Where Has the Spirit of Exploration Gone?

Noted space author Andrew Chaikin has started a video series in response to the drastic cuts proposed for planetary science. This second video in the series features Mars scientist Nathalie Cabrol, who urges America to explore space even in difficult economic times.

Chaikin says he is fighting back against the proposed cuts “with passion — passion for the incredible adventure that began half a century ago and has given us countless wonders and amazing discoveries. I’m making these videos as a call to action.”

26 Replies to “Where Has the Spirit of Exploration Gone?”

  1. The problem is that we’ve all heard this before and it just won’t wash anymore. People are more critical now, thanks to the internet, thanks to informed media. It’s obvious that individuals working space related industries are going to advocate for more attention and funding for their own programs. The people want concrete results here on the earth, not expensive distractions in space. The constant references to the “golden age” of manned exploration during the cold-war is a complete myth and the people know this: the space-race was simply an elaborate (and expensive) technological and scientific posturing event between imperial superpowers. Those days are, thankfully, OVER. The space-advocates need to wake up.

    1. People are more critical now, thanks to the internet, thanks to informed media.

      Like, er… Fox News, eh, dude?

      1. The term ‘Strawman’ only applies to arguments. Ivan wasn’t making an argument – he was paying you out.

      2. Fox News is the epitome of an oxymoron? LOL! I note here the recent Supreme Court ruling ‘Obama Care’ legit… and as the Fox news fakers had only read the first page of the decision and announced it defeated.. a bit prematurely. Fake news and/or propaganda is dangerous and a deterrent to public education and welfare.

        Case in point – Global Warming deniers and the ‘paid for’ or ‘sold out’ scientists who went along with it for profit’s sake.

    2. “The people want concrete results here on the earth, not expensive distractions in space”

      There will always be more basic, immediate and pressing concerns in people’s everyday lives than pushing science and technology forward for their own sake. However, if this argument and variants of it had been accepted throughout history, sweet FA would have ever been achieved. We’d all be living in thatched huts tilling the ground by hand, praying to the non-existent Gods we’d invented to explain our circumstances. Just because the technological spin-offs from space exploration and pure science aren’t necessarily immediate or generally appreciated does not mean they are not numerous and profound. That computer you’re tapping away on now and the internet it’s hooked up to, the components in medical scanners that save your arse when you end up getting cancer (for which the chance is 50% in your life), or even just the digital camera you snap away on all came from tech developed in pursuit of ‘pure’ science or exploration with no immediate application or ‘concrete result’ here on Earth. To suggest that we should cut all funding to the endeavors that give us these things so that Joe Slackjaw down the road can pay 2% less tax is a retarded way of thinking.

      “The constant references to the “golden age” of manned exploration during the cold-war is a complete myth and the people know this: the space-race was simply an elaborate (and expensive) technological and scientific posturing event between imperial superpowers.”

      It was the golden age of manned exploration. It doesn’t matter what the motivations were. And when you say expensive, it has been estimated that the economic gain far outweighed the initial investment. Here is a list of tech spinoffs just from Apollo – note that this does not include the fact that Apollo drove the design and development of things like ICs and materials science: http://spinoff.nasa.gov/apollo.htm

      And here is a list of other NASA spinoff tech:


      Is that concrete enough for you?

      “Those days are, thankfully, OVER.”

      Yeah, until it happens all over again. Note China’s meteoric trajectory into the space game. Do you really think that they’ll be content with merely doing what the Yanks have already done 50 years ago? Or are they going to go big and make a name for themselves, to demonstrate the power and prestige of their tech? And how do you think the US will react when they are about to get shown up by the new superpower on the block? Countries are always in a pissing competition with each other. I don’t see how that is going to change, ever.

      1. Whigism: you’re using a historical fallacy to justify your lust for space empire. I, and I think most people, see right through that smoke screen.

        “To suggest that we should cut all funding to the endeavors that give us these things so that Joe Slackjaw down the road can pay 2% less tax is a retarded way of thinking.”

        What the F? Strawman AGAIN

        “Do you really think that they’ll”

        Do you think I approve of what China does in space? Do two wrongs make a right?

      2. I looked up “whigism” and apparently it’s something to do with parliamentary politics and catholicism. Can you elaborate?

