Space Exploration Ought to be a Top Priority in the Near-Term

Author: Jeff_Goldblum ,

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  • Jeff_Goldblum
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    Discipulus_Didicit, prompted by my recent debate with User_2006, asked that we debate this or have a forum discussion about it. I prefer the latter, as my interest in a debate topic tends to fall off rapidly after I set up the debate. The consequence is that I often regret committing myself to a debate when my opponent and I are still working on final arguments a month later. That didn't happen this time, because my opponent conceded, but even so, I prefer not to have another debate on the subject.

    While working on the debate, I coincidentally encountered some podcast content that informed my understanding of space exploration's value. I can share how said content enriched my beliefs, but I take it D_D has been politely holding back his opinions on the matter, so as to not contaminate my debate with outside influences. So, D_D, I'd be happy to let you go first. If you like, please share your thoughts.



  • Jeff_Goldblum
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    --> @Discipulus_Didicit
    tag
  • Greyparrot
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    --> @Jeff_Goldblum
    Is this a forum discussion for all or just you and DD?
  • Dr.Franklin
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    I agree
  • Discipulus_Didicit
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    My position on the subject is that investment for space flight missions from both public and private sectors with both scientific and economic goals is a net positive for humanity. The two most common objections to this in my experience are:

    1) It's dangerous (therefore we shouldn't do it)

    2) There are other things that we should do (therefore we shouldn't do it)

    The first is valid only insofar as it is true. Space exploration is dangerous. Radiation, heat, lack of basic necessities such as oxygen or gravity... Space is a place that tries its best to kill anyone traveling it. I don't think the dangers of space flight come close to making a situation where the pros outweigh the cons, however.

    The second seems outright wrong just on the face as it implies a dichotomy between space exploration and other issues whereby addressing one requires one to ignore the other. This is a dichotomy which I simply don't see as actually existing in real life.

    That is a quick bare-bones version of what I think regarding the topic. I will go into a bit more detail tomorrow but in the meantime if anyone has any specific questions please ask. As for myself I would like to ask the following question: you mentioned that your opinion on the topic has been enriched by certain things since your debate with user. Would you mind going into that a bit more so I know where you are coming from?
  • ILikePie5
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    I believe in aliens
  • zedvictor4
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    --> @Jeff_Goldblum
    I would suggest that space exploration is ongoing.... But if you envisage trekkian type space adventures happening anytime soon then think again....Near Earth orbit is the best we've been able to achieve for some considerable time now...Extending that comfortably and sustainably beyond the limits of the solar system is a whole different ball game, certainly not achievable in the "Near-Term" and maybe never achievable.
  • Marko
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    --> @Jeff_Goldblum

    The benefits of prioritising space exploration might result in us reaching the objective of space travel and habitation, but it might also not.

    As technology continues to inexorably increase, the ease at which we can do something extremely complicated and difficult similarly increases. 
    And because technologies aren’t easily quantified as either ‘beneficial’ or ‘harmful’, and because it is almost impossible to control its use (especially as the ease of use continues to increase), and because, somewhere out there, exists some novel or increased level of technology (and potentially harmful technology) at which civilisation almost certainly gets destroyed— I’m seriously uncertain of the idea that humans will reach the level of technology required to explore and inhabit space before they reach the level of technology at which civilisation almost certainly gets destroyed. 

    The act of attempting a moon landing in the 50s and 60s had the effect of creating many new technologies that we casually use today. The act of attempting to travel and inhabit space would be no different. The result could be the development of a whole slew of new, enhanced and potentially beneficial or (harmful) technologies that could be casually used in the future. And therefore, space exploration could have as indirect outcome the destruction of human civilisation, unless quite extraordinary and historically unprecedented degrees of preventive policing and/or global governance are implemented.

    The irony of this particular scenario, in this particular thought experiment, is that the act of developing space exploration has the outcome of destroying human civilisation and therefore the development of space exploration itself. 

  • Discipulus_Didicit
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    --> @Marko
    The benefits of prioritising space exploration might result in us reaching the objective of space travel and habitation, but it might also not.

    Imagine Columbus returning from his voyage and the Spanish government saying "well we might be able to successfully make use of this new land you found if we try, but we also might not succeed".

