here. In an essay, written by Neil deGrasse Tyson (Launching the Right Stuff); he states, “without space exploration we may not have some of the technology that we use on our every day life.” For some examples the home computer, the X-ray machine, cordless applications, systems on aircrafts, kidney dialysis machines and many more. Personally I am grateful for one of the inventions that were built from inspiration of the moon landing, the kidney dialysis machine. Experiencing kidney failure myself, I was so grateful for the machine. I think about it today and I realize that it saved my life and with out it I don’t know if I would be here to day. I’m sure, just like me, others are graceful for the inventions of today because without them many wouldn’t be here also. That’s one point for (Yes) on space exploration.

    Lets move on to a negative point and the major point about space exploration. The cost. Do people really want to pay for putting people in space? No. We just want to take the credit. A good question is where are they getting all, or the little amount of $7 billion, from to send people and robots into space? The answer is the taxpayers. We, the taxpayers, should voice our opinion on where our tax money should go. And yes I know we can’t chose where it all should go because first of all that’s the governments job and second I’m sure we all would say back in our pockets, but for things like space exploration, medical research, or just to rebuild our community, we should get a chance to vote on what we think the money should go to. That’s one point for (No) on space exploration,

    I would have to say that I’m still stuck on the fence about yes or no on space exploration. Should we just bite the bullet and pay more on space exploration? Or should we just not pay and let them find there own funding? All I can say is that both sides of the argument has very good points and it will take America to decide on what we need to do.

    -Posted By Donisha Williams

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  135. Jonica Kao says:

    Fabulous! That completely helped me on my project! I’ll be looking forward on graduating college with your help!! :)

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  136. Esther says:

    Another thing i would like to add is in agreement with Mr.Cowing who qouted from somone else ‘you dont have to go to mars to cure cancer’. I completly agree with that. All these spin offs from space ecploration such as elctronic vidio games could have been invented on earth at a much smaller cost, just nobody thought about them. But i also dont think comparing budgets is entirly the way to go. yes, americans have spent 150 billion a year on beer/alchahol but that is not the average citizen.That is more like teens, college kids or the type of people who live a party lifestyle who do that. the averege, concered citizens do not spend that much money at the bar. Also: $976.3 billion dollars – almost a trillion – spent every year in the US on pets, toys, gambling, alcohol and tobacco. $250 billion of it is spent annually in the US on the medical treatment of tobacco- and alcohol-related diseases and $31 billion go annually in the US on tobacco products – twice the NASA budget -, $58 billion is spent on alcohol consumption. so…. before you buy something that you really really like but dont really need. Think. couldnt that money be better spent elswhere? that is what half the ppl here are saying sbout the space expiditions. I’m not saying that you cannot have nice things u like, but wouldnt it make you happier if a child got a polio shot in darfur for 1 $ ONLEY? now, that toy trinket at the doller store or saving somones life. a) which would make u feel better. b) which is a worthier cause?

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  137. telly says:

    Good article for case study

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  138. Roger Story says:

    I guess I’m a believer and a skeptic at the same time. Yes, I certainly believe that space exploration and exploitation (but not necessarily manned) is absolutely essential and valuable. Yes, I believe that a human presence in space could be truly transforming and that we need to stay there, even if just in low Earth orbit, to keep from losing out forever. No, I don’t believe the economics cited. You don’t need humans in space to develop benefits like weather satellites, telecommunications or GPS. Fixing the Hubble was nice, but I bet if you added up the cost of human flight vs just sending up a new Hubble and letting the old one crash, that human flight wouldn’t fair well economically. And claims that human repair work on the ISS is a justification is just silly – the only reason for the ISS is because people are there.

    Our biggest problem, in my opinion, is that we’re stuck in a rut. All we can imagine is sending a bunch of hot shot pilots and geologists off for short visits to distant worlds. And as far as I can tell Mars is about the limit. Start talking about human visits to the moons of Jupiter or Saturn where the really interesting stuff is and your looking at a crew that is going to die of old age before it gets home!

    We need to step outside the box: the next step isn’t human exploration of the Moon or Mars! It’s getting a Gerard O’Neill type of vision going – one in which we drop our “planetary chauvinism” and get people living in space near Earth but independent of it. There’s a high start up cost but rapidly declining costs afterwards. Physical designs and the associated economics change dramatically after you get a good start and are no longer depending on getting everything from Earth. And later you can use these free floating space colonies as bases to explore the Moon and Mars and the moons of Jupiter and beyond. Or you can wait until AI makes us all obsolete anyway.

    For a pretty modern but lengthy statement of my own view of the economics of space exploration check out “”.

