Arguments in favour of public funding for manned space explorationEdit
Refuting "counter arguments
The specification of "Western civilization" as constantly running out of resources is misleading and betrays a hidden anti-humanist agenda: ALL human civilizations run out of resources as they grow. There is no question that mere stasis is not a reasonable goal for any species. Growth is a fundamental biological imperative, even if sustainability must be maintained. Insisting that the limitations of the Earth must be applied to a species which is blessed with the biological capacity to grow beyond the earth is arbitrary. Stasis, growth, and decline are the results of conditions beyond the control of system at large are literally hundreds of times those available on the Earth, and -- far more importantly -- they do not require the destruction of biosphere to get to them. Arbitrarily confining human ambitions to the Earth is ultimately an anti-environmentalist stance as it dooms the biosphere to the constant predation and over exploitation of the human population. Only an enormous reduction in terrestrial human population would permit us to persist on the millenial scale upon no resources beyond the Earth. There are, of course, anti-humanists who argue for the decimation of human populations, but this is a hard position to take seriously!
"Reducing the world's population to 1/10th of the present state". Okay, fine -- drop dead, please. Come on! What kind of logic is that? Certainly the population needs of Earth needs to be leveled, and some kind of management is required (direct space emigration will not solve Earth's population problems, and that has never been seriously argued, to my knowledge -- it's a strawman), but this is not a serious argument against colonization of other worlds or of artificial habitats.
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Space programs are well known to produce spin-off technologies that benefit humanity outside of space exploration.
Refuting "Counter Arguments"
Yes, any pioneering project will produce spin-offs. That means this isn't JUST an argument for pursuing space development, but it doesn't invalidate it as a social benefit. Space presents challenges that you will not find on Earth, and is probably better than any other human endeavor at producing new technologies, with the possible exception of fighting wars. Which activity would you prefer?
Fusion research, solar power research, and many of the kinds of "pioneering" research described are actually the same research needed for many long-term space development projects, so there is no conflict here.
- "tiny payload limitation" This is just silly. Projects in space are limited by payload only to the degree that they rely on resources from Earth. That phase of development is very temporary, and all serious development plans involve a conversion to use of native resources.
- Payload limits are also subject to revision, incrementally by improved rocket technology, and later, dramatically, by technologies such as space elevator or "space hook" tethers.
- "could discover fundamental knowledge about the universe not just the solar system" What the heck does that mean? If an Earth civilization isn't limited to Earth in its understanding, what makes you think a Solar one is limited to the Solar System? Rather, the solar system provides a far more effective place to do much of this research.
- It's possible to build an accelerator many times larger if you can do it on the Moon. Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes see much further and clearer simply by benefit of being above the atmosphere. Larger telescopes, made possible by increased space infrastructure would do even more. Many astronomical problems would be greatly simplified by increased direct and simultaneous parallax capability, which is impossible from the Earth. However, two Keck sized telescopes, separated by 40 AU in space would be able to make direct parallax measurements to galactic range. They could also directly image extrasolar planets. This is basic research that essentially cannot be done from the Earth's surface.
- High energy research which might represent a threat to human populations or to the environment if conducted on Earth could be done on an asteroid or a remote part of the Moon without fear.
- "clean energy" The only TRULY clean and sustainable energy supply is not nuclear fusion (I hate to break this to you, but any practical fusion reactor is going to produce some radioactive waste, and unlike fission reactors, fusion reactors are likely to explode if they fail), but rather solar power satellites in Earth orbit, beaming power to the surface.
- The technology to do this is already available (though by the time we actually do it, we may have improved on some of it). We haven't done it yet because it requires an enormous investment in space infrastructure to be able to achieve it, and the geometry of the problem makes it hard to start small and work your way up. Nevertheless, this is an example of direct benefits of space development, which will produce spin-offs along the way.