Why I believe space exploration matters


More than anything, the dreams of the unknown and the excitement of the frontier are what make space exploration important and humanity growing mentally. When we stop dreaming, we start dying. We’ll curl up in our little corner and fade away.


Virgin Atlantic is not really space exploration but space exploitation. Space exploration, like the ISS and Rosetta will continue and commercial manned space flight will come, just a question of when. But the failing of SpaceShipTwo or the Antares are like the failing of the start of a commercial satellite. It won’t stop space exploration.


It’s nice to hear from someone who is engaged in social justice issues (and incidentally, also an artist) speak to the importance of space exploration. The Virgin program may not have the current ambition of doing much more than helping billionaires escape earth’s gravity for a few minutes, but this all played out before with air travel. We are watching space flight become mundane, and I can’t help but feel that is an important goal as well. The lessons learned in conjunction with the technologies that are being developed will eventually benefit regular people; that is manifestly obvious from the last 200 years of progress. We may not ourselves go to space, but we can work to make sure that the distribution of the impact of these new marvels is equitable.

Another way to look at it is that Richard Branson has managed to create a research program that is heavily subsidized by its rich, adventure seeking patrons. I suppose this is one of the few times where trickle-down economics works…


“In 1946, a NASA satellite gave us the first scratchy black and white photo of one tiny segment of Earth from space…”

The first US satellite was Explorer 1, in August 1958 and NASA was not created until 2 months later.


I’m a fan of such exploration for numerous reasons, one of which being that we’ve got to get off this planet and distribute ourselves if the human race is to have any sort of long-term shot at survival on geologic or even cosmic scales (and that’s a long, long, long shot, to be sure).
These most recent disasters have only underlined the importance of government in getting things started and doing the insanely iterative and down-to-every-detail testing that’s necessary to even have mildly off-the-shelf components for space-based travel or even tourism. Private industry loves to talk about how agile it is to the demands of the market, and for many industries that might be true. Things like ultra-deep submarines or space shuttles, however, require a wholly different level of research commitment and focus to dream up the technologies that will then be tweaked and scaled to the point where they can be made production ready.

So essentially the argument here boils down to “Dreams! Inspiration! Desires!”, making some sort of absurd suggestion that humanity cannot survive without pie-in-the-sky pipe dreams? That without some new physical frontier to push into (with the unspoken intention of exploiting the hell out of), we’re all doomed?

Space is huge, deadly, and empty. Even if we were to magically develop as-yet-completely-theoretical advanced propulsion systems, our nearest neighboring star would still take half a century to reach, each way. Remote communications, traveling at the speed of light, would still take nearly four and a half years, each way. Even if there were resources to exploit, we couldn’t.

Not only would nothing of physical value ever reach Earth from Alpha Centauri, no meaningful dialogue would ever occur due to the time lag. We might conceiveably receive one-way research data and observations packages, allowing us a small degree of interstellar paralax when examining the absurdly distant depths of space, but that assumes a permanent, successful, isolated, self-sustaining colony - the creation of which would be an utterly absurd undertaking and an investment of such massive scale as to be staggering, with a promise of very, very little return.

Short of some miraculous FTL technology being developed, we and our descendants are never, ever going to have any meaningful ability to interact with the cosmos. Put away your absurd pop culture sci-fi misconcenptions of grand empires stretching across the stars - it simply isn’t possible.

And before anyone decries my lack of vision and spirit, I ask this - why does no one seem to have grand dreams of an earth-centric utopian future? Why do we romanticize trying to solve our problems by finding new frontiers to exploit, instead of romanticizing trying to solve our problems by finding peace and good sense among ourselves at home?

People may cling to dreams of a grand space frontier if they must - but I for one would rather face the problems of earth in rational ways.


Also the blooper reel of the previous attempt, the Vanguard TV3, deserves a honorary mention.

We can also put a homage to earlier post here, about the military slang, with the new names coined for the unsuccessful response to Sputnik.
The most well known name coined by the gleeful journos is “Kaputnik”, with “Flopnik”, “Dudnik”, “Oopsnik” and “Stayputnik” being other variants.

I think the appeal of space travel is pretty much the same appeal of the singularity and of the afterlife. People don’t like the idea that they (and the entire human species) will eventually die and cease to exist. So people have dreams of escaping it. But tough. We and our species will eventually die. Maturity comes in accepting mortality and deciding what to do with limited time.

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And full of resources - metals, helium-3, solar energy.

Assuming no cheat in physics. We know next to nothing about the nature of space-time. Claiming there is no way to curve the space sounds to me like claiming that rocks cannot fall from the sky because there are no rocks there.

So somewhat similar to letters being sent over the world just few centuries ago. The claim also rests on the previous assumption of non-user-deformable space.

There are enough resources already within our own solar system to make it worth the hassle. The first significant frontier is the gravity well of Earth; my bet here is on some variant of a space elevator. Which can be designed easier using asteroid-mined materials than moving all of it up from the mud down here.

Again, cross-cultural meaningful dialogue occurred in ancient times when letters and scrolls took years to get from place to place. They did not have the internet back then. Realtime communication is a rather new development, even if it is easy to forget this.

A test run is planned for Mars.

…for which the jury is still out and will be for quite some more time…

Define “meaningful”? The solar system itself is big enough for a few generations of researchers. Meanwhile the physicists can work on the FTL magic.

So many things weren’t possible just few decades ago!

Because of… people?

Finding peace and good sense among ourselves… hmm… the stars are a better bet.

The meek shall inherit the Earth. You can have, or at least fight for, my stuff once I am gone for the stars.