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  139. rami_lpm says:

    No offense, but isn’t the USA all about democracy? Why not make a referendum. Ask the people who earns that mighty gdp of yours exactly this question. Space exploration, yes or no.
    If you vote yes, then go on and find a way of turning it into a profitable business.
    If you vote no, then cut all costs except the military basics and put that money to a better use, healthcare or something.
    There, problem solved.
    (still, I wouldn’t like to have to learn mandarin when I move out to space)

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  140. John Davidson says:

    I strongly believe that Human Exploration of space enriches all of our lives. Many of the technological innovations we take for granted today came out of the space race in the 60’s; Teflon, Velcro, Gortex, advanced navigation systems, propulsion systems (which has lead to more fuel efficient systems today), etc. We need to explore the heavans and outer space to try and figure out how things were created which will give us a better insight to how to stop or repair damage we are doing to ourselves here on Earth and to the planet. Space Exploration can only make our lives better, and sometimes a human can do a better job, and is necessary, due to our ability to reason.

    If you are interested in looking at a Website with numerous links to other sites regarding space exploration (past, present and future), check out Lunar Properties. The links are great and there is alot of information about our own Moon, but I must warn you, it is a Website that sells Luanr Real Estate. The information and the links are worth it though.

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  141. beowulf2700 says:

    Not only is human exploration of space bound to happen. (it’s there so lets have a look see)
    Its good for industry.
    1. If the moon and other planets are made out of basicly the same stuff as the Earth (Skip fossil fuels, execpt Mars, and Europa if you think life is/was there, and Titan which has methane lakes.)
    Wouldnt it be true that we would find Iron and Copper and other materials that we are running out of here on earth up there on the moon?
    2. You can create materails that are lighter and stronger in zero/near zero G.
    3. If you have factorys/mines/refinarys in space it would greatly reduce transport costs if you had housing for employes in space.
    4. If you have people living in space it would be nice to have food/water/medicine/other consumer goods already up in orbit ready to be bought by the employes with extra money to spend.

    I could go on for hours….
    in short, exploration leads to colinization.
    colinization leads to industrys….

    Why dont politicions and companys see this HUGE potential for profit….

    theres only 1 bad thing i see.
    if the U.S. sends up factories, russia and china are going to follow.
    Then we have war to worry about….
    (And no, the demiliterization of space will NEVER work. Eventualy some terrorist lunitic/goverment would bring hidden explosives or weapons/build some in orbit/on a moon/planet. And no one could stop him, therefore we must have weapons in space. And besides if you tell some one they can’t do something, they’re going to do it anyway.)
    It makes me wince……

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  142. bob says:

    its wasting tax payers money and leaving them in debt.this is not fair as NASA r gettin all the money.i do think it is a good idea but it isnt reely worf it.

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  143. Stanley says:

    Reading the comments I can see a lot of short sighted people hoping for good arguments against space exploration.

    It will be a tragic day when the one thing that symbolizes most strongly that which separates us from the animals (our desire to explore, our curiosity, our innovation) falls to small-minded pragmatism.

    A pragmatism which frankly, isn’t very pragmatic. There is no good reason to stop exploring space. The only reasons that are ever presented against space exploration tend to come from deep ignorance of history, and from individuals who can’t be bothered with lifting their noses out of their balance sheets and wondering at the miracle of creation.

    Non-contributing zeros. You should be ashamed of yourselves.

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  144. davide3156 says:

    Hmmm, what a conundrum. Drawing from science fiction (mostly contributed to by interest in space), I’d say that the world is either heading towards the Matrix (focusing on Earth) or towards the Gundam “metaverse” (expanding into space).

    Personally, I believe that we should expand into space, and not just sit like a lump on Earth. For those who say, let’s solve our problems before making new ones, I say, when has that ever been the case before, hmm?

    Also, in support of the argument of expanding into space before we can’t, I say that we should let volunteers go into space. That way, it’s their free will that’s allowing them to go into space and risk themselves.

    Not sure if the following is an actual quote and I’ve forgotten who its from: Why is it that if a few people die in the neighborhood, then it’s a huge tragedy and it makes the headlines of the newspaper, but a couple thousand/million killed by terrorists/natural disasters are just a statistic.

    And another Native American quote (again, not sure if it’s an exact quote): “We did not inherit this land from our ancestors; instead, we manage it for our children.”

    So, why are we focused on what’s good for us or what will be good for us in the short-term, and so unwilling to do anything long-term?

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  145. Isaiah says:

    Something that needs to be considered by everyone advocating spending the NASA budget on things like feeding people and medical supplies for foriegn countries is that there is no chance of a return on that investment. You will never see those funds again, they are simply gone. Food, once eaten, doesn’t come back to be eaten again next month. However, funds spent on scientific pursuits, if successful, have a great chance for a significant return, and not just fiscally. If you look at how much the US spends on social programs every year and compare that to the funds spent on NASA, a huge disparity becomes obvious. To be blunt, if you shifted those funds over to other programs, the majority of those funds would be eaten up by the system and would never reach the intended recipients.