    Then imagine Columbus sitting there and saying "Yeah you're right. Guess we better not try. Right-o lads, burn the ships and go home we're done here".

    How do you reckon that would change the history books?
  • Marko
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    --> @Discipulus_Didicit
    My first sentence was an introduction and in context of my preceding sentences, and therefore, held on its own, my first sentence doesn’t adequately represent my position when taken out of context....but nonetheless ...

    Your concern for how the history books are written is the result of you placing a higher value on our known history than all the possible hypothetical ones, which is somewhat understandable. But because it would be impossible to know the history of a hypothetical world in which Columbus never made it to America, I think it would also be impossible to assume that the history in which Columbus made it to America is somehow the best one. 

    But then, Columbus is a bad example, because what was good for Spanish royalty certainly wasn’t good for the Native North and South Americans. European technology (along with their diseases) completely destroyed their civilisations, which wouldn’t have been possible several hundred years prior. 

  • Discipulus_Didicit
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    --> @Marko
    certainly wasn’t good for the Native North and South Americans.
    To be perfectly fair there aren't many of those on Mars and Luna last I checked so I don't think that is really much of a concern in this case.
  • Marko
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    --> @Discipulus_Didicit
    That wasn’t the type concern I had in my first post either. I guess you might have only read the first sentence. 
  • Greyparrot
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    --> @Discipulus_Didicit
    There is also a biological factor to consider. The elusive "god gene" that propels humans to find meaning for their short lifespans. 

    More people are happier and more productive chasing the stars than chasing the latest daily coupon from taco-bell.
  • Discipulus_Didicit
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    --> @Marko
    Your concerns aren't very specific or well-defined. Just a generalized "technology can be dangerous sometimes so if we have a lot of technology it might kill everyone... maybe... possibly... or possibly not who knows lol."

    You will excuse me of course if this sentiment doesn't frighten me as much as you seem to have thought it might.
  • Discipulus_Didicit
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    In my first post I briefly covered my views on two of the common objections to space investment. I didn't really go in-depth as to the positive results of same, however, and I shall do so a bit now. The primary immediate benefit is of course standard of living improvements here on Earth. There are things that people take for granted in day-to-day life that are completely impossible without investment in space. Humans have over 2000 artificial satellites orbiting the planet providing communication services and GPS, both essential to our current high standards of living. In the very near future several projects in the works by Spacex will add to this list of things we take completely for granted. Rocket travel from one part of the globe to another will soon become cheaper and outrageously faster than travel by plane in the same way that travel by plane is faster than travel by train. More reliable internet services provided more cheaply by a series of satellites are just around the corner as well, much to the chagrin of astronomers that shall have to deal with trying to work around said satellites.

    The same thing that makes these technologies so incredibly useful is sadly quite often the same thing that causes them to be so undervalued in society, that being their cheapness and resultant ubiquity. People don't think to themselves when they turn on their GPS "boy am I glad that there was a bunch of investment in space programs to provide me this convenience" and when they order a package to be shipped directly to their house from the other side of the planet within two days they certainly don't think "boy am I glad that there was a bunch of investment in space programs so that the logistics company that delivered my package was able to provide me this convenience". I doubt this is likely to change any time soon either. When people are getting their internet from space they will hardly think about the fact that it is coming from space any more than they think about where their internet comes from nowadays. The general public hardly ever gives a damn about such things until they stop working. Personally I find this lack of interest in the functioning of the world around us to be quite distressing but there we are anyway.
  • Jeff_Goldblum
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    --> @Discipulus_Didicit
    you mentioned that your opinion on the topic has been enriched by certain things since your debate with user. Would you mind going into that a bit more
    I recently spectated a Zoom call with NASA Administrator Bridenstine, hosted by CSIS. I thought he made a pretty cogent case for his agency's contribution to the national interest, and in the process, he made some points that related more directly to the key argument I made in the debate. He convinced me that there are significant commercial opportunities in space in the next couple decades. This is noteworthy to me, because in the debate I argued that space exploration is primarily a pure pursuit of knowledge, lacking in any immediate tangible value. If I had been facing off in a debate against Bridenstine, he would have demolished this claim of mine. Bridenstine also mentioned as an aside that NASA puts out an annual list of "spin-off technologies" that have been incidentally developed as NASA carried out its space exploration mission. I imagine User_2006 could have used said list to bolster his "sharpening the ax" argument.

