Why a manned space program?

One of the questions about in the comments to my post on Apollo question asked “Why do we have a manned space program?

That's a fair question, but before I answer it, there are two things I want to talk about.

The first is to give credit where credit is due. A tremendous amount of really good science has been done by unmanned probes, and with the exception of the moon, virtually all our knowledge about the solar system has come from these missions.

The second is to be careful to define what we're discussing. When I talk about “a” manned program, I'm not necessaarily talking about the current manned program.

So, why should we have a manned space program. Well, you should be sure to go read some of the information written by NSS, but here's my opinion:

There is something about personal participation that fires the human imagination. Whether it's climbing Mt. Everest, travelling to the south pole, or flying higher than anybody else, people have always aspired to be the first to do something. Striving to accomplish that which is difficult is a defining human characteristic.

So that's the abstract reason. But there are also practical reasons.

The first reason is that space has the potential to provide nearly limitless resources. Whether it is possible to exploit them economically isn't yet clear, but if we could replace half of the world's coal-fired power plants with solar power satellites, we could make a tremendous reduction in the release of sulpher, radioactive elements, and greenhouse gasses. Clean power from space has a lot of appeal.

There are also opportunities around other resources. If we could mine asteroid iron, our reliance on environmentally-damaging mining on Earth would be reduced.

Given our continued population growth, the ability to spread out and get resources elsewhere is very interesting.

The final reason concerns the long-term survival of the species. We have good evidence to global catastrophe in the past, and without spreading out to other planets, it's fairly certain that such an event will happen again.

So, that's what I think, but those who are smarter and more informed than I am have written a lot on the subject.

Comments (9)

  1. "those who believe that mankind has a future in space should think seriously about how to ease the government out of civilian space activities and how to shut down NASA. Only by approaching this challenge with the same honesty and clarity of mind that were needed to put men on the Moon can we honor the spirit that made that feat possible [three] decades ago."


  2. Luci Sandor says:

    "If we could mine asteroid iron, our reliance on environmentally-damaging mining on Earth would be reduced."

    But AFAIK we can’t. There is an international treaty against economic use of cosmic resources (as with Antarctica). Of course, there’s a treaty against war in space, but the skies are populated by the uselesss debrees of the Reagan’s Star War program. And anyway, there’s an war crimes tribunal we love to avoid, there’s an useless Kyoto treaty etc.

    Sending men in space is like Seinfeld put it about luge – you might get the new world record being tight on the bottom of the space vehicle or of the luge, without willing to participate. No big deal. No heros in the luge, no heroes in the sky. Too many movies for only two eyes.

  3. Dilton McGowan II says:

    Luci, Ricky would not approve. Why attack President Reagan? Star Wars defense was about, defense. Is that a bad thing? Is it possible that there is a much higher percentage of garbage floating around that both parties have created? The subject has less to do with political alignment, and malignment. It’s simply about our future in space.

    Well, we know we can reach the moon. Why not put it to good use? Build a solar panel array and run a really, really long power cable to earth. Everybody gets some.

    Even Catherine would approve.

  4. drebin says:

    I dunno, I don’t buy it. Our energy problem is *SOLVED* with hydrogen and solar. Have you ever read up on hydrogen? And I don’t mean the White House "we’re 50 years away from using hydrogen" write-ups.. I’m talking about the stuff that’s available right NOW? Imagine having a power-plant that pulls the hydrogen from H2O, creates energy and it’s ONLY by product is oxygen.. or even further, what about putting together O3 instead of O2 and CREATING ozone? So not only not destroying the ozone but rebuilding it!!

    THe problems with getting from here to there are political. There are lots of people making BILLIONS that stand to lose that income if hydrogen replace oil.

    So in my mind, you are "changing the tire" on a car that "ran out of gas". You’re giving a solution to a problem we don’t have.

    Secondly, putting human life at risk for questionnable return is a waste of time. If we can’t even get up into space without it costing billions each time – what kind of activity could we do up there that would BEGIN to absorb this cost??

    I’m just sayin’ is all.. 🙂

  5. Kyle Bennett says:

    Drebin, Sure, hydrogen runs clean, but it currently takes more (dirty) energy to get free hydrogen than is produced by burning it. That equation will not likely change dramatically any time soon. Hydrogen might be great for storing and transporting energy, its useless for producing it.

    As to iron, the only way asteroid iron sources would replace terrestrial iron is if the cost is less. The only way that would happen is with draconian penalties for mining terrestrial iron. Even taxed sufficiently to offset or repair the environmental damage of terrestrial mining, its a long, long time till it becomes cheaper to get iron from asteroids. And don’t forget the potential environmental and economic damage of dropping tons of iron from outer space onto the loading docks of US Steel or some such. One little miscalculation and half the city is gone.

    The real promise for extraterrestrial resources is for use in extraterrestrial projects, where the cost of lifting terrestrial supplies from the bottom of our gravity well is prohibitive.

    And I second the Libertarian Guy’s post.

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