    Another thing to consider is the fact that while robotic exploration is usually cheaper and safer, robots can’t have human children, and can’t create livable space from nothing. Sooner or later mankind will have to expand into space simply for territory to expand and to be able to feed itself, or draconian birth control and social engineering programs would have to start to arrest population growth completely. As that is unlikely to be completely successful, one day man will have to expand, and therefore knowledge and practice would not only save time, but also money in the long run. Yes, right now there is little that a man can do in space that a robot can’t, but until they make a robot that can bear human children on other planets or make the surface of the earth bigger, it is only a matter of time. That, and when was the last time you met a robot that could appreciate the tragic beauty of a dying star, or the lonliness of an infinite void?

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  146. Atmollabomjob says:

    exciting and informative, but would be suffering with something more on this topic?

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  147. George says:

    It’s better now then later. What happens when a nuclear war breaks out and almost all the resources needed for space exploration are destroyed? Nuclear war could happen at any time. And what if we decide to invest enough money to make an effective trip to and unexplored planet, and we find out that that planet has an abundant supply of oil or other minerals that are useful? It will also help in overpopulation, or the Ozone layer getting destroyed.

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  148. Dennis says:

    Why not offer a lottery for specific items, for a wider niche marker? I would say, lets have a lottery to help pay for the space program, with certain added rewards. We could offer a chance to get a ride on a space ship to the space station. We could involve many more states. You know where I am going. This would help push the space program more into the future.

    Also, does anyone know if we can grow anything in space? I mean both in a control environment and in open space?

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  149. dave crookes says:

    “If our nation can spend … twenty billion dollars to put a man on the moon, it can spend billions of dollars to put God’s children on their own two feet right here on earth.” – were stating respected figures like Martin Luther King Jr.

    As in the bonehead who killed 5 cops in Oakland???
    Are you “dissin me”?
    Perhaps you might want to define “God”s children”.
    Are they the ones who can’t, get off their own two feet?
    We do spend billions of dollars to put “Gods chidren” on their own two feet.

    honkey from Connecticut

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  150. Kayln says:

    I think that space travel is a worthy cause, because all the austranots are trying to do is make our world a better place. All were doing is pointing our finger at the gov, and saying space travel is very costly! I mean we are spending over 50,000 dollars on drugs,toys,pets and stuff we dont need.

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  151. Carly says:

    I think Space Exploration is worth the cost. Why i think Space exploration is worth the cost is because, the astronauts try to invest on a new living space. To make our world a better and healthier place. Therefore this is why i predict Space Exploration a worthy investment.

    By: Carly

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  152. Carol says:

    very interesting and what i was looking for, just way too long

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  153. Johnny E says:

    The cost of the space program is miniscule compared to the public interest in it. Why not put a checkbox on our 1040 forms. Would you pay an extra dollar in taxes to return to the moon?

    The idea that we could move humans to another planet in event of catastrophe on earth seems kind of silly. Why don’t we expend more effort in making the planet we already got more habitable. Remember NASA’s Mission to Palnet Earth?

    Face it, any human travel beyond the moon would be prohibitively expensive. Might be a good case for international cooperation to spread the cost and benefits and make sure space stays demilitarized.

    I remember seeing an article on the cover of the latest Scientific American just before the Challenger crash. Van Allen was arguing that robotic exploration was cheaper and safer.

    All scientific research is important as a driver of the economy. There were some figures about the economic impact of scientific research floating around before the election but I can’t find them now. It was enormous.

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  154. Marcel F. Williams says:

    A self sustaining colony on the Moon would dominate the satellite manufacturing, launching, and repair industry since it requires 20 times less energy to launch a satellite from the lunar surface than from the Earth’s surface. Also, satellite systems that require dozens of networking satellites would only require three if they were launched from the Moon since they could easily be cheaply launched into higher orbits where just three satellites would be required to relay signals to each other.

    Total satellite revenues in 2007 were $123 billion. Satellite launch services were $3.2 billion in 2007 and satellite manufacturing revenues were $11.6 billion.

    Lunar tourism and even transporting cremated human remains for burial on the Moon could also be multibillion dollar industries.

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  155. David Gann says:

    I absolutely believe that space exploration (manned and unmanned) is worth it. Not only worth it, but very important. I think it is flawed to claim that the justification is economic or spin off patent money etc. Do you really think this is why we go to space? I think it is obviously not the case. The real reason is because we want to. We believe in it based on its own merit. We would want to explore space even if there were no measurable benefits. I believe there are many other people who feel this way. The problem is that there are also a great many people who do not feel this way. And if that is how people feel, I don’t think it’s fair to ask them to support something they don’t agree with. Space enthusiasts always try to justify the need to go to space to the “unbelievers.” I think there are plenty of supporters out there to fully facilitate an advanced, inspiring, and revolutionary assortment of space programs. The problem is that their support is mixed in with many who don’t support space exploration. I think we should be trying to find a way to let those who don’t support it opt out. Or maybe those who do to opt in. Then we would be free to pursue what we see as the rightful place of space exploration without spending anyone else’s money. Maybe private corporations will be able to help us solve this problem.

