Monday, January 14, 2008

Is Space Exploration Worth the Costs?

Over at the Freakonomics Blog Stephen Dubner asks this question to a panel of 'space authorities'. The post is a long one, but the consensus is yes, space exploration is worth the costs. I'd like to comment on some of the answers.

Let's start with G. Scott Hubbard. He states, in part
2. We explore space and create important new technologies to advance our economy. It is true that, for every dollar we spend on the space program, the U.S. economy receives about $8 of economic benefit.
I'm inclined to be skeptical of this figure, but even it is accurate we have to ask the question "compared to what?" Mr. Hubbard has apparently never heard of Frederic Bastiat. I won't rehash the seen/unseen argument, so go read it yourself.

Along with the seen/unseen argument there is a political angle to this as well. How would politics be different if there weren't billions of dollars available for the taking by crafty politicians trying to buy votes with extravagant projects for congressional districts?

Mr. Hubbard continues:
3. Space exploration in an international context offers a peaceful cooperative venue that is a valuable alternative to nation state hostilities. One can look at the International Space Station and marvel that the former Soviet Union and the U.S. are now active partners. International cooperation is also a way to reduce costs.
Umm...didn't we race into space to beat the Soviet Union, not to cooperate with them? Yes, it's great that we cooperate now, but that's not the way it was from the beginning.

Some more from Mr. Hubbard:
4. National prestige requires that the U.S. continue to be a leader in space, and that includes human exploration. History tells us that great civilizations dare not abandon exploration.
'National prestige' reeks of nationalism to me which contradicts #3 above with regards to 'peaceful cooperation'. Maybe we need fewer 'great' civilizations and more that respect basic rights of the individual. Besides, I hear this argument from every do-gooder and 'grand' thinker who wants to solve some big problem or erect some monument to our greatness. I say to these people "open your wallet and get your fingers out of mine."

Having said all of that, I have always been a fan of astronomy and space exploration. I love hearing about new discoveries and seeing images from the Hubble Space Telescope. I even listen to the Astronomy Cast on a regular basis. I just don't think it's right to force others to fund my hobbies. Maybe if I had less of a tax bite I could privately fund some of these efforts.

More to come...maybe.

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