Space Exploration

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Is space exploration worth the cost?

by David Livingston
Monday, January 21, 2008

Editor’s Note: On January 11, the New York Times blog “Freakonomics” published a lengthy post titled “Is Space Exploration Worth the Cost? A Freakonomics Quorum”. The post featured comments provided by a number of people, including David Livingston, in response to the question. The part attributed to Dr. Livingston was just a highly-edited version of what he originally submitted to the Times. What follows is the full article that Dr. Livingston submitted on December 31 in response to their invitation to answer the question, “Is manned space exploration worth the cost? Why or why not?” As the host of a nearly seven-year-old radio talk show, The Space Show, designed and devoted to furthering space development and manned space exploration, I hear this question often. It is challenging to answer because I find often that I am left wanting for a better response, even from some of the guests and listeners to The Space Show. In general, I do think that collectively we, in the space community, do a lousy job of letting people across America know why manned space exploration is important and worth the cost. I would like to see NASA and those members of Congress most supportive of the manned space program convincingly let the public know that the value is there, where the value comes from, and why it is there. But then, I have a long wish list for what I would like to see our government do, say, and explain regarding this and other issues. In my opinion, the manned space exploration program is absolutely worth the cost. But first, consider the following because understanding the following points is crucial to understanding what manned space exploration affords us in so many areas: 1. The money spent on manned space exploration is spent right here on Earth and most of it is spent in the US. We do not yet have a Bank of the Milky Way, the First International Bank of Mars, or a Lunar Mutual Savings and Loan. The money that is spent goes to manufacturing, research and development, salaries, benefits, insurance companies, doctors, teachers, scientists, students, blue- and white-collar workers, and corporations and businesses both large and small. The money disperses throughout the economy in the same way as money spent on medical research, building houses, or any other activity we engage in with government or even private spending. |In general, I do think that collectively we, in the space | |community, do a lousy job of letting people across America know| |why manned space exploration is important and worth the cost. |

2. Whenever we look at government spending (or any spending for that matter), it is important that we understand what is being purchased and whether there is a value for that investment. We should also ask if the value benefits a narrow group of people or a special interest, or does it have the potential to benefit large groups, even humanity. Clearly, several types of public expenditures can be considered investments and they can benefit large groups of people and humanity. So I also look for qualitative factors, such as the ability to inspire others to do hard work, to go the next step, to push the envelope for the next level of advancements for all our benefit. I also look to see if the public expenditure can change lives for the better and, if so, over what period of time. There are several types of public expenditures that can do some of this, but manned space exploration is able to do it all. 3. The space age is 50 years old if we calculate using the launch of Sputnik as the beginning point. Manned flight began with Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961, thus manned spaceflight is almost 47 years old. A good portion of our space technology, development, and know-how was developed here on Earth when the two space powers of the time, the USSR and the US, were making treaties to work together in space, prohibit...
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