Monday, August 07, 2006

What's Up With That? Bob Zubrin Speaks Out.

The most recent Mars Society newsletter touting the success of this year's conference has some interesting things to say about the economic development of space.
"In eight years, our ideas have gone from Quixotic to mainstream, and now the task is to make sure they are implemented, and not stopped either by those who oppose the Vision altogether, or those charlatans who are currently peddling fraudulent promises of cheap electricity beamed from Lunar solar power stations in order to lure the public into accepting an initiative degraded to a Moon-only objective.

'They have a fundamentally base understanding of human nature,' [Mars Society President Robert] Zubrin said. "They use deceit, and appeal to greed. They try to tempt people to support space with a false promise of saving them some money at the pump. We say we need to go to Mars because it is the planet that has the resources to support the birth of a new branch of human civilization, because that is what this is really about – creating an open human future where people will have the freedom to be the makers of their worlds, not just the inhabitants of a world already made, and growing ever narrower and more regulated as it seeks to constrain human aspirations to accept ever tighter limits. In the battle of ideas we will beat theirs, because ours are based on truth. We will win by building a movement based on Hope rather than Greed.'" (Here.)
All rightee then.

To give the devil his due there is a kind of unrealistic "space saves the world" idealism that drives many of the ideas for economic development in space, solar power from space included. Comparisons between alleged economic benefits from space elevators or cheap rockets opening the space frontier and the benefits from the transcontinental railroad's opening of the American west ignore a crucial difference between the projects. The railroad was built to link the populations and developed economies of the east and west coasts. The only permanent settlement in space right now is the International Space Station.

And yet, there's nothing base about expecting some kind of economic return on investment in space. It's called fiscal responsibility. It's also the basis of capitalism, which has done more to improve the human condition for more people than any other economic system in history. Indeed, there's something refreshing and idealistic about spacers who try to think of ways that space can be made profitable and beneficial for humanity. At least they are trying to find ways space can improve the human condition.

Moreover, the idea that Mars will be a second home for civilization is no more based on truth than the idea that solar power beamed from the Moon will save the world. Sure Mars has resources for humans to use for settlements. But there is no evidence that humans can live their entire lives and especially produce healthy children in the high radiation low gravity environment that is Mars. Humans evolved in a 1G environment. We still don't know if humans can live permanently in space or if space will always be a place where humans travel temporarily for work and exploration.

Spacers really should stick together to advance our agenda. Advocates of solar satellites and making money in space are not the enemy. If we've got to have an enemy, lets pick on those who think we should do it all in space with robots.


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Republished once for editing.


HA! You're quite funny, you know.

What benefit can be had by sending humans to space? The expense is immense, and robots can do anything that humans can. Admittedly, at 1% of the efficiency of a human, but at a cost of some 1/100th of 1%.

You speak of fiscal responsibility in one paragraph, and then damn robots in another. You speak of Mars as a second home of civilization without any real understanding how difficult the mission is. How much it would cost simply to send a few humans there? Much less than the cost to make it a habitable place!

Don't get me wrong, I believe that people should be in space, that they should go to space, that we need to explore--it's just that there's no reason that we can't benefit now with robots, and send humans later as new technologies and new possibilities emerge. In fact, those robots might be the link that we need to understand things like dark energy, which might be the enabler for deep space human flight.
I'm not sure you really read what I wrote. But whatever.
This is an argument for reducing the cost of humans operating in space (unless you're already convinced it's fundamentally impossible), not for sending only robots.

Of course, cheaper space access benefits robots, too. Should we not root together for this? Or launch nothing but occasional (because that's all that could be afforded) probes on modified ballistic missiles, until the end of time?
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