By Jeffrey G. Liss, NSS Board of Directors
The smart answer — more than 40 years after Apollo 11 landed on the Moon — to why we go into space, is: “We must.”
Space Pays! — The Space Program Has Paid for Itself
It is a myth that we cant afford space. Confirmation that space pays may be found in the 1989 Chapman
Research report, which examined just 259 non-space applications of NASA technology during just 8 years, 1976-1984, and found more than:
- $21.6 billion in sales and benefits
- 352,000 (mostly skilled) jobs created or saved
- $355 million in federal corporate income taxes
Other benefits, not quantified in the study, included: state corporate income taxes, individual personal incometaxes (federal and state) paid by those 352,000 workers, and incalculable benefits resulting from lives saved and animproved quality of life.
The 259 applications represent only about 1% of an estimated 25-30,000 space program spinoffs. The benefits were in addition to benefits in the space industry itself and in addition to the ordinary multiplied effects ofgovernment spending. When space program money was spent, new industries were left behind to generate moremoney (e.g., computers, electronics, fabrics, composites, ceramics, metallurgy). Without the focus of our spacegoals, such cutting-edge technologies would not have emerged.
Long-Term — Expanding Our Resources Base
We can’t keep subdividing Earth’s resource pie; we need to make the pie bigger. It is the promise of resources from the Moon, Mars, asteroids and the Sun that makes space such a hope for our future. World population is likely to double within 40 years and re-double shortly after that; world resources will not. In space, solar power is infinite (reducing the need to use forests and oil and coal merely for fuel, and eliminating the pollution they cause), as are asteroid metals. These unlimited resources would enable us to reduce the plundering of our planet. But to obtain these resources will require large structures in space and the rockets to get there. Learning how to build those things to obtain such space resources is a long step-by-step process. If we want to have those resources before it is too late, we have to start now.
The Value of the Frontier
Space indeed is the next frontier, both of geography and technology. History teaches that no society has ever gone wrong betting on the frontier. This nation was invigorated spiritually, and prospered economically, by challenging and finding new uses for one frontier after another. Our massive subsidies of roads, railroads, air travel, and other technology in order to exploit them were amply rewarded.
Effect of Leadership on Earth
Leadership in space does translate to influence on Earth. We should recall, first with Sputnik and then with the U.S. Echo balloon and the Soviet Mir space station, how much Earthbound watchers developed awe, respect, and then deference to the nations whose tangible symbol was visible overhead nightly.
Effect on Students
The manned space program has provided among the most significant elements in directing our young people into math and science. It reaffirms both a belief in the future and encourages our students that they, too, can shape it. Dropping the program would leave an unfillable void.
Defense Against Comets and Meteors
Numerous comets and asteroids cross Earth’s orbit every year, most not yet discovered. In 1994 the world witnessed the cataclysmic collision with Jupiter of the Shoemaker-Levy 9 Comet, which, had it struck the Earth, might have caused planet-wide upheavals like those that extinguished the dinosaurs. Had Shoemaker-Levy been on course for Earth, the time between discovery and impact was so short that, with our existing space capability, we could have done nothing to prevent the collision. A thriving space program — especially one with the technologies and capabilities developed to support humans in space — will give us at least a fighting chance to stave off such an occurrence should it arise.
Why Send People
Only humans in space have the power to stir our souls and inspire us to reach for the best within us.
Limitations of Robotics
Off-Earth resources cannot be developed or exploited by robots alone. They lack flexibility. People will be needed to build, maintain, fix the machinery — and to tinker on the spot to make the next logical developments.
Stimulus of Needing to Protect Humans
Many space technologies would not have been developed for unmanned probes.
What we have already learned about the human body in space — where physical disabilities of aging such as bone and muscle deterioration occur quickly — promises to benefit every human on Earth. We can’t learn more without having people up there for long periods.
Moving potentially hazardous technological and biological research off the planet could help protect Earth and its biosphere.
The ultimate purpose of going into space is to live and work there — just as the ultimate purpose of exploring the New World was colonization — and not merely to sit back on Earth and cogitate about what automated spacecraft report back. We do not send our cameras to the Grand Canyon; we go ourselves. We sent Lewis and Clark not just to describe the American West, but to learn where and how people could live there. America grew by sending out seeds in different places and then filling the spaces with trade and industry and new ideas. People have always found ways to prosper from their environments, however harsh, and we will do so in space as well. We cannot begin to live and work in space without first going there. And, it is human destiny to escape the cradle of our planet of birth.
President John F. Kennedy ultimately will be most remembered for setting this nation on the road to space, even though it was temporary. But the statesmen who lead mankind permanently to space will be remembered when Isabella the Great and Columbus are long forgotten.