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  156. John Munro says:

    I still do not understand why this is so importaint to us to
    have a space program? JFK wanted us to land on the moon. We did now what? Im I suspost to believe we are
    moving to the moon. Does anyone believe in God?
    I am convenced this is job security. I can see very little that
    hundereds of billions gained? Tang, a softer matresses,and Cool vehicles. Sorry, I forgot a fancy diaper system. old people could reap those rewards.
    This seams like more of that one world goverment crap.
    If this had not been an effort perhaps, we would know more about our own planet. Flipping of the poles,
    We would not need al gore to discover “global warming”
    The idea if we took al of that terrible industry and sent it to
    China well, then we would not polute?
    They sure would hu?
    Maybe this is like everything else. Just wast money until the economy colapses? Why can’t we play fair hu?
    The ecomony is about to colapse yet you believe we need to spend that money right now? We could not move for
    a long time but maybe I was right at first ..job security.

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  157. Joao Ribeiro says:

    Space Exploration has had many returns to earthly improvements and it will continue to do so in the future.
    The trick to the ultimate justification of the costs is not on any pragmatic discussion or justification but resides in the research and practical application of new launch technologies that will ultimately reduce largely the costs of launching missions to space.
    If you have any ideas about this or any other improvements on space exploration please visit

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  158. vinny says:

    I think there should not be as much exploration in space because there are better reasons to spend the money on like edgecation and helping the homeless also we could donate some of money to hati.Also we still should have explorations just not as much

    your friend vinny

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  159. hannah says:

    why should we spend all of our money on space exploration instead of on expenses here on earth????

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  160. Cassidy says:

    Or we could just stop buying so much alcohol and use that money to do productive things on Earth. There are so many things that we (the government) pay for, why take away from space exploration?

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  161. Egga says:

    If Gulf War II costs $10 Billion Per month and this year will be the 7th anniversary of the start of the war, that means that the total cost could be up to $840 Billion so far! More than twice as much as a manned Mars mission!

    For now, robotic missions would get much more benefit per dollar spent. For a start, we should send a robotic sample return mission to Mars.

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  162. KC says:

    Whoever did this is a GENIUS. But also, they like men. FUDGEPACK!!

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  163. Lucy says:

    This Really Helped Me With The Last Minute Report I Had To Do.
    Thank You All Very Much. I Would’ve NEVER Finished If I Hadnt Found This Webpage.
    ~~Dont Worry, Be Happy [: ~~

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  164. sonny with a chance says:

    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.

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  165. Jacob Strine says:

    Not only is unmanned space flight better, safer and economically better, it would safe people money and would possibly cut down on taxes, if not the largest amount but still would save us enough money for it to be seen in the taxes.

    People are ignorant to the fact that NASA, while has helped tons with its sub division, that space flight itself is unneeded, and that we have much better things to do in our spare time. The economy could be in better shape and our government could be paying a little more attention to the people.

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  166. David says:

    Bruce, 16 billion is a small amount out of the WHOLE that is spent by the US. It is not a small amount to people that make maybe 50,000 a year correct, but to the government that spends trillions a year or decade, its very small. Also, someone else said private sector funding, but this would maybe contribute 500 million at the very most over oh….. 5 years? And yes it is a space exploration sided blog, BUT that is merely because of the Freakonomics blog author.

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  167. David says:

    oh and what is a quorom?!?!?

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  168. David says:

    ok never mind a quorum is a select group, so that totally explains the “one-sidedness” also remember this IS a blog of ONE person’s opinion, whether you like it or not, that is what it is, and i would guess unless you took a gun to these people’s heads, and still it might not change, but i think it would take that or worse to make them take it back…… (I have a screw loose somewhere…… i just have to find where and get a screwdriver 😛 )

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  169. Ravi chauhan says:

    Electronic total station rts700, rts710 series, absolute encoder GUI and touch screen, dual speed drives, on board professional software, multiple interface options use to surveying and positioning equipments manufacturers suppliers.

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  170. Kris says:

    If there was enough economic benefit to space exploration, open it up to private enterprises and let them do it. Why should the government work on it?

    Sending satellites ad telescopes up is beneficial. But manned space exploration and the International space station are wasteful, in my opinion.

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  171. anonEmouse says:

    Space travel is NOT a waste of money, its a brilliant investment in the future of humans.

    By the way, this is just an editd version of what Dr David Livingston wrte in The Times

    I know about this stuff and i live in aus

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  172. Aera says:

    Space exploration gives us humans the benefits of exploring the things that might come in handy. They are not a waste of money. Our population are increasing at a rapid speed and one day we might need to seek out a new planet to live on.

