Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Spending Money on Space

As somebody who cares about rational argument, I dislike it when people use stupid arguments - even when they are defending something that I believe in.

One such stupid argument is a response to this objection against space exploration:

The objection to space exploration goes as follows: "NASA gets $100 million to land a robot on Mars. Please explain to me how that helps the sick and the poor on Earth?"

The stupid response (often delivered in a condescending attitude) is: "Don't you realize that the money is being spent on earth?"

So, responder, are you really telling me that you see no difference between spending $100 million to provide children in impoverished countries with basic nutrition and medical care and spending $100 million to put a rover on Mars?

In both cases, the money gets spent on Earth. However, in one case, in addition to spending $100 million on earth, we also get $100 million spent on feeding children and providing them with basic medical care. And, in the other case, we get a rover on Mars. Do you truly think that these things are equal?

I support space exploration. However, I try not to use stupid arguments to defend it.

A part of my argument is this:

The first is that, of all the things we waste money on, space exploration is pretty far down the list. Let's look at the $600 billion we spend each year on sports, on creating television sitcoms, on jewelry, on island cruises, on eating out in restaurants, on playing computer games. If we spent that money providing food and medical care to sick and starving children, we would have run out of sick and starving children long ago.

And it does no good to complain about the "lost jobs". The jobs lost in the sports, entertainment, jewelry, and restaurant business would be transferred to the "getting children enough to eat and basic medical care" business. And that is not a bad thing.

The second part is that providing poor children with food and basic medical care is not the only thing that matters.

Understanding the effects of our actions on Earth also matters. Any scientist worth his salt will tell you that you can learn little if you only study one example of a planet in trying to determine what planets are like. That is like studying just one child and claiming that one can know everything there is to know about children, or studying just one plant and claiming one can know everything there is to know about planets. To understand the Earth, we have to compare it to other planets - and the planets in our own solar system provide the best source of comparison (though the list of possible comparisons is growing).

Furthermore, the survival of the human race also matters. Right now, we suffer from the "all eggs in one basket" problem. Prudence dictates putting our eggs in multiple baskets. Of course, this implies learning something about possible alternative baskets.

Now, it is my view that a planet is a poor place to build a civilization. I favor cities in space. The material floating in the asteroid belt, if converted to space cities, can build cities equal to 30,000 earths. And since, by far, the most important material needed for building these space cities is mass (as a shield from radiation), almost nothing in space will get wasted in this instruction. However, there are merits to putting some of those eggs on Mars and, from this, there is a reason to study Mars.

These are my arguments. But these arguments do not defeat the claim that providing poor children with food and basic medical care is important - and may be a better use of the money. Yet, there are huge pools elsewhere that there are far more reasons to draw from. How about . . . the next time a city puts up a bond to build a $300 million sports stadium, they put out a bond to provide poor children with food and basic medical care instead.

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