Saturday, July 18, 2009

There is no important science in space

There is no important science in space.

Ok, there is Hubble and a few other space telescopes which are actually important. But the general theme stays true. All those probes we send to other planets, they are sightseeing. They take a lot of pretty pictures, and collect data about other objects in the solar system, but that data is essentially useless. All those microgravity experiments on the space station, they also don't matter. I don't think I have ever heard of a result with real impact coming from it.

The reason this bugs me is that I occasionally hear people argue we should cancel our manned space program because we could do everything more efficiently with robots. If all we ever send to space is robots though we may as well stay on earth. All we would gain by this route is a couple books full of meaningless data, and a few picture books of our solar system. The only reason to bother with space is to ultimately colonize it. The only real way this happens is if we make orbital travel cheap. Space travel is just too expensive. This is not an inherent problem, if you look at the kinetic energy of an object at escape velocity, that calculate how much that amount of energy costs on the electrical grid you find it costs just a few cents. Clearly if we build a new space shuttle design every five years we can build on our failures until costs are a fraction of what they are today.

Unfortunately it does not appear that Obama agrees with me here. As far as I can tell they are asking NASA to scale down the successor to the space shuttle. That gives me little hope that they will redirect money away from almost everything else NASA does into new engines and shuttle designs.

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