Space Exploration Isn’t an Economic Stimulus. It’s a Humanity Stimulus

A scene from X3: Terran Conflict (©Egosoft)

When I said this on Twitter today, it struck up a lot of support. It actually came out as a throwaway comment in Wednesday’s Astroengine Live when I was having a rant about the misconception that space exploration is a luxury and not a necessity. If I was debating this now, I’d probably be somewhere between “necessity” and “luxury”. On the one hand it would be nice to have a very wealthy space agency, carrying out unimaginable science throughout the Solar System, colonies on the Moon and Mars, mining asteroids and setting up an interplanetary transportation system. On the other hand, none of these things will be possible unless there is huge (global) public support and political will…

But then I thought back to Robert Zubrin’s words about financing a huge manned Mars mission (Apollo 2.0 style) to save the economy. After all, investment in private space contractors, education and training would be the mother of all stimulus plans. Rather than throwing $nth billions into failing banking systems, sick economies and damaged infrastructure, do something new with this cash, create a utopian Mars effort, get man onto the Martian regolith within 8 years. Hell, we can do that!

Yes, we can do that, I’d even go so far as saying that if the cheque was big enough, we could mount a manned expedition to Mars in five years. Now that would be impressive.

But this won’t happen. Although the world’s space agencies are doing their thing in space, each one has their own agenda. Surely it would be advantageous to team up? Perhaps the International Space Station could serve as a blueprint for the future of mankind in space? Each member nation provides their best pieces of kit and most gifted individuals, pushing man deeper into space than previously imaginable. This sentiment was shared by Jeff Foust when he spoke to Astroengine contributor Nina Lincoff yesterday.

There are these capabilities that exist around the world and if we partner with them than we can do more of these complex missions and experiments on top of what we already want do. By developing with a space program that is sophisticated enough and with enough potential helps to elevate you as a country. If you cooperate with NASA, you enhance your own prestige.” — Jeff Foust

Although there are plenty of collaborations going on around the world, there is little motivation to push for an “International Space Ship” any time soon. This is primarily due to funding and international politics. Some things just don’t change.

So what could motivate the world’s nations to unite in a massive space exploration collaboration? Why should the first man on Mars be American or Russian or Chinese or European? Why can’t it be all of the above? This will probably only happen if the NewSpace era is more than just a fad; perhaps companies like SpaceX, Bigelow Aerospace, XCOR, Orbital Sciences, Boeing, Lockheed Martin will be the trailblazers of a huge emerging industry. Space commercialization is happening now, perhaps it will bring together nations under one flag, the flag of profit. Perhaps this can be done with huge collaborative efforts by international space agencies, governments investing in science and technology, companies being subsidised to provide launch capabilities, orbital solar energy plants, transportation systems and refuelling depots at the Lagrangian points–

[stop]

When I start talking like this, I have found that I draw huge criticism from an unlikely crowd of people. I receive emails and comments from space enthusiasts, not unlike myself, accusing me of being an “idiot”, “naive” or “British” (yep, somehow “British” was used as an insult because “you lot don’t have a space agency“, for some reason this gave me no right to comment on US efforts in space. Oh do calm down and get to the back of the queue). So this brings me to another point. Yes, there are many “dreamers” when it comes to space exploration, and I consider myself to be one of them. I don’t have all the answers to the current issues for NASA, ESA, Rocosmos or the British National Space Centre (take that Mr “You Don’t Have A Space Agency”! It may not be well known, but at least we’re doing something), but if we begin stifling people who have an enthusiasm for space exploration just because it doesn’t “fit” with popular opinion, the very people who might be space exploration visionaries will turn away from the thing they do best: communicate the excitement of scientific endeavour. Just because us “dreamers” may not be “right”, it doesn’t mean we’re wrong either.

I’m sure Elon Musk was accused of being a dreamer at some point when he said, ‘I know, I’m going to launch stuff into space and make it cheap!’

As for stimulating humanity to take that next leap of evolution into space, it needs to be a global effort and we need to see humanity spreading to other worlds as a necessity and not a luxury. I can guarantee that if the single biggest threat to mankind (apart from ourselves) is spotted through a telescope in the future, we’ll really wish we had a thriving space travel infrastructure so we can deal with the ever present threat of an asteroid impact. Therefore, who needs to stimulate the economy when you need to save a civilization? The truth is, there are far greater things at stake than the credit crunch, we need to be prepared to participate in this Solar System of ours to ensure the survival of our species.

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20 responses to “Space Exploration Isn’t an Economic Stimulus. It’s a Humanity Stimulus

  1. Great post! I too get tired of hearing the “it’ll never happen” crowd. Just 50 years ago, we were barely throwing things out of the gravity well. As you say, we collectively have the ability to do much more. Who’s to say what we can and can not do.

    What better way to build world unity and cooperation than a multi-national mission for exploring our Solar System. Why can’t we have a Moon, Mars, and beyond exploration plan simultaneously?

