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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The why of (human) space-exploration

A frequently occurring debate I have is with the question whether or not we should have space-exploration (and as a subset: human vs. robotic space exploration). This involves the "we