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  173. Dan says:

    Quite frankly, NASA and the USG have failed completely to tell us “why are they up there”? We spend billions on a manned space program and let web searches find little to show for it but Tang. TANG! You know, the sugary drink mix which tastes like orange juice. Tell us what the billions we paid in 2009 buye’d us. Or 2008, 2007… 200N.

    Stop the manned program – period. Unmanned costs orders of magnitutde less and the gain is close to equivalent. STOP IT NOW!

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  174. mason says:

    I think this is one of the few times imo when privatization is a really good idea. Whether we think it’s necessary or not, we need to continue to develop new forms of space travel and technology to facilitate it. What the ppl whose only argument is “we have too many problems down here to be worrying about this,” they fail to understand the two most important implications of aeronautical research. The first is for national defense… it’s bad enough that nasa has to rely on Russia to ferry them to the ISS. If we keep going at this rate, our disadvantage will only grow as they continue to develop new technologies in their space program while we pump the brakes on ours. Is air and space superiority something you really want the Russians to have? It doesn’t seem like a good idea for any one country to have, let alone one whom we have a sketchy history with. The second is that with aeronautical research comes a flood of new technologies, most of which are very applicable to us down on earth. For example, if it wasn’t for nasa, we wouldn’t have the chips that we use for non-invasive biopsies, solar energy, and a whole litany of other things ( has a good number of inventions that most of us don’t know came from our space program). And if you’re one of those ppl that are so skeptical (or cynical imo) that you still don’t think that any of the things on this list warrant a larger investment in a privatized space industry, just remember that while you sleep at night, you most likely have nasa to thank for that, too. If you use any type of home security system, chances are they use infrared and laser technology that came out of nasa’s research (just look at the adt security systems infrared camera page. They even admit that the technology came from nasa!)

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  175. cody says:

    i thnk that we are speding to much money going to the moon but if we go to the moon we can see what we can use and find new theing.

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  176. Surya Bakshi says:

    Well some of you are complaining about how the NASA budget now is higher than it’s ever been. You know why? (1) the amount of money back then is equivalent to what we spend now. (2) Because there is more money to be spent! (3) Because NASA is a force of nature unlike any other. To explore is within us. Ever since man first left the cave we’ve been exploring. Two more things. If you think that we should ignore space and focus down here. Ok. Then we’re looking down here and the asteroid comes. You’ll say “Oh I’m not concerned about that. I’m just worrying about problems down here.” Oh hey aliens come into our vicinity (the Earth’s) and we are unaware. To think that NASA is a waste of money is just stupidity. If you seen NASA’s budget, it’s ridiculous. Almost nothing. Of the entire federal budget, on 0.6% goes to NASA!! That is half of a penny on a dollar! And all of that pays for the space shuttle, the rockets, the rocket fuel, the astronauts, the Hubble telescope, the rovers, the satellites. And we NEED to expand our horizons to space. There are more resources out there than we could possibly imagine. We are running out down here. Ceres (an asteroid, pretty small) has enough resources to build a space coloby a hundred times the size of the earth, and that is on a small rock. There are MANY rocks out there.

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  177. Blake says:

    It sure would suck if all the comments here showed that everyone is dead inside and has lost their child-like sense of wonder. Start thinking outside the box.

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  178. Jason says:

    what the heck r u talking about

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  179. BPH says:

    great arguments both ways. really impressive. but, truthfully, is it really hard to decide?
    where would we be without GPS, micro-technology, innovative beds? Take the joystick for example, it gave rise to the video gaming industry. 1000’s of jobs right there. there is a way to emerge from this crippling debt and that way is through funding NASA reaserch.

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  180. BPH says:


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  181. DAA says:

    I would question the value gained from the billions of dollars spent on the manned space program since the earliest days of the space shuttle. What was really gained by this? Please provide measures of performance that justifies the money spent and lives lost.

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  182. Matthew says:

    I seem to be the one person here who disagrees with the rest of you. I find this to be rather strange and amusing. Mainly because I am a total science freak. I was a fan of Star Trek as kid and watched Armstrong walk on the moon with my 5th grade class. Carl Sagan is one of a very few people who I revere. Sci-Fi is one of my favorite genre yet I think that dispite my fascination with exploration, manned space travel is a waste of money at this time. Correct me if I’m wrong but I believe it costs about ten times as much to put a human in space as compared to robotic devices. Taking into account the living conditions for so many in the United States being so substandard as to be hungry and homeless, I feel that the money saved using robotics could be spent solving immediate and pressing problems here first. An analogy would be a parent buying a new car while their children do without shoes, food and medical care. I do think we must at some point expand into space, just not yet.

