View Full Version : Futility of space exploration

2002-Aug-23, 08:00 PM
I just breifly heard the end of a programme on BBC Radio 4 (Straw Poll) discussing wether 'mans exploration of space was a complete waste of time and money'. I listened only in time to here the results of the audience vote, which came in at 52% saying that yes, it was a waste of time and money.
I was suprised and sadened to here that so many thought this. I view space exploration as man's next level of evolution as a civilisation, mans next 'tech level'. To simply give it up and discard it because it brings few immediate benefits (although it has been demonstrated that there are far more immediate benefits than the public realises) shows a lack of fore-sight and, without souding too tacky, human spirit.
Now the vote has gone to the phoning public. We'll see what happens /phpBB/images/smiles/icon_smile.gif


PS I did only catch the last minutes of the programme, so I may have misunderstood the whole thing. Apologies in advance. But an interesting topic none-the-less.

2002-Aug-23, 08:31 PM
There are many scientists who feel that the money spent on manned space flight would be better spent on unmanned probes. The unmanned option is cheaper, and safer (no lives at risk if it breaks up as CONTOUR did.)

I have always followed the space program. I knew the dimensions of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo capsules. I followed the stories of the astronauts. I think continuing manned space flight is important. In my field of medicine I use spin-offs of space technology every day. The study of humans in microgravity environments has opened doors and given new insights to human physiology.

All that said, manned space flight is awfully expensive. What does everyone think? More cheaper, faster probes? Manned mission to Mars? How about it?

2002-Aug-23, 08:32 PM
I don't know about other agencies, but I've heard the USA space system is a bit wasteful. Zubrin wrote about this in "Entering Space". The problem is the "cost plus" mentality, where the contractors charge the space agency for the cost of the project plus a certain fixed profit percentage. There is little incentive to cut costs because the profit comes down too. Therefore you end up with expensive specialized hammers and stuff.

It makes sense to me. I think exploration of space is a worthwhile effort, but the current system doesn't give enough rewards for better value (bang for the buck).

Someone with closer ties to the agency might be able to explain this better or perhaps dismiss it.

2002-Aug-23, 10:42 PM
Solar Power Satellites.

One of those would be costly. Two would be less costly. Five would pay for themselves. Ten would pay for the entire rest of the space program.

Why don't we have them yet?


2002-Aug-23, 10:50 PM
At $20K/kilo to (LOW!) orbit, it's not very feasible as yet. At right now, gas-fired powerplants are neat little cash machines, even with the currently depressed electricity prices. Very efficient, relatively clean and fairly quiet. And they cost about $500K/Megawatt of capacity.

Power Sats are a -great- idea and Helium-3 would be awesome indeed, but until we get cost-to-orbit down a lot more, it's hard to think of how to build a 5,000 ton Power Sat that makes sense.

We need to push - always and for the foreseeable future - to get launch costs down before we will ever see human exploitation of space.

A Song Of Distant Earth
2002-Aug-23, 10:59 PM
This is going to sound a bit blunt, but what did you expect? I wouldn't be surprised if the 'general public' still thought the sun revolved around the earth. Let's face it; most people just aren't interested in science and don't care about the world around them.

2002-Aug-24, 12:04 AM
I wouldn't be surprised if the 'general public' still thought the sun revolved around the earth.

You haven't been reading the geocentrist thread in 'against the mainstream', have you? /phpBB/images/smiles/icon_smile.gif

I finally had to give up on it, I was pulling too much hair out...

As for manned missions, I have to reluctantly agree that it is still too expensive and dangerous, for now, and we'd get more science done with unmanned probes. Hopefully that will change in my lifetime. I am glad we have the space station though, even if there is some sentiment that it's a waste of resources too...

2002-Aug-24, 01:55 AM
. I listened only in time to here the results of the audience vote, which came in at 52% saying that yes, it was a waste of time and money.

That is 52% of the people who were watching. Many other people (those interested in science) would not have voted negatively. However, that (scientifically knowledgeable) group would not have a large following, and nobody makes money offering programs directed to knowledgeable people, because knowledgeable people do not blindly buy the things offered in the commercials.

I do not watch much television, so I would not count in any poll.

ljbrs /phpBB/images/smiles/icon_smile.gif /phpBB/images/smiles/icon_frown.gif /phpBB/images/smiles/icon_wink.gif

2002-Aug-24, 02:43 AM
Dang, Ljbrs beat me to it. /phpBB/images/smiles/icon_biggrin.gif

Yeah, those were poll results from a badly skewed sample group. They weren't asking "people"--they were asking "people who are tuned into this particular program and who are interested enough to take the time to respond." That's going to be self-selecting right there, since it's usually the people who are against something who are exercised enough to sound off.

2002-Aug-24, 04:21 AM
Manned spaceflight as it now stands is more of a political activity than a scientific one. It serves to better national prestige and create jobs(at the expense of others - debt and taxes cost jobs). It also helps protect the defense industrial base durring long stretches of peace.

If costs can be brought down radically, there may be a scientific case for manned space flight. Space tourism may be a good driver for this - commercial practices and economies of scale may bring the cost down if serious money ever goes after the space tourism market. Or we could mine helium-3 on the moon. Zubrin himself downplays the power-satelite idea for one reason - you lose more energy by beaming it down to earth than you gain by having the solar cells in space rather than on the ground.

Yet the scientific value of the current manned space program is minimal compared to its cost. In fact, I marval at how anyone with knowledge can say otherwise with a straight face.

Celestial Mechanic
2002-Aug-24, 04:27 AM
Dateline: August 23, 1502

(Madrid, Spain) 55% of nobles polled at the Royal Court feel that exploration of the New World is a complete waste of money and that the gold would be better spent on unmanned remote-controlled ships.

It's August 23, 1502--and You Had to Be There! /phpBB/images/smiles/icon_smile.gif

2002-Aug-24, 04:57 AM
Celestial Mechanic -

If the Queen had to keep throwing money at the expeditions 30 or 40 years later and still had little to show for it you bet it would have been a waste of money.

If it were possible to send automated ships to do the bulk of exploration in the new world, you bet that would be better than sending expensive men and ships.

Where there are natives to enslave, gold to steal, and a fertile land to settle it makes sense to send people. People who have their own money in on the deal and who expect some sort of return from their investment. These kind of people tend to have an aversion to airless rocks. And they will send others rather than themselves if they can get away with it.

If those others can be cheap robots, so much the better. The list of things that can only be done by people in space grows shorter by the year.

Putting people in space is exciting and I'm glad we found out we can do it. But until either the cost goes down (from space tourism?) or the return goes up(complex life on Mars?) DRAMATICALLY it is just a political stunt. It is an overpriced cold-war relic we can do without.

2002-Aug-24, 05:40 AM
I wouldn't put a lot of significance in the poll result. Besides what ljbrs and Jigsaw said, a poll like this probably reflects how people feel about the economy rather than how they feel about space exploration.

Of course, a better poll would probably show worse results. /phpBB/images/smiles/icon_rolleyes.gif

Fortunately, the commercial benefit of satellites and space tourism is probably enough to keep the fire burning until another batch of fuel like a good cold war or an economic boon arrives.

Egad, this is post #666 /phpBB/images/smiles/icon_eek.gif
For the record, that's Beskeptigal.

<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: beskeptical on 2002-08-24 01:42 ]</font>