Apologies for the rare posting lately, to the few of you still bothering to check here. Equal parts laziness and lack of inspiration have been the cause. However, I would like to direct all of you that are interested over to my new blog, dedicated to analyzing the game of basketball. Specifically, I want to bring the same sort of rigorous analysis to basketball that Bill James brought to baseball. If you're interested, head on over to Court Analysis and check it out.
I'll still be posting here, with the same intermittent schedule I've had recently. You can also find me lurkin in the comments sections of several of the blogs linked over there on the right (a big reason I haven't been writing much here. Why respond for a small audience at my own site, when I can respond directly, to a likely much larger audience?)
Can anyone come up with an argument for manned space flight that couldn't, with a few changed words, also be used to support a ban on ANWR drilling, or almost any pro-environmental position, for that matter? Both seem to rest on a fundamental romanticism--in the one case of space, in the other of wilderness and wildlife here on earth. Both involve large economic costs to pursue this romantic goal, with either no economic payoff, or a highly questionable economic payoff in the distant future.
So why are so many of the same people who sneer at environmentalists' arguments about preserving wilderness, who happily whip out their cost benefit analysis thinking caps when such arguments come up, perfectly willing to jettison any semblance of rational thought or cost-benefit considerations when it comes to space exploration?
There are footprints on the moon. Big whoop. How does that help me in my life? It doesn’t. And I really like Tang, too.
Pro-Space: We need to go to space to preserve the future of the species.
Pro-Environment: We need to protect the environment to preserve the future of the species.
Pro-Space: We get neat spin-off technologies, like astronaut ice cream.
Pro-Environment: We get neat spin-off technologies, like hydrogen cars.
Anti-Space: We need to wait on manned flight until we know more, and there are better, cheaper technological solutions to the problems it presents
Anti-Environment: We need to wait on cutting greenhouse emissions until we know more, and there are better, cheaper technological solutions to the problems it presents
Pro-Space: Space exploration satisfies a longing in the human soul.
Pro-Environment: Untamed wilderness satisfies a longing in the human soul.
Pro-Space: Anti space people are just luddite, anti-progress, gravity bound trogs.
Pro-environment: Anti-environment people are just greedy, insensitive developers, who don’t care about the world and would pollute their grandmothers' drinking water if they could make a buck on it.
Pro-Space: It would look better if we could get rid of the government top down approach and let private industry attack the problem.
Pro-environment: It would look better if we could get rid of the government top down approach and use market incentives to let private industry attack the problem.
Personally, I’m ambivalent about both the claims of space activists and those of most environmentalists. I’m more sympathetic to the environmental arguments, since the costs there (such as species extinction and habitat loss) are much clearer and more obvious than the supposed benefits of space flight, which seem to mainly focus on intangibles like the human spirit of conquest and exploration.
Regardless of how you feel about things, it seems incontrovertible to me that the US’s current manned space program is a giant boondoggle, a colossal waste of money. They spend 5.5 billion dollars a year on the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station combined. And for what? The Space Station has been done before, twice, and adds nothing new to our knowledge at a cost of scores of billions of dollars. Meanwhile, the Space Shuttle is used to launch satellites at 3-4 times the cost of unmanned rockets, putting lives at risk in the process.
The supposed spin-off benefits are a joke. Neither of these two giant programs is pushing the envelope in a major way. And even if they were, the benefit of the spin-offs would be negligible compared to the cost. For comparison, the entire yearly budget of the National Science Foundation, the primary organization that provides funding for research in the physical sciences in the US, is less than is spent on manned space flight. So if you want new technologies, the Space Shuttle is about the stupidest way imaginable to pursue that goal. You could almost double the amount of basic research going on in the US, together with the fruits it produces, by killing manned space flig
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