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  183. Matthew says:

    I by no means advocate shutting down NASA… to the contrary, while the budget could be reduced and a few may loose work I think that most could shift to unmanned missions. I mean sure, the astronaut’s valet might need to retrain, lol, but most jobs could be maintained and applied to a more efficient effort… robotic exploration and research. I don’t see much effect on education. Basicly what changes is simply the payload. As to when manned exploration should continue… that will probably be determined by private enterprise… when our technology and knowledge of near space make it a profitable enough endeavour. Also the students who are future scientists and tech dudes can do what they love… inner space is where we should be focused. We know there are resources there we can and must exploit and most of the tecnologies developed undersea can be used in space. The oceans have everything we need for now and must be studied, managed and protected.

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  184. trevor says:

    To rebut G. Scott Hubbard’s claims:
    1.This is his best argument, but it’s negating the fact that space exploration will continue through private companies. For a partial list of aerospace companies, look here:
    2.We don’t need the government to forcibly take money away from people in order to create new technologies, the private sector and entrepreneurs do it all the time.
    a.I’d like to see how he comes up with the $8 for every $1 figure. Sounds like the broken window fallacy to me.
    3.Global private companies have been getting along great for years. It’s the reason why companies like Toyota sells cars to multiple continents, and people shop at Wal-Mart all over the world. Seems like government is the real reason why people don’t get along. The free trade of goods is the ultimate way to get along peacefully. The cost reduction aspect will go down even further with private competing companies, who will compete and partner with each other.
    4.This is a false premise. Most civilizations that explored too much didn’t last very long at all. Romans, Greeks, British Empire, etc. Human exploration will always thrive so long as governments don’t get in the way.
    5.Exploration of space will continue without government involvement.

    Way too much focus on only the government being able to do this.
    *Disclaimer: i own stock in BA, ASTC, and RTN.

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  185. Addictress says:

    Instead of exploring space using manned missions, avoid the risks and costs of sustaining human life in space and use avatars instead! Create peripheral arrangements to reproduce the sensations one would feel exploring space – the texture and touch of the grains of Martian soil and rock, even the atmosphere, perhaps the smells, using sophisticated sensory hardware and software installed on the exploring ‘avatar’ roving stations and vehicles. The sights and sounds will be translated perfectly so that the user is having a virtual experience. The only issue is maintaining an unbroken data communication link between the human on Earth and the vehicles exploring space. Extensive and expensive investments would have to be made in multiple outposts at regular distances going further and further out into space, like telephone poles holing up power lines across great distances of land.

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  186. Jerry Parrillo says:

    The argument that we could eventually colonize another world to ensure our survival from a planetary disaster is a fleeting hope. Mankind is a lot closer to destroying itself than it is to being able to colonize another world. We are our own worst enemy and time is against us.
    Also, saying that the space program created jobs is true. But imagine how many jobs would have been created if we had spent the space program budget on infrastructure in Africa, Latin America, or South Asia. You could ‘ve modernized and transformed half a continent with NASA’s budget. When it comes down to it, the space program is just selfish men playing with expensive toys.

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  187. Michael says:

    I hear the “national pride” mantra over and over. That can’t be a justification for continuing to throw money down $15,000 toilets that they installed with $700 hammers. I actually laughed out loud when I read: “Space exploration in an international context offers a peaceful cooperative venue that is a valuable alternative to nation state hostilities”. REALLY? We can tell Iran that we should stop fighting and work together on manned space flight to Mars? REALLY?!?!?!?!?

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  188. Miguel says:

    Everyone in the article agrees it’s worth the cost and everyone in the comments seems to think otherwise. What about substitute goods?
    What I mean is, if we are already committed to spending a NASA sized budget on science why are we throwing so much into space travel? I cannot think of a single field of science that would show us ten times the benefit for our money than NASA would.
    And what problems can space travel solve within the next ten years? You give marine biologists and oceanographers 10% of NASA’s budget and they could do so much more with that money than NASA ever could.
    I don’t doubt that we’ve gotten returns from the space program but if I had to choose between a billion dollars for a Mars Rover or a billion dollars to fully map the ocean floors and find new mineral deposits and ways to harvest them…
    Maybe we can go more hardcore into space research when technology advances, but let the private sector take care of that.

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  189. Javier says:

    Bottom line, we need to explore space. It’s for the good of humanity.

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  190. siphesihle says:

    As a young student researching the benefits of human spaceflight over the benefits of probes, I fell that people are in unison and are in favour of manned flight. I can still be proven wrong…

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  191. Mick nArtinez says:

    I just got to say that space exploration doesn’t seem to have a valid point. I mean do you really want to live on mars if it costs that much. Common Dubner get some more veiws. Still great article.

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  192. Dr. C. Nial deMensha says:

    Interesting article. Needs more con views. Am I the only one against NASA and its 20 billion dollar budget. Strange

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  193. kevin says:

    Well one things naysays should know is that in 40 years of operation NASA has generated over 1400 pieces of technology. Heck even NASCAR has space technology in it. The brake pads are mad out of carbo-carbon which is the stuff they use to coat the shuttle for rentry. Black & Decker’s mini-vacuum the DustBuster first hit the U.S. consumer market in 1979, but the inner workings of the device came as a result of a partnership with NASA for the Apollo moon landings between 1963 and 1972.

