14 April 2009

Neptune city here I come

I've got a question for you sci-fi (not SyFy) fans out there. Actually, scratch that. It's more of a question for fans of space exploration. Are those two mutually exclusive? Whatever. I think it's kind of a question for fans of space exploration and sci-fi. Confused? Me, too. I've told you recently that I finished reading Red Mars and it has got me thinking a lot about Mars exploration. Being part of the whole space exploration effort has given me a sort of new prospective on the whole thing so I'm curious as to what y'all think about this. How important is Mars to your vision of space exploration? How should it be treated? Does anyone besides myself actually think about this stuff?

I suppose it might help to clarify my point. Or my question. Or whatever. One thing you may have picked up from reading my blog or any news source is that space exploration is fucking expensive. Really fucking expensive. Even before the recession the amount of money being spent was staggering. Staggering but, in my opinion, totally worth it. Now, with the recession on and people clamoring for massive cuts in government spending it will only get harder to convince voters that all that money is worth it. Even I have a hard time doing it, and I know about all of the benefits of the space program. So if the problem is funding, what do you do? I've always been a big proponent of doing whatever it takes to get the private space exploration sector off the ground (PUN!). I think that if anything could really get space exploration going it's avarice and greed. The problem comes when you try to turn exploration into a money-making venture. It's not so easy. Sure there plenty of potential breakthroughs that could come from extensive experiments in space, but those don't necessarily have the immediate revenue potential needed to justify the investment.

I feel like I need a shower after writing those last few sentences. Honestly, though, I'm all for unchecked greed if it can get billions of dollars invested in space exploration. I hate unchecked greed when it ruins/costs lives. It could certainly take some of the monetary burden off of NASA (and thus the taxpayer). And maybe some of the public scrutiny, as well. The tallest tree is the first one cut and all that. So, back to Mars. If you believe that Mars is critical to our future (like I do) would you be okay with letting big corporations strip-mine the planet for metals/resources if they were willing to put up the necessary capital to establish a permanent human presence? That was a mouthful. But that's basically the question that I've been chewing over for a few weeks. It's one of the major questions dealt with in Red Mars but the book doesn't deliver much for an answer. I think I'm okay with it. But then I think I need a shower. Is there anything wrong with letting someone else pay the tab this time?

I realize I probably won't get an answer to this question, but it's something to consider. Because at some point, even if you're not a fan of space exploration or sci-fi, your vote will be counted amongst the ones that make the decision. Either by direct vote or by voting for a policy-maker (e.g. a senator who thinks we just can't afford it all).

Then again we could just cut the fucking defense budget in half and double-fund NASA for the next 100 years without ever taking an extra dime from the taxpayer. There. I said it.


Colleen said...

Space exploration is one adventure that's too extreeeeme for me personally, but hey, there could be like trees full of the opposite of cancer (extacy? and why can't i ever spell that?) out there somewhere, so they should keep it up.

LadyGlutter said...

Mars is absolutely crucial to my personal vision of space exploration. I've always assumed that some amounts of stripping Mars of resources would happen in exchange for populating it, and that big corporations, would be taking a very large part in it. I didn't really feel the need to take a shower, either, until I started thinking, thanks to your thoughts on it.

I do think we need to approach things carefully, but on the other hand, haven't we, generally, regarding space exploration? Would colonization be different? People would be LIVING there, after all. I think somehow I've always had a trust that of necessity, we'd be responsible in our actions, rather than blinded by greed. I suppose I've always seen the driving force as ambition, though, which really may be too a fine distinction, but I don't think so. It is worth noting that my vision of such an effort is tinged with nobility.

All that said, I certainly ought to examine those thoughts. You are not the only person to think about it, and this box is far too small for me to type any more. :)

Sarah said...

To get a little cliche on you: " Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms -- greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge -- has marked the upward surge of mankind."

You seem to be working from the premise that wealth is finite. It is not. If I have x wealth, your wealth potential is not y-x. If you have y wealth, my wealth is not x-y. We have cliches and use them because they are, at some level, true. Like you have to spend money to make money.

Infusing space exploration with private investment would not only increase the pace at which exploration happened, but also increase the return on the investment, since the money would ebb and flow according to the results generated, not according to how fast or slow the behemoth of bureaucracy could achieve, then maintain momentum. Once returns begin to post, yet more investments flow into the system, generating yet more results. And soon we have a functioning model for exploration, advancement, colonization, and all matter of wonderful things.

Mars is important. Mars is so important. Not just from a romantic point of view (and I'm really tempted to go there), but so many advancements in science and tech will be possible because of studies in and around microgravity, and other space-related arenas.

Apollo said...

Colleen - I don't think there are many trees on Mars, much less anti-cancer trees. But that's the spirit! Also, I didn't realize until just now that I have no idea how to spell ekstsciy.

LG - I've never doubted that corporations would get involved, it's just recently that I started wondering to what extent. In theory they could be convinced to fund all of it if they thought it would improve their bottom line. I guess the question is how sacred is Mars to you?

Sarah - Greed is fine when it doesn't come at the expense of altruism. That's an argument for another day, though. You make a good point about private investment, but do you think there should be a limit? For instance, would you be okay with Big Conglomerate Co. fuck-mining the entire planet for minerals? Or is there a National Park quality about it to you? The National Park quality comes when you start thinking romantically about it, I believe. I'm trying to balance my scientific, romantic, and realistic sides when considering this.

Heather Rose said...

Lack of sleep and water intake make for difficult commenting.

Okay. So, you might not claim me as your music soul mate after this, but I think space colonization is a joke. *wince* A really expensive one. *double wince*

I'm all for exploring...well...everything. Our universe is an amazing place, BUT with the aim of finding somewhere else to inhabit? Not my cup of tea.

Now, I do NOT doubt that there is life on other planets, or the possibility of actually colonizing some other rock. I just have a heck-a-lotta faith that we won't get to that point.

I guess(and this will come as no big surprise) I'm more along the romantic side. I feel as if we should be spending a large quantity of that space exploration money on serving others...feeding the hungry, housing the homeless..etc. Not that anyone in the space exploration business is against any of that. You get my point.

Love me anyway?

Apollo said...

I think I may be able to change your opinion about it all, Heather. If nothing else I can say I tried, right? There is no doubt it's an expensive proposition. That's sort of the nature of the beast. But there are a couple of things to consider before you write it off as a waste. First, space exploration leads to crucial technological advancements. Not a day or likely an hour goes by that your life isn't improved by the advancements it has already brought us. Second, and possibly more convincing, is that Mars may be an enormous boon for resources that could improve the lives of billions on earth. Also, some day way down the line there could be a cataclysmic event on earth that all but annihilates our species. We wouldn't have to worry for our continued survival if we spread out.

Lastly, as expensive as it may be NASA's budget is still less than 1% of the total U.S. budget each year. And, to date, every dollar spent by NASA has returned roughly $8 to the U.S. treasury. Return on investment is high.

Heather Rose said...

I'm not saying that it's altogether a waste. I've read about quite a few technological advancements that have been byproduct to all our research and experimentation. I would just like to see less spent there.

It is a surprise to me that we make money from such expenses. So, my vote is to put that return towards more immediate humanitarian issues.

Maybe it's silly of me, but I can sleep better at night knowing that I fed the man on the corner today, rather than made an investment that may or may not save him from a hypothetical cataclysmic event sometime down the road.

This may all also have something to do with the fact that I have faith in what the Bible says. It promises that Jesus will return to this earth to get us, but I know that's not a universal belief. And trust me, I'm used to being the oddball. ^_^