4
$\begingroup$

I am an avid space advocate and even studied aerospace engineering in college, however, I still struggle with a great answer to this question: "Why explore space?"

A few days ago an old professor who I really respect posted on a public forum:

I am not concerned about space, the cosmos, or the unending vastness of our universe. I just want to see earth fixed first. Let's feed the hungry and house the homeless, live morally and love one another first. THEN let's worry about space, huh?

Now, I can think of many economical, social, and even political reasons that space exploration is important... but is there a way to suade people who reason in this way? It is easy to talk to people who love space about why we "go there" and "do that", but how do you talk to people who are stuck on the idea that "fixing" the Earth comes first?

$\endgroup$
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Here is a cartoon that gives a good answer (in my opinion): nss.org/settlement/L5news/1981-resources.htm $\endgroup$ – HopDavid Dec 4 '14 at 6:23
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ We should abolish all computers, to instead "fix Earth first". And you should respect that professor no more. $\endgroup$ – LocalFluff Dec 4 '14 at 7:10
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The question is incredibly broad and open-ended, and does not have one objectively valid answer. I have voted to close it. $\endgroup$ – Deer Hunter Dec 4 '14 at 8:13
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I don't think it is broad at all. How do you mean that it could be narrowed? It is a very common question. $\endgroup$ – LocalFluff Dec 4 '14 at 9:14
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Nominate to reopen because of multiple answers from top tier users. Migrate to meta? $\endgroup$ – Jerard Puckett Dec 4 '14 at 16:29
12
$\begingroup$

Because, first, we will never fix everything. Humans are always naturally dissatisfied with their state of affairs, no matter what those are. Reference "first world problems" (see image). Compared to how things were hundreds of years ago, we have already solved all of the problems of that time and are now at what would have been to them an unimaginable level of prosperity. So to them we have now earned the right to explore space, build particle accelerators, etc.

Los Angeles angst

Second, such an argument could, and to be consistent, must be used against many other things. Art. Movies. Sports. Restaurants. Music. Video games. Personal automobiles. Luxury items of any kind. You'll go through most of that well before you get to the dollar level of any space program. There are many things we should forgo until we have "fixed the earth". Ask the professor how he's doing on giving up all that, and by the way, what exactly has he done to fix the earth?

There are many arguments as to why we should invest some tiny, tiny fraction of our global disposable income on space exploration (which is what we do), all of which of course can be contested. But this "fixing the earth first" assertion is far broader, and is clearly silly once those broad implications are exposed.

$\endgroup$
6
$\begingroup$

During a congressional debate regarding Fermilab's very first particle accelerator, Senator Pastore put the following question to the physicist Robert R. Wilson,

Is there anything here that projects us in a position of being competitive with the Russians, with regard to this race?

To which Dr Wilson responded,

Only from a long-range point of view, of a developing technology. Otherwise, it has to do with: Are we good painters, good sculptors, great poets? I mean all the things that we really venerate and honor in our country and are patriotic about.

In that sense, this new knowledge has all to do with honor and country but it has nothing to do directly with defending our country except to help make it worth defending.

Along those same lines, we should indeed be interested in improving living conditions on earth. But ventures such as space exploration are what make life worth living and worth bettering.

$\endgroup$
5
$\begingroup$

Space has always been important for improving life conditions on Earth. The astronomical invention "the calendar" was not only necessary for agriculture, but even before that for migrating hunters and gatherers to time the seasons of suitable activities. Space has also always been necessary for navigation, since tens of thousands of years. And possibly even for some migrating animals.

Thanks to space flight, this has today been hugely expanded with weather satellites and GPS. And space flight has also become essential to a completely new area of benefit to life on Earth: communication.

Your "professor" is obviously uneducated. What else does he say about which he has no knowledge? I recommend you to critically review everything else which this person has claimed. It might also be completely wrong. He seems to be lacking in judgement. Would you please post his identity here?

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

Perhaps this professor (correctly) sees the majority of space exploration being performed by nation-states and therefore via taxation. He also probably (incorrectly) sees the majority of the other things he mentions also being the responsibility of and performed by governments. Finally, he also probably sees the world as a fixed sum -- meaning if we spend more on one, we must spend less on the other.

The first should be corrected -- hopefully with his help. The second is wrong and should be pointed out. The third is a philosophical viewpoint -- pessimistic to the extreme.

$\endgroup$

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.