Saturday, January 12, 2008

Manned Space Exploration a Waste? Discussion Sparks Controversey.

A controversial new post at the NY Times’ Freakonomics blog looks at whether or not manned space exploration is worth the cost. To come up with an answer, blogger Stephen J. Dubner reached out to five experts. Unfortunately, all five experts were either NASA employees, former NASA employees, the host of a space radio show or the space policy advocate. No, the analysis wasn’t very well balanced. And yes, the answer was yes, manned space exploration is worth the cost.

The interviewed cited a number of interesting points, although none of them were very well substantiated. For example, one expert pointed out that, for every dollar spent on space exploration, eight dollars of “economic benefit” is returned. Sounds good to me. But the expert didn’t say where this multiplier came from.

Other justification for manned space flight included the establishment of a “lifeboat” on another planet, say Mars, where mankind could flee in the case of a global catastrophe; inspiring a new generation of scientists (“There is now a national urgency to direct the creative interests of our youth towards careers in science and engineering,” said one expert; and where would we be without the technologies and solutions brought to us by previous manned space programs (the experts cited personal computers, cell phones and a whole range of medical advances like digital mammography)/

Oh, and space exploration brings jobs. And yes, we’re talking about more than crews for spaceships. We’re talking high-tech, hi-paying jobs related to and supporting the space program. Real jobs, right here on Earth. “You have to spend all of NASA’s money ‘on Earth,’” said one expert. “There is no way to spend it in space — at least, not yet.”

Again, the discussion lacked solid references, clear facts, and of course, a more critical, dissenting perspective. And this wasn’t lost on readers of the posting. Many of the latest comments (upon posting of this Pound360 entry) were critical.

Quipped one reader: “Gosh, everyone agrees! Glad we straightened this issue out… you couldn’t find even one person to offer serious arguments against expanding manned space exploration?!

Another: “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.”

We at Pound360 can appreciate where the critics are coming from, and would have liked to have seen a more balanced posting. But we’ll tell you this. To think that, somewhere on Earth, right now, the first person to walk on Mars is probably just starting preschool (the
average age of an astronaut is 34, and we’re aiming to land man on Mars in the mid-2030s) gives us a warm fuzzy feeling. But to think it’s an American. Well, that makes us feel down right thrilled.

No comments:

Pound360 Archive

About Me

My photo
I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.