Explore-nation or Stag-nation?
I read a blog article yesterday on Time to Eat the Dogs (great blog BTW) that argued against the benefits of human space flight. It correctly pointed out the difference between the words “Exploration” and “Expedition” making the following points that I will address one at a time.
By the way, my apologies to the author, I could not find your name on the post to give you proper credit. However, maybe you’ll see this post through a pingback or something and chime in on my comments.
“Even if we accepted, for the sake of argument, that an exploration impulse is part of human nature, it still does not mean that we should obey this impulse.”
Correct, but that impulse should not be suppressed either. Our species must expand, learn, and grow, it is part of the nature of our beings. While I agree that the “If it feels good, do it” philosophy is not a good thing in and of itself, I do agree with a slight rewording of it, “If it feels good, then at least look into it and see if it’s beneficial”.
The wealth building of nations hinges on the cutting edge of advancement into new products, markets, and “land”. True, that very often kills other markets, products, and industries in the process, but it is usually financially better for the people of any nation to know more than less. What is the largest industry in many of the nations of Europe? Tourism. People paying to see the bones of past glory. That is all that is left of the dinosaurs, and will be all that is left of the financial health of nations which do not keep up. I love the following quote, “Unless you’re the lead dog, the view never changes”.
“…proponents admit that any benefits (of spin-off technologies) are unforeseen.”
This is an uninformed and narrow-minded argument that reflects an open ignorance of the very nature of innovation as well as the history of space related spin-offs. Sorry to be so abruptly negative, but I can think of no other reasonably informed response to this comment.
Innovation usually comes by surprise, and the precise extent of its effects on our culture and industries are generally unforeseen. The above argument essentially says, “We have no idea where the ball will go, so why swing?” My answer, “Because the point isn’t where the ball will go, but to keep the ball moving.” Without people engaged in the risks of playing the game, the ball will just sit on a shelf and no one will ever know what could have happened.
Spin-off technologies are not the pie-in-the-sky hope that the above blog quote suggests. Just because we don’t know specifically which advances will spin-off doesn’t mean that the spin-offs won’t occur. We must either look to the general history of spin-offs and expect that same successful trend to continue, or find a reason to believe that the trend will stop. I would encourage all those who remain uninformed about space exploration spin-offs to read up before spouting off about them or risk looking stupid. Click here to see just one example among thousands. Also, before you say, “That would have happened anyway” first ponder the differences between the words “discover”, “refine” and “develop”.
Furthermore, innovation usually results from looking at something from another direction, and is frequently not directly related or even dependant on the object studied. New innovations also often carry a negative impact on competing industries that will oppose them if they get the chance. A random, in-direct spin-off that nobody sees coming can have a better chance of survival than one which can be anticipated and legislated against by the senators of states which are dependent on certain industries, or private inventions whose undeveloped patents can be purchased and shoved in a drawer to maintain the status quo.
“The United States did gain prestige from landing astronauts on the moon in 1969, showing up our Cold War rival, the Soviet Union. But how much did that prestige, or ‘soft power’ actually benefit the United States?”
“Soft power” was never the point. There was another race taking place at the time, one to ensure our very survival as a constitutional democracy. After World War II there developed a new competition against a nation which ascribed to the Marxist maxim that Communism could not be fully successful unless it was global. No one possessed any counter to the threat of dangerous things falling down from the sky, and the “space race” to the moon was actually a development race to ensure that we stayed ahead of the U.S.S.R militarily in the field of rocketry, as a deterrent, and in technology in general. Russia never succeeded in landing humans on the moon (someone correct me on that if I’m wrong), and spent the entire cold war one step behind us in numerous areas.
“If we cannot take care of a 197 million square mile habitat that’s free, self-regulating, and self-sustaining, what makes us think that we’re going to do any better on multi-billion dollar artificial habitats on other planets?”
On this point, I fully agree. In fact, I would go one step further and pronounce that only interstellarspace travel would serve to “seed the species”. I think that human habitations on the Moon or Mars would depend deeply and permanently on Earth for survival. If some catastrophe struck the Earth that killed off our species (or more likely, knocked us back to the stone-age), anyone living on the Moon or Mars would die off by extension.
However, I would point out my above comments about unanticipated spin-offs. In the same way that burnt rain forests squander countless opportunities in the field of medicine by wiping out untold numbers of undiscovered and unstudied species of plant and animal life, we would squander many similar opportunities in the area of environmental and life sciences by not attempting to figure out how to keep humans alive for long periods of time in hostile alien environments. Also, what better way to foster a stronger interest in the health of our own precious world than by closely exploring the complications inherent in living without it?