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  1. #1

    Default Cynicism about space research

    Here is a relatively civil debate between Neil Tyson and Jian Ghomeshi:
    http://www.cbc.ca/video/news/audiopl...pid=2216393889

    In the next Q, a listener's e-mail was read that accused Neil Tyson of having watched too much Star Trek as a kid and that we should focus on the "problems we face here on Earth."

    A few years ago, when Stephen Hawking mentioned the importance of having missions to Mars to work on colonization because of the population growth of the world he was ridiculed with people saying things like "I think we should focus on the things we can do on Earth" (sometimes with a smug, "obviously, this guy is crazy" look on their faces).

    I am not really sure what drives this cynicism about space research, other than perhaps a profound misunderstanding of how progress happens in science and technology, and perhaps also the lack of understanding of the source of the "problems here on Earth".

    1) Research is a sort of networked good. The more nodes and links you can create between those nodes, the more valuable each node (an the whole network) becomes. So funding research on the "most important problems we face" is a little like saying lets focus on putting telephones in only the "most important" houses, or only allow the "most important" computers to connect to the internet. This is foolishness.

    2) The economic "payback" from research is unpredictable. Who in their right mind would put all their money in one stock instead of creating a diversified portfolio? Research payback, I would say, is even more volatile than stocks. Logic would suggest you create a very diverse portfolio just based on this (but even this is less important than the fact that research is a networked good).

    3) Pretty much all the major problems we face "here on Earth" come from the fact "here on Earth" we have limited land on which to live on, grow food on, work on, produce energy on, etc. while the number of people on Earth continues to grow.

    I believe research directly in healthcare, energy, biotech, etc. are very important (that is why I am making a career switch into bio).

    But if you believe that the "solutions" offered by these research avenues will address the limited-land-for-growing-population problem in a long-term manner, you are sorely mistaken.

    The logic of this seems pretty clear. Either you need to get more land/living space/growing space from somewhere (and terraforming oceans here on Earth, with all the implications of that , is the only way we can do this on Earth) or we have to stop the population growth.

    Stopping population growth means making decisions about who lives and who dies, who is allowed to have children, and that sort of thing. If you believe that this is actually an easier route than space-exploration and colonizing the moon or mars...well, I think it is clear we have different moral frameworks.

    4) The immediacy of when the land issue is going to be a problem is lost on some. Many of the estimates I have come across say about four decades. In four decades, the shortage of resources here on Earth are going to have incredibly dystopian effects on the global society. Already, nations are buying up huge tracts of land in other nations to secure their own agricultural and energy needs (obviously at the expense of the long term needs of nations whose land was bought).

    I am not sure why I thought about this at 4:30 AM, but I have insomnia. Perhaps the world's problems actually keep me up at night.

    So, any thoughts?

    Accept the past. Live for the present. Look forward to the future.
    Robot Fusion
    "As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance." John Wheeler
    "[A] scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy." Richard Feynman
    "[P]etabytes of [] data is not the same thing as understanding emergent mechanisms and structures." Jim Crutchfield

  2. #2
    No moss growing on me Giggly's Avatar
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    I fully agree, I wish there was more space research. I'm really disappointed in the slow down of the research. So many great things were accomplished that benefit us now through space research.

    I think people just aren't ready for that sort of change though and probably won't be until we are in dire straights.

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    lab rat extraordinaire CrystalViolet's Avatar
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    I agree there is a fundemental misunderstanding about how science works. I also kinda think that is also what fuels the cynicism about space research.People think that it can all be russled up when we get desperate, like in the movies.
    It's also why civilizations rise and fall, people fail to acknowledge problems. Problem takes care of overpopulation. People who think outside of the box either get squished, or leave. I'm honestly a bit sad about people's cynicism.
    Currently submerged under an avalanche of books and paper work. I may come back up for air from time to time.
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    Senior Member KDude's Avatar
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    To hell with that guy. It's because of these rednecks that I don't have warp drive yet.


    Yeah, I'm a sensor blah blah blah being down to earth is supposed to be my thing. But earth kind of sucks, now that we know what's out there. Tyson doesn't want to state it that way, but I will. Besides, I think if people united on big common causes like science, it might help political/social barriers, in an indirect way.

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    Post Human Post Qlip's Avatar
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    FYI, you couldn't practically create large colonies and move large amounts of people. Moving people off the earth is incredibly expensive and we no way of doing it that would be cost effective. Project Orion was promising but for some strange reason people don't want to use nuclear bombs as propulsion.