You will also have a wide palette of technologies, crumbles for the space frontier feast, for your use in tackling said problems.


How’s that personal computer working for you? Or your digital watch and cell phone? They were developed for the space program. Not to mention GPS, infrared cameras, satellite TV, Teflon, ultrasound, calculators, pace maker batteries, radiation blocking sunglasses, laser surgery…

The economic benefits of space exploration are enormous. The space program spawns new industries, GENERATES JOBS, inspires kids to become scientists and engineers, GENERATES JOBS, keeps our technology cutting-edge, and oh yeah…GENERATES JOBS. And buddy, the space program is a whole lot cheaper than waging war or handing out corn and soybean subsidies.

Let’s put the “space exploration is a waste of money” canard to rest, please.


Yeah, I was about to comment on the exact same thing as well. He is a great musician, but that statement blew his argument. Also, as an activist, he should see that virgin Galactic is just a company that will provide low orbit thrill rides for rich people. It is actually a joke. Reminds me of Jurassic Park when John Hammond says he doesn’t want the park to be enjoyed just by the rich and the attorney says something about a “coupon day”. There has never been profit in exploration. However the world has profited greatly from NASA spinoff products. I thought he would make a case for NASA to be funded for a manned mission to Mars or a moon base, but even though I empathized with the sci/fi and space race nostalgia, he lost me after that glaring error in timing and the fact that landing men on the moon was not mentioned.

You are confusing aerospace technology with space exploration. A lot of it is useful, but it is almost entirely due to Cold War defense strategies rather than any sci-fi dreams of exploring space. Even the moon mission was really about showing the Rooskies who was boss.

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The unmanned space science missions are not about geo-political one-ups-manship. It is an insult to the scientists and engineers who have opened the universe to us to say they only achieved what they did because of politics. We can all be thankful they did not have such a narrow view.


None of those were actually developed from the space program. They all would have reached the market at the same time if there was no space travel. Integrated circuits, lasers, Teflon, and even Tang were all invented independent of any need of spaceships. GPS came from tests of relativity, and then advanced from the needs of the US Navy.

And even if some things did come from manned space travel, it’s an incredibly costly, wasteful, and polluting way to do it. Look at what came out of Xerox PARC or Bell Labs for a tiny, tiny fraction of the cost. The justification for space travel must come from the travel itself. Or do you think the invention of the modern trauma ward which has saved more lives than the Vietnam War cost justified that war and means we should have more wars?

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Which strikes me as a tired statement that, while arguably true, doesn’t diminish the feat itself or the impact it had on humanity as a whole.


What impact is that, exactly?

Aside from “the feels” that it provided, and the political effects, what tangible impact did the moon landings have? We left some flags and things, took home some rocks, and… what? How did it meaningfully better anyone’s life in a practical sense?

Don’t give me that “Space Age Technology” bullshit. Most of the technology we taut as “Space Age” developments was produced by private companies who weren’t actually part of the space program. Teflon? Microwave ovens? Pace maker batteries? Nothing to do with the space program.

Even the big ticket developments like satellites, GPS, and advanced computers had nothing to do with the moon missions and everything to do with terrestrial warfare. A lot of our cutting edge “Space Age Technology” would be more accurately called “Cold War Technology” - produced not because of the peaceful advances of intrepid space explorers, but because of the militant desires of the politicians and generals who brought the world to edge of nuclear apocalypse.

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! Michael Franti!

/me swoons

So cool to see a beloved musician writing on a beloved site about a beloved topic! I met Michael twice in Byron Bay - once as he walked past my car emblazoned with an “everyone deserves music” sticker and another time when he was busking on a street corner with some locals from whom he then acquired some tasty bud. I’ve also seen his show… maybe 5 or 6 times? Dude has some inspirational lyrics. Another thing they did that was pretty badass (during the Stay Human tour IIRC) was take a pirate radio transmitter with them as they toured and beamed the live show to everyone. So awesome.

Ha… I only just remembered this even happened (must have been very stoned) but I saw Michael Franti play at Sydney University and despite having seen him at a bunch of shows previously I’d never seen him perform Ganja Babe so, during a lull in audience noise, I shouted it out and he and the band kindly obliged right then and there.

For chill, check out Songs From the Front Porch and for some raw goodness check out Stay Human. If you get a chance to go see Spearhead live then do it. Also, this Armageddon version of Bomb the World is the best:

Also at some point, if we don’t manage to destroy ourselves first, the sun is gonna get pretty killy and as a race we’ll have to either go someplace else or just shrug and sip a summer cocktail while awaiting the inevitable.

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Pet peevs:

1 space is not a single envroment. LEO and GEO are different from lunar cycling orbits, and then there’s planetary environments… yet politicians are sold and are selling us on the easiest (not safest) place to put humans that can still be called “space”.

2 manifest destiny won’t get us out of the gravity well, we’ll get there as we’re ready. Manifest Destiny is a powerful narrative, look what it did to the locals when white folks came! But it’s not why people went to the moon, and it won’t be why people go to mars. Nor will tourism do it, either

3 robotic flights are no lesser inspiration than manned flights, and we can do more of them. Humans should be going into space when the job requires it, and by “job” I don’t mean solar power stations or tourism. I don’t think tourists naturally belong in space any more than schoolteacher do. Let’s grow up a little, shall we?

4 it is far more realistic to stop poisoning our nest on this world, than to pretend it’s possible to quickly branch off to a new one. I believe we’ll get there, but only after we’ve earned the keys to this spaceship.

5 Bucky fuller’s spaceship earth rocks. I know, that’s not a peeve.