    Maybe, if global climate change really starts to runaway or a sufficiently large enough asteroid is headed our way, then we’ll get people to pull together.

    But, I’m a dreamer too. Sometimes it can be lonely out there…

  2. Hmmm… Well, most of what you wrote makes sense and would sure be a good way of boosting the world economy, and what better time for it. However, from the experience of heavy politics in science over the last few years leads me to the conclusion that, with the way the world is currently, it will NOT work (as much as I would love it to work since this means much more money for working scientists like me ;-) – always a nice bonus)! The first step is to get the World to fund on scientific merit first, and politics, well, near last! Until then, let’s hope we don’t destroy our little planet first and also hope there’s nothing already on its way to make us meet our doom and “the end of our species” as you put it…

  3. I agree that space exploration might be a economic incentive and eventually save the planet (well its inhabitants) as well in the future. But there are a lot of things that can be done on earth with the same effect, unfortunately though we do not seem to respond to very well to such arguments.

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  6. Any kind of global perspective on threats to mankind overall, or possibilities for mankind overall, is overshadowed by deep skepticism. We’re conditioned to have that response by now.

    The whole debate around climate change, and how that debate has been presented in mainstream press, simply makes it impossible to discuss international efforts like this. There’s been so much dogma and contradicting information drowning out the actual scientific debate and actual science behind climate change. And climate change is merely one example; take space exploration, or economic policy, or any of a number of other issues with global implications. People are simply conditioned to not believe the threats are real, not believe that collaborative solutions are possible, not believe that solutions are more important than the immediate needs and problems in front of them, or some combination thereof. It takes not just a visionary, but a collection of visionaries, to implement the reasoning you have here (that you can solve the short-term problems by all committing to a long-range project).

  7. Couldn’t agree more with this article.

    While there are many things we could do on Earth, none of them capture the imagination nearly as profoundly as space exploration. Tapping the vast resources of space, developing the technology to do it, would have the same positive effect on our climate and our world that any similarly scaled green venture would have, but it doesn’t suffer from the same poverty of imagination.

    Imagination is a very precious commodity.

  8. The “mother of all stimulus plans”? No.

    Taking money from one person to spend it on a trip to Mars does no stimulating. That’s digging holes just so you fill them back up!

    It’d be cool as hell, but not stimulating.

  9. If you start a movement for the unifying of man in the name of space exploration and invention, ill join.I'll second that I don't care about countries or politics just let work together for the benefit of human kind.

  10. The entire history of our species has been one of exploration, followed by migration. We currently do have the technology to go to Mars, but we don't have the political consensus to do so. The “We shouldn't waste our money in Space” crowd fails to see all the *many* benefits that we enjoy on Earth, as a direct result of the effort to explore Space. Just about every area has experienced some kind of technological improvement, that has also improved their bottom line.One day, hopefully not too far in the future, we will, once again, start to migrate, to other planets and moons in our Solar system. It's what we do, it's who we are.

  11. asteroids like Eros ( http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/sci/tech/401227.stm ) are out there, full of minerals we could use, I'm sure there's oil as well,I'm studying engineering I'd happily help for free on anything that would get us off this rock and on to another one when I finish college, sign me up.look, people are always going to say dreamers are mad and politics will never change unless its profitable, its a scary idea and sounds crazy to think we could be travelling between planets and live on another world.people are always going to be worried about what's going on here and never wonder what we could do together out there.Think about it if we all got together I mean like a website as big as you tube or twitter. where projects would be put forward by dreamers that anyone could view and vote on. we all donate the equivalent of a $ or € or £ it doesn't matter. over 500,000,000 users on bebo maybe 18 million on twitter. imagine the equivalent of $ from every user a year and on the site will be a project ship that the money would build to send to one of these asteroids like Eros and mine it. minerals could be brought back and used on other projects, oil could be brought back for fuel who knows.a site, dreamers from ever corner of the globe, a projects that could work, an internet vote, a group of people willing to do the project in the right time maybe 5 or 10 years time limit. when the voting is done everyone gives the min of $ and all you dreamers out there can sit back and watch us all make history as a united planet not just one country,if this site already exists that for everyone and not just one country send me the link and ill sign up now! if not then for the love of god someone start it up, let's do this!my email is robertosullivan5@gmail.comif anyone wants to do something sign me upbut don't be an as*hole and send me smart comments because of what i'v posted or try send me stupid emails to buy something. thats why we're dreamers we say something that someone thinks is crazy and can't be done but there will always be someone out there crazy enough to do it :)

  12. I'm tired of hearing people talk about space exploration suddenly as if they actually give anything about it when most of it has to do with this countries pride somehow being “damaged” by not going to space. This should be about so much more than our silly pride being hurt, we need to explore space for our countries economic stability, sustainability of the human race, and many other things. Not worrying about “THIS IS AMERICKA, WE NEED A DARN DANG SPACE PROGRAM SO WE CAN LEAD, DURKA DURK!”

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