In 1957, Sergei Pavlovich Korolev was building ICBMs for the Soviet Union. He wasn’t a fervent communist, as Stalin had sent him to the Gulags in 1938, where he stayed until 1945.
Anyway, none of the ICBMs he built were functional. He was using liquid fuel, which was much more powerful but less stable. Liquid fuel rockets had to be filled with fuel immediately before launch because they were liable to explode randomly if left fueled. This is in contrast to solid fuel rockets, which are less powerful but can be launched on command, precisely what is needed for an ICBM. Luckily for the world, Sergei Pavlovich didn’t care about the Soviet ICBM program. He just wanted to explore space. So he built terrible ICBMs but made incredible technological breakthroughs. I am convinced he is why we’re alive, because Khruschev was a trigger happy lunatic. (3) Think of how much worse the Cuban Missile Crisis would have been if he actually had something to back it up. (1)
Anyway, after a rocket launch, Sergei Pavlovich begged Khruschev to let him shoot a radio into orbit. Khruschev said something along the lines of “but there are bigger problems on earth, what if the capitalist West take all the space benefits for themselves?” But Sergei Pavlovich kept bothering him, and since Khruschev didn’t care he finally said yes. That was sputnik.
I hate to paint with a broad brush, but every single space cynic in the world is myopic and a thief of joy. I don’t know what else to say, it’s not a difference in opinions or values, you are simply wrong. You are Khruschev, and I am someone fangirling outside Sergei Pavlovich’s dacha.
I’ll respond to a few of the most common attacks against space research/colonization.
1) There are still problems on Earth.
What an astute observation. However, at what point would you consider Earth post-problem enough to justify this scientific research? Because I would argue that from a caveman perspective, we are essentially post-scarcity and post-problem. But due to relativism, the goalposts keep changing, so this line of argument is intended to put space to bed permanently. But why single out space research specifically? Humans still have problems, so why spend money on PETA? GreenPeace? There are still problems in the US, so why spend anything on foreign aid? Space research is just scientific research, which I imagine many liberal space cynics will be in favor of. Also, where do you think this money is being spent? It’s all on earth. Check out the next section for the space research benefit multiplier. All this research will have dual use applications back on earth. To survive in space, new medical, engineering, and AI research will need to be done, all of which will transform life here on earth.
2) What if there are no spillovers and the goods are all taken for rich people?
I’m going to use the example of genetically engineered super babies from our meeting. The typical product cycle is that goods are available early on for rich people exclusively because of high prices, but as the cost falls, it moves into a mass market. I don’t see why this is inherently evil. I also don’t see why this argument is reserved for space-related things. I would argue that microwaves and cars made a bigger immediate impact than this (gene editing) will, but few (if any) people argued to restrict these goods because they were going to rich people first. Profit is just a marker of value. You heard it here first, the first trillionaire is going to be an asteroid miner. Once this is done, earth destroying resource extraction will be done less and less until it disappears entirely. Manufacturing can also be exported past earth’s orbit.
A 1992 report by a research journal named Nature found that NASA expenditures had a regional effect multiplier from direct and indirect sources of up to 8. The header of the paper reads “The economic benefits of NASA’s programs are greater than generally realized. The main beneficiaries (the American public) may not even realize the source of their good fortune.” NASA has transitioned away from being a direct research organization to what that provides resources and forms partnerships with businesses and outside research groups. A compelling case could be made that this will increase that multiplier.
“But Jake, what if the private companies take their proprietary technology for themselves? That’s not what NASA did!” True, but that is the case for all private R&D, which is not really what this is. There is a complex ecosystem required in space. Any company that figures out how to do something profitable in space will require a great number of inputs to operate successfully. Even Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and the like have to subcontract out to finish their rockets… even though their job is literally to build rockets. Then you add in habitation facilities, communications, life support, etc. into the mix, and you can imagine how widely the benefits would flow. The only way to profitably do space research is to have the end product have useful applications here on earth, which will entail selling it here.
3) Rich people will all leave earth and dominate space.
I saw Elysium too, but it’s off in a variety of ways. First, space is cold, dark, inhospitable, and runs in opposition to our biological makeup. Human beings were molded and shaped on Earth. Space is not that, and it will suck. The people who will be forced into space will be poor people displaced by war, climate change, or some other disaster, in the same way that European immigrants to the New World were the poor and huddled masses. It’s an equilibrium restoring mechanism.
Space is great, and for a full explanation please see the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ilcRS5eUpwk
There may or may not be a rebuttal post coming from a space cynic in the coming days.