    But yeah, exploration and study for it's own sake has payed off for humankind, and I believe is necessary for us to continue to fund.

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    Senior Member UniqueMixture's Avatar
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    I think most people in america are skeptical of science in general particularly as it is seen as in opposition to the cultural underpinnings of many in the us. In a sense statements like this tend to undermine the value of people's everyday lives. We tend to become attached to that which we interact with most in our day to day lives. Since few people "interact" with space they tend not to value it. Conversely because we interact with people daily people tend towards humancentrism or anti-humanism if marginalized.
    For all that we have done, as a civilization, as individuals, the universe is not stable, and nor is any single thing within it. Stars consume themselves, the universe itself rushes apart, and we ourselves are composed of matter in constant flux. Colonies of cells in temporary alliance, replicating and decaying and housed within, an incandescent cloud of electrical impulses. This is reality, this is self knowledge, and the perception of it will, of course, make you dizzy.

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by Qlip View Post
    FYI, you couldn't practically create large colonies and move large amounts of people. Moving people off the earth is incredibly expensive and we no way of doing it that would be cost effective.
    Well, yeah. That is the way things have usually worked in technology. Even once something became technically feasible, it has been cost-prohibitive till it wasn't.

    Both figuring out how to make something, and how to make it cheaper are important aspects of engineering.

    It is, in-fact, one of the classic engineering problems. Something looks "impossible" based on current numbers/estimations of costs. So we make a systematic review of the assumptions behind the "impossibility" and see if we can severely alter the truth of the estimation. (Note an "impossibility" due to cost is the type I am talking about, not an impossibility due to physics).

    The biggest component of cost these days of getting things into space is the rocketry. Although companies like SpaceX are bringing those costs down, something like a space elevator would be a "holy grail" in this regard (the need for rockets is severely diminished).

    As far as I can tell, we haven't been doing well in improving tensile strength per unit density of tethers, but there is hope in the Carbon Nanotube and Boron Nitride Nanotube communities. There is also a space elevator conference coming up in a few days. (http://spaceelevatorconference.org/default.aspx) We shall see what comes up.

    Accept the past. Live for the present. Look forward to the future.
    Robot Fusion
    "As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance." John Wheeler
    "[A] scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy." Richard Feynman
    "[P]etabytes of [] data is not the same thing as understanding emergent mechanisms and structures." Jim Crutchfield

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    Senior Member UniqueMixture's Avatar
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    @ygolo Actually, there is a magnetic launch pad that could launch many objects in a cost effective manner into orbit, however ay least 480(?) I believe payloads would need to be delivered per year to make it cost effective.

    Edit:

    My bad 300 launches per year to bring the cost to $746/kilogram as of 2006
    For all that we have done, as a civilization, as individuals, the universe is not stable, and nor is any single thing within it. Stars consume themselves, the universe itself rushes apart, and we ourselves are composed of matter in constant flux. Colonies of cells in temporary alliance, replicating and decaying and housed within, an incandescent cloud of electrical impulses. This is reality, this is self knowledge, and the perception of it will, of course, make you dizzy.

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    Post Human Post Qlip's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by UniqueMixture View Post
    @ygolo Actually, there is a magnetic launch pad that could launch many objects in a cost effective manner into orbit, however ay least 480(?) I believe payloads would need to be delivered per year to make it cost effective.

    Edit:

    My bad 300 launches per year to bring the cost to $746/kilogram as of 2006
    It's worth mentioning that this solution is only good for non living payloads due to the large G-forces. Still, very cool and useful.

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by UniqueMixture View Post
    @ygolo Actually, there is a magnetic launch pad that could launch many objects in a cost effective manner into orbit, however ay least 480(?) I believe payloads would need to be delivered per year to make it cost effective.

    Edit:

    My bad 300 launches per year to bring the cost to $746/kilogram as of 2006
    It may be one way to get things into space for cheaper, so it seems worth pursuing.

    But even in concept, even with the circular track, we are talking about 2000g. There may be equipment that can survive this, but not people.

    Accept the past. Live for the present. Look forward to the future.
    Robot Fusion
    "As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance." John Wheeler
    "[A] scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy." Richard Feynman
    "[P]etabytes of [] data is not the same thing as understanding emergent mechanisms and structures." Jim Crutchfield

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