On Space Exploration and the Allocation of Resources

Intro: A good thinker is someone who others can recognize is a good thinker. A great thinker is someone who can get others to think. Matt Murchison is part of the later, no doubt. While I’m not a big fan of MySpace blogs (they’re usually trash heaps — my own MySpace blog included), if you’re into reading them, make sure to check out Matt’s blog.

Matt, an old friend of mine, has an ability to pick out social issues and put forth points so convincingly that there is little middle ground left to be in. You either agree with him or you don’t. More often than not, I get trapped into posting incredibly long replies to his posts — often longer than the posts themselves — and with his last post, it was no different. Basically, the post argues that we should de-emphasize government funded space exploration and instead take on more planetary issues, like child hunger. What follows is my response to his post. (I figure that if I spent a good chunk of time posting it there I might as well post it here, too.) If you’re interested in this issue, drop me a line here, or better yet, drop by Matt’s blog and share your thoughts.

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This is a particularly interesting issue for me because of recent developments within the business community regarding space exploration.

On one hand, I am of the opinion that both space exploration and colonization are moral imperatives. These are missions which we as a people have a moral obligation to pursue and complete. With our level of advancement, it would be not only illogical but also deeply immoral to future generations for us not to continue on this pursuit. Contrary to your statement, space stations on the Moon and manned missions to Mars are not only reasonable, practical, and achievable, they are a mandate upon our generation from future generations.

Like you, however, I find that the weaponization of space, while understandable, is neither desirable nor logical at this time. Nevertheless, it seems as if human history is littered with examples of advancement through weaponization, and this may be no different.

That said, I also find that the current status of space exploration is deplorable at best. We are currently talking about going back to the moon like it is a much more monumental task than it was in 1969, when computers at NASA were much less powerful than the PC I’m currently using to type this message. There has been almost no advancement in the human space exploration program within the past 40 years, save for the pressure now being laid upon us by the Indians and the Chinese. The Russians are doing the right thing by transforming themselves into the first commercial space agency, and it is time that we do the same. The example of Burt Rutan and Richard Branson, where they’re basically laying in the groundwork for commercial space exploration should be followed. Whereas we’re currently spending billions for one flight at taxpayer costs, Americans can get 10 times the value for the dollar by letting the private sector do this. A profit motive will always bring out the genius of men to a greater good, if their profiting depends on the greater good. Nevertheless, NASA won’t see it this way, since it is usually hard to get people to understand a matter if their paycheck depends upon their not understanding it.

Regarding feeding starving children: this is a sticky subject for me. While I could understand that doing this would be a good thing, generally speaking, foreign aid of any sort weakens a population’s political will, thereby separating them from their government, thereby creating a status quo in which the government does not respond to their populace, since the populace doesn’t demand change. It was this demand for change that created the governments of today, transforming Europes monarchies into modern day democracies (starting with the US, then continuing on in France and South America). Yet, by taking that opportunity away from a people, we condemn them to a corrupt and lazy government. Unfortunately, countries which find themselves to be oil rich also tend to follow this pattern, where the government holds on to its power simply because of the level of money being poured into it. As harsh and evil as this may seem, the question is what’s in it for the American tax payer? After all, if he’s footing the bill for feeding a starving kid somewhere in Africa, where’s the return on investment?

Personally, I don’t believe there needs to be a return on investment, that life itself is to sacred to even look at such a thing. But while the person may believe that, the populace as a whole may not, since they may not agree as to which causes are worthy our tax money. So again I ask, where’s the ROI? After all, helping starving kids in the middle east hasn’t helped us much (except in Iran, oddly enough, where the younger generation would welcome relations with the US in a second, as would the younger generation here welcome relations with Iran in a second, if the elder generation wouldn’t keep getting in the way) and in both Asia and Africa, it has created a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions. Why should a government of one nation take care of the people of another? This should be left to individuals.

As a government, I support the investment of economic infrastructure in order to empower people (and not their governments), since this will lead to the rise in the power and clout of the individual, and it will also lead to better relation with that government — more trade means more economic opportunity, which leads to more unity among the countries’ populaces. As for humanitarian aid, I’m firm in the belief that private organizations should engage in this, and that governments should not worry about taking care but for their own people. (Even then, the help offered to people should be limited, based on their ability to build a future: an elderly man would need much more help than a 30-year old homeless man, since the younger of the two can still do something with his life, but I digress…)

In the end, Matt, while I do agree with both of your issues, the correlation between the two is a weak one. A stronger case can be made that we should be creating more economic opportunity in the space arena and allow federal agencies to benefit from private industry’s developments. That would not only make the government smaller (and more dependant on its people, instead of the other way around), it would also make the new technologies much more accessible to developing nations, thereby strengthening their own economic infrastructures and allowing them to take care of themselves (with maybe a little nudge in the right direction from investment and humanitarian programs.)

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