    Also, while listening to the Planetary Society's podcast, "Planetary Radio," a former NASA official made a good case for the logic of NASA partnership with commercial entities and the commercial opportunities in space more generally.

    TL;DR Recently I've come to appreciate that space exploration yields more than just knowledge for its own sake.

    Even with all this being said, I still think there are other issues more pressing and more demanding of our attention than space exploration. Humanity could have a really fantastic future in space, but we have to survive urgent threats to our species' well-being in order to keep that long-term possibility alive.
  • Jeff_Goldblum
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    --> @Greyparrot
    It was nice of you to ask. This forum was intended for anyone who wanted to join in.
  • Discipulus_Didicit
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    --> @Jeff_Goldblum
    Even with all this being said, I still think there are other issues more pressing and more demanding of our attention than space exploration.

    You and many others seem quite convinced that addressing these other issues and pursuing investment in space are mutually exclusive, or at the very least that pursuing one makes the other more difficult. I have never understood where this conclusion came from. Do you mind explaining that a bit?
  • Discipulus_Didicit
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    As a side note I am rather unimpressed with the manned space vehicle component of NASA after they dropped the ball on Apollo and flipped the bird to Mars Direct, but the other bits of NASA are certainly worth keeping. Overall though I think the private sector beginning to take over some of the more routine NASA missions and pushing the current frontier is a good thing.
  • Greyparrot
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    --> @Jeff_Goldblum
    but we have to survive urgent threats to our species.

    I think the actual threat to the "species" of humans is vastly overblown. Historically, our lowest point as a species was long, long ago about 75,000 years ago. We are so much more technologically advanced at this point that even a super meteor impact wouldn't put the human species anywhere near the levels of crisis as 75,000 years ago when there were only a few thousand humans alive. 7 billion humans is a staggering amount for a planet this size considering the species needs far fewer than that to sustain viable offspring. While individuals may rise and fall and standards of living change, the future of humans looks very solid over the long haul millions of years looking forward. We are arguably the most adaptive species the planet has ever produced.



  • Discipulus_Didicit
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    --> @Greyparrot
    Well in the case of threats some space such as meteors that becomes much less of a threat with increased space investment so I doubt he meant anything like that. He may not have meant threats of extinction at all in fact, in the debate he mentions poverty and hunger as specific examples if I remember right (neither of which carry any threat of extinction whatsoever though both are very real issues).
  • Greyparrot
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    I understand, but those are, more or less, threats to individuals and not the species as a whole. It's a small but very important distinction.
  • Jeff_Goldblum
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    --> @Discipulus_Didicit
    You and many others seem quite convinced that addressing these other issues and pursuing investment in space are mutually exclusive, or at the very least that pursuing one makes the other more difficult. I have never understood where this conclusion came from. Do you mind explaining that a bit?

    I don't deny that there can be some overlap (i.e. spillover benefits from space exploration), but I think that in a world of limited financial, human, and especially political capital, priorities need to be set. I think it's good that space exploration receives attention from our governments, but it should not receive more than pressing issues like climate change. Nothing about space exploration itself makes addressing near-term threats more difficult, but our political systems can only make so many things top priorities at one time. If our systems could address all problems at all times with total commitment, then there wouldn't be any trade-offs inherent to putting a lot of energy into space exploration. But my intuition is that our systems are not capable of that kind of commitment, and thus priorities must be set.
  • Discipulus_Didicit
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    --> @Greyparrot
    Sure. Still if I had to choose between cheap space flight for the masses or an immediate and permanent end to poverty and hunger I reckon I would choose the latter to come first. Problem for me is that I don't in reality see the two objectives as being inherently opposed but we can give Jeff a chance to explain why he does.
  • Jeff_Goldblum
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    --> @Greyparrot
    I did hedge by saying "urgent threats to our species' well-being," which I think is qualitatively different from what you quoted me as saying.

    I think of it as kind of like a Maslow's Heirarchy for the whole human race. Near-term threats to the livelihoods of hundreds of millions or billions of humans should receive more attention than long-term opportunities in space. This isn't to say that we have to choose between one or the other, but the former should receive more attention than the latter.