    And lots more across every area

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  194. dylan says:

    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.

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  195. brad barker says:

    Thanks for the amazing article

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  196. joooojoooo says:

    I have a question… I have to write an Essay about space exploration… Could you write some facts down (for me) :) thx 😛

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  197. johnny44 says:

    Like others have noted, input from some serious/smart people with their arguments against manned spaceflight would have been helpful. This basically turned into a love-fest “for.” Comments such as, “…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,” are highly arguable. Settlements on another planet by a select few? Can you imagine any problems in deciding who gets to go? And what about the statement, “…space travel for all is just around the corner.” How are we going to put the ten billion (by then–just a guess) people of earth into space. Where are they going to go? Who’s going to build and pay for the spacecraft to carry them? Who’s going to stay behind to man mission control?
    Ask yourself, how many people do you think really know or care about who is in space on any given day, or month, or year? What are their names? What is their mission? On the other hand, even with their limited abilities, the Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, have sparked the imagination of people around the world.
    The one great accomplishment of the Shuttles was the launching of and repair missions to the Hubble Space Telescope, itself a robotic tool. The James Webb Space Telescope, if all goes well, will greatly expand on Hubble’s discoveries and will require no physical repairs during its designed lifetime. Yes, it may fail, but no one’s life is at stake and our designers and builders get better at this stuff all the time.
    In August of this year the Mars Science Laboratory is scheduled to alight on that planet with an unprecedented suite of tools to conduct sophisticated tests with nothing but radio communications from Earth to guide it. Heck, we orbited and landed on asteroid Eros eleven year ago! We intentionally collided with comet Tempel 1 with the Deep Impact mission in 2005. We have a craft, New Horizons, on the way to study Pluto, Charon and the asteroid belt. If we don’t waste scarce funds on manned missions, we can funnel that money to ever more sophisticated automated missions such as these to other planets and their moons. Which sparks your imagination more–photos from a lander on the surface of Io, or photos of yet more astronauts orbiting Earth? Additionally, we have numerous satellites orbiting our own planet doing scientific research of the oceans, weather and other areas critical to our understanding and survival.
    If the prospect of designing and building ever more sophisticated robotic tools and instruments for utilization in space isn’t enough to compel the young mind, nothing will.

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  198. Rachel says:

    When the International Space Station finally shuts down in 2016, the whole thing will have cost the taxpayers $227 billion dollars. And what will HUMAN space travel have gotten us? Alot of movies, and scratch-resistant eyeglasses. Money well spent.

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    • kevin says:

      try over 1600 space related technologies developedby NASA and given to the civiliansector and over 30,000 secondary technologies. So yeah alot of benefits, do some more research.

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  199. John Harrison says:

    I disagree, there are so many reasons why space travel is a waste :

    1) To much money
    2To much Time
    3)Poses a death to astronauts
    4)New extraterestrials might get picked up in space and pose a extreamly dangerous to mankind

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  200. Naomi says:

    What about democracy? Shouldn’t that play a part in this decisition? Democracy runs the countrys and should have a say in wether they cut the funds for space exploration. Some say why do we need it, others have a good awnser, vote on it.

    But do not stop exploration all together, just fund it less. There are still resons to keep is like what if an astroid comes toward Earth? What will we do then without exploration.

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  201. Andy says:

    I really get tired of complaints of the cost of the space program. I have people say look at all that money laying on the moon. Guess what that is nothing more than packaging material that delivered the product to the moon. The total space program has been only around one cent of the tax dollar where welfare takes in excess of 50 cents of the tax dollar. Now lets talk about money. I worked 40 years in the space program, long hours to reach our objectives. Think about this, all of the spinoff technology has created jobs for American citizens as well as the space program. Now before I recieved my paycheck 40% was deducted for taxes fed and state. Then I bought food, cars, a home, utilities, entertainment vacations and so on. All the people that produced those items including mining the oar for steel to make each and every bolt or whatever, also paid ther taxes and bought all the same items as I did. Think of all the people that myself and all the other space workers put to work just to buy a home, the loggers, lumber manfacturers, nail makers, paint makers, cement producers, electrical wire, switches, lights and etc, contractors and their employes they also paid their taxes and bought all the items it take to live, clothing etc. I hope everyone gets the message the space program cost the American Citizens nothing all the money was put to use right here on earth and we sure gained a lot from it. I would like to know what the people who complain, contributed to make our American way of life better for me this past 50 years.

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  202. Sheila Martin says:

    This is a very one-sided discussion. I thought you guys believed in looking at both sides?