    3. “Those days are, thankfully, OVER. The space-advocates need to wake up.”

      Tell me do you have a satellite TV? Do you use GPS navigation? Do you use street-view? Do you watch weather forecasts? Hugh?

  2. Another point of contention for me is the constant references by the proponents of space exploration to the European invasion and colonization of the Americas. Several reasons why the comparison is not apt: 1) the colonization of America resulted in terrible cultural and civilization destruction, not to mention death for millions of Amerindians. 2) America had already been “explored” and “discovered” for thousands of years before European colonizers arrived. 3) The assumption that the western frontier is equivalent to the “space frontier” is a fallacy. I advice proponents of space exploration to STOP making this comparison. It makes them sound like ignoramus with no understanding of history.

    1. It is a strange choice for comparison. A better choice would be comparison with exploration of Antarctica, or the sea depths – places that offer knowledge and technical accomplishment but not resources (unlike the West, where resources were the primary motivation for exploration).

  3. As I have said before, in order for there to be a long term human presence in space there must be an economic purpose for humans to be there. The closest thing I can see is solar power satellites. Human might be required to make journeys to geosynch in order to deploy and maintain this system which effectively takes a part of the power grid off Earth. This might be the first baby step in this direction. People are not going to head off to homestead on Ganymede. The conditions are far too severe for that to work. A long term presence in space, say out to Jupiter, will only happen a century or two after something like solar power satellites.

    In the 15th century the Ottoman Turks gained control of the Asian trade routes, such as the Silk road. The incentive for “exploration” was really commercial and frankly exploitation. Columbus sailed west with the idea of reaching China. The American continents just happened to be in the way. The purpose was to make trade with the far east. By the same measure human presence in space must be motivated by economic concerns for there to be some long term future for us as a space faring species.

    1. well lets face some facts… we are now seeing what the limits of a closed system Economy can achieve and without out some kind of long term goals and plans the whole things will soon collapse. What good is money when you’ve over farmed over mined and over populated? you cant just buy your way out of the mess we are creating. If its incentive we need how about we teach everyone the actual state of our society and planet and get past the business as usual model. All that said Education is the 1 issue we cant fix issues with a ignorant passive “drone” work force, all that does is maintain the status quo. Space is our future so lets grow a pair and get to it otherwise we will simply fade into nothing…

      1. What’s frontierism? I can’t find a definition on the internet. Also I’m not sure what your comment is trying to say with it. Are you agreeing or disagreeing that “space is our future”?

      2. The space future with humanity colonizing space and becoming a space faring species is very uncertain. Don’t get me wrong, my area of study is cosmology and relativity and I am a big supporter of space telescopes, space based instrumentation, probes and so forth. Space science of this sort can be done largely without humans directly in space. Further, such programs have yielded far more in the way of scientific results than manned space programs have. These programs have yielded far more than the ISS, which has produced very little in the way of scientific or technological results. The ISS is the primary manned program, and its track record is not terribly encouraging.

        There is a difference between space science and space exploration, where the latter involves humans trekking to other planets, traversing their surface setting up outposts and so forth. If there is a future for this it must be motivated by economic concerns. Otherwise manned space programs will be a “spin in” process that consumes resources and money, and there is no long term future for that.

        The next step in space commercial activity I think is solar power satellites. The commodity is massless, similar to space communication technology. This might requires a human presence in order to deploy and maintain these large light collecting satellites. This then could in time lead to more permanent human presence. This then could be bootstrapped to other space industries, maybe asteroid mining and other activities later in this century.


      3. always the pragmatist LC.
        It’s a bit disheartening to realize the ‘space race’ was largely military posturing. The brinkmanship of the otherwise disinterested.

        There will need to be the potential for money to be made for the endeavors to continue. Robotic tech will always be needed for space exploration. That is where the action is in the near term. Objects will require surveying before they can be mined. The internet (courtesy the particle physicists) will allow us all to explore concurrently.

        Persons either posses driving curiosity or not. There is always the option to change the channel.

      4. Space science will have some economic spin offs. The development of better detection methods, robotic control systems, AI infrastructure, and so forth can have applications here on Earth. If our space future is with space telescopes, sensitive detection of new physics, robotic exploration of planets and so forth then that future will be comparatively small. Most space science systems are not terribly large, say the size of a city bus at the largest.

