April 11, 2008

Why space exploration ?

Universe today asks the question "Why should we be spending money exploring space when there are so many problems here on Earth that we need to solve first?"

I provided my answer [I have extended it here]:
Lack of a space program will not solve anything else faster and a well planned program [not what we have been doing] can deliver massive benefits. History shows the logical flaw.

There has been no historical example of any group "solving all of their problems before embarking on exploration/expansion/major project". The solve all problems locally before advancing has not been shown to be a successful strategy. There has been major examples where the imperfect/highly flawed expander had major advantages over the non-expander (who was also flawed). The biggest one is China had the largest ocean going fleet in 1400's. Then the emperor destroyed that fleet. The Western nations came a few hundred years later and forced China to give up Hong Kong and Macau for 99 years. The Europeans colonized North America and expanded economies because of those policies. The world has about a 60 trillion/year economy. There is not a shortage of resources in money or people to target problems. Well funded, well planned and well executed efforts can be directed at all of the problems simultaneously. Just putting ten times, a hundred times or a million times more money does not convert a failing plan, project against hunger, poverty, corruption into a successful plan. Most of those plans and efforts have failed in the past and holding a new project contingent upon solving those first is a bad idea. We need more/better plans and better thinking.

The fallacy of the let us solve X, Y, and Z before doing A, B and C can be seen not just in big history but every day life.
I will lose 35 pounds, organize my home and achieve emotional balance before getting a new job.
I will become self sufficient through greenhouse farming, get my extended family and friends jobs and savings and solve all of their arguments, feuds and disagreements before I launch a new business.
Whether I can make a new business a success is largely independent of those other projects. A well executed business plan can provide more money to pay for other home projects.

Space exploration and development has had a lot of waste and a lack of purpose and a good plan. A strong case can be made that the overall purpose of the space programs have been one aspect of political pork with minimal space efforts and the name space program. Clearly the space shuttle and the space station have vastly under delivered for the money spent on them.

Strategies for successful space development: Focus on lowering the cost and the purpose of colonization and industrialization and commerce (tourism etc…)

- If lowering the cost is best down with more robots then use robots first or mainly. do not force the manned program until costs go down.

- fuel depots in space (bring the costs down closer to the cost of LEO $2000/kg)

- More nuclear propulsion and non-chemical systems (mirrored laser arrays for launches).

Bill Dunford - Riding with Robots on the High Frontier had an answer that was along similar thinking.

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