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  203. jim says:

    The plethora of ideas, technology and subsequent wealth generated by the investments in space exploration, was restricted, due to the limitations of our current economic distribution systems, to a fraction of the worlds people. Thus an enormous gap between the haves and the have-nots exists.

    Where that leads no one knows, but the status quo will not stand.

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  204. Zayn says:

    Well nice debate going on…. Nothing for me to argue.. I just came here to take a few points for my language homework…

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  205. Paul S says:

    I support space exploration definitely because of the valuable knowledge gained from NASA and the “space spinoffs” the people receive from space intended inventions.

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  206. Matt K says:

    Hello Mr. Dubner,

    I agree with the fact that there is a lot of spending in seemingly useless areas and these funds should be moved to other programs that are more in need. I also feel that space is the next frontier and we need to continue to invest in the space programs.

    Would you mind reading my blog at I would like to have your perspective.

    Matt Kissinger
    The Green Room at Iowa State University

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  207. Dominic says:

    Perhaps the space program should be put on hold. We’ve got so many problems back home that it’s not very feasible to just go charging into the darkness.

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  208. MAHADEVAN says:


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  209. Dr G says:

    interesting arguments, some very convincing, but clearly all rather biased. also some of the benefits seem, well, over-egged and many of the advancements claimed ignore the fact that many people won’t benefit from those technological advancements; moreover, these claims ignore the fact that the money could have been put into other research projects which may have resulted in more immediate social changes, and ones that are of a higher priority. the funding of science and what is and not funded is a political issue. and regardless of what is spent on other things, 7 billion is no small change, especially in a country with 53,000 homeless people in NY alone, and child poverty is higher than in most developed nations. i suspect the space scientists voicing their opinion here don’t tend come from poor families who faced daily struggles just to survive, so their view of usefulness will always be politically and socially skewed. and i also doubt that the dollars made in the space industry reach the bottom rungs of the social ladder. to me space exploration is clearly the preserve of an educated elite, of interest to those who view technology as the dominant source of social progress. i very much doubt that the scientists here, if in poverty, or facing death because of a lack of money for healthcare would be so rational and objective about the space industry and it’s benefits. and freakonomics, if you are going to try and answer a question using subjective qualitative interviewing, please do read up on the methodology and make your participants a bit more, let us say, diverse ! i guess though, you are unfamiliar with qualitative methods since you are obsessed with understanding a complex world using abstract decontextualised statistics.

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  210. Braydon says:

    I was just looking for the financial cost of space exploration compared to other government services, but, well, this works too!

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  211. Adriana E says:


    Yes. One day, we are going to run out of space on Earth. If that happens, where will we go? We have to explore space. What if there is another planet that is habitable by humans? If we don’t explore, we won’t find those places. Yes, I get your point, there are a lot of things to worry about here on Earth. Do you want to add no space to the list? I sure wouldn’t. Just think about it. What if different planets have beautiful landscapes with clear waters, and leafy trees? We could totally start over with the world and we could learn that if we treat this planet well, we probably won’t have to go through running out of space again.

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  212. Richard Miller says:

    In the middle of 2015 we are in a prolonged rescission, with interest rates at zero, and massive quantitative easing that are unable to stimulate growth. Who is developing the next generation of technology? The cupboard is bare. The only way to have a high paying job is to have a high productivity.

    Guess what? Corporations are no longer the driving engine of productivity. Research is too risky for industry. In fact, corporations have learned to weather economic downturns by investing all of their profits in buying back their own stock.

    So who is in charge of increasing productivity? Is it ✔︎ the government? Is it ✔︎ the universities? I think that you will find that the job has been vacated.

    If we are working on an eroding productivity, then we are all left trying to prove who is cheapest. Let’s cut pensions and restructure labor laws. Then it’s true that immigrants are stealing our jobs and the world is overpopulated. Welcome to the third world.

    I believe that the government has to take up the challenge to make our nation the leader in all new technologies. There should be a vigorous R&D programs and projects in all fields, (not only NASA), with the plan to make it eventually self sustainable with royalties from Patents and taxes from new industries.

    Finding productivity gains is THE problem in the 21st century, and especially for the USA.

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  213. J Anderson says:

    So, you pick a group of Space enthusiasts and scientists who all except one worked for NASA and surprise! The piece comes out unanimously supportive of public expenditure on space programs.

    I’m stunned. Not by the result, but by how this ever got published as an actual “debate”. Reads like an advertisement.

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  214. Stan theman says:

    While I believe we should continue to spend money on space exploration, unmanned or otherwise, it will never be economical. We have been going into space for over fifty years and there is still no space industry that is independent of government support. There would have to a new kind of fuel discovered that is incredibly plentiful and cheap to offset the tremendous cost of lift-of past gravity. Star Trek ain’t never gonna happen.

    We may get all kinds of feel-good hype about nations working together, or increasing man’s knowledge.

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  215. matthew says:

    really good write up

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