        Science fiction tends to portray a space future with colossal manned spacecraft crossing distances to planets with extensive colonies and the rest. The Discover spaceship on 2001 a Space Odyssey as 200 meters or so in length, and the Star Trek Enterprise starships were 1000 meters or more in length. Then there is Death Star in the Star Wars movies. If humanity 1000 years from now exists in space faring conditions in any manner parallel to these scenarios these infrastructures will have been developed by supporting themselves economically.

      5. I like your description: ‘closed system economy’… Which I view as greed based market economics. ‘Material acquisition at any cost!’ has become the mantra and is represented by it’s attack on science and education. Shame! We are living in a period of intellectual extinction designed to promote the welfare of the few through the manipulation of the many. This is done through a constant media barrage of half truths and out right lies by a basically 6 monolithic media corporations/organizations and their lobbyist minions.

        How did this happen? We allowed our government to be purchased by the highest bidder! And NOW we face the consequences of that folly. There are some things that should be done immediately: 1) Corporations are NOT citizens! Repeal Supreme Court ruling #08-205! 2) Reinstate the Glass/Steagal Act! 3) Abolish the Telecommunications Act of 1996! Reinstate laws concerning Media ownership: Those changes that have allowed stations to have multiple channels and outlets.

        Then… maybe… we could reach for the stars! and not have our wallets lifted in the mean time?

    2. My god man. If space exploration “must be motivated by economic concerns” you are effectively saying that space exploration is not worth our time for purely humanistic reasons. 🙁

      1. I have mixed opinions on that. I do think though that if there is some future for something like solar power satellites it may be the Space-X and Elon Musk types who manage to work it into commercial reality. This is not to say I think the whole space business should be turned over to private companies.


      2. ‘Private concerns’ will do ‘exploration’ mostly in the hope of finding useful resources.

        Government-funded ‘exploration’ will be more nearly of a pure science nature. It will still be done by any government (and in some instances, this, will also be done private entities, but not for business reasons) willing to do so.

        These are not mutually exclusive activities, and should not be thought of as such.

        But they will require many of the *same* technologies, in order to be economically done. (Your propulsion and life-support systems, for example, don’t care if you’re going to the asteroids to mine them, or just study them. The C-130 wasn’t developed *just* to support Antarctic exploration, yet it happens to be able to serve that end well, among a great many others.) The more reasons to develop economical systems to support human spaceflight in general, the more benefit to all possible users, including those who would not have been a sufficient market for development, by themselves.

        Even Apollo was not done purely for science, it was one aspect of the Cold War. But science *was* rightly along for the ride. Yes, you can argue that ‘more science’ could have been done for the same money with machines, but the Apollo level of funding would never have been granted for that, and what Lunar scientist would send back the material and data gained from human presence?

        No one will spend *that* kind of money today, either (time was more important than money, in the 60’s…there is no geopolitical ‘race’ now), but technology has moved ahead in the meantime, and a great deal can be done, with existing budgets, in non-‘crash’ programs, once we throw off the mindset that manned spaceflight has to *look* like the way we once did it, as well.

  4. Space and technology need monetary support. It must compete on a list of the other priorities of a government. Money could be likened to the potential energy needed to make all things possible; Hence, a bank vault is like a large battery storing all this potential energy. Except, vaults don’t leak like batteries. The point is, if we continue on the policies of amassing potential energy into the batteries of a few magnetic individuals, and say they just don’t give a damn about anything else, there will be no energy for anything. We can all just lay around the shack, nothing will move, no higher education, no space, broken bridges ect. Ofcourse, we could just get off our arse and work for free. If we could manage to get people on the moon, just think what they would do for a tomatoe.

  5. I get a real sense of DE-javu listening to this debate. That we are cutting off our nose to spite our face?

    Sci-Fi short story subject: A group of intelligentsia sees the end of our times approaching as life every where on the planet continues to head toward extinction. They gather resources and produce a gigantic spaceship.. that they call ‘The Ark’… They load it with all the homesteading tools and live stock they can and leave the solar system, headed for an earthlike planet discovered orbiting a nearby red dwarf.

    Centuries pass… and they’ve come back and don’t like what they see. Even now, one of their ships is gravitationally herding a large cometary body to set it on a collision course with earth.

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