Friday, August 17, 2012

Olympus or Mars?

This deserves a little more than the Facebook post I gave it a few days ago. I have heard so many people complaining (not just now, but over the years) about the expense of space programs -- about how we should use that money for problems on Earth. Recently, lots of people were bent out of shape about the landing on Mars -- of the new rover, Curiosity.

What cracks me up is that I never heard one complaint about the expense of the Olympics: 14 Billion dollars; as compared to the 2.5 billion it cost to build an exploration vehicle to send to Mars.

In lots of places on the web, you can find lists of things, from kitchenware to aviation safety, that have benefited from the technology that NASA has developed for space travel -- I won't spend time looking stuff up. But there is a lot, believe me. (I'm sure the computer I'm working on wouldn't be quite what it is if scientists hadn't had to develop computer technology for space...)

Apollo 11 crew at work.
As you might expect, it's the human nature piece here that interests me. It made an impression that the Olympics were going on when Curiosity landed and the complaints started flowing, but none of them about the exorbitant amount spent on the Olympics. We tend to miss the obvious stuff, don't we?

One could argue that the people complaining about the cost of space exploration have a good point. But I think they only consider their position because the launches are literally like fireworks. Many people spend their days disregarding other "wastes of money" that go on every day, everywhere, all of the time, from sports to their own extravagant spending habits. Let's not latch on to space spending just because a rocket lights up the sky and everyone goes "Oooooh--aaahhh." Let's look for disregard of the poor and the suffering multitudes in the dark places we pass on the way to work.

Often, I think of that famous Peter Singer essay in which he maintains that none of us have a right to comforts when there are people suffering in the world. (If you haven't read it, do -- it is, if nothing else, thought-provoking.) I get his point, even if I don't completely agree.

And I think it would be dangerous to stop exploring space because people are dying of starvation. I know we could feed a lot of people with that money, but what happens when we run out of room on Earth? So far, it is sci-fi to consider man living in the stars. So far. But we humans do tend to run out of room, don't we?

Well, one thing I know is that if I'm given a choice between spending billions of dollars on exploration of the solar system and beyond and spending billions of dollars to see who is the best person  in the whole world at flipping around on a mat, I'm taking the rocket ship. Why am I in the minority?


  1. The people against whom you're arguing assume that money can fix those "problems on Earth." As Sting might say, I don't subscribe to this point of view...

  2. Yep -- a common misconception, for sure. But imagine if we could set up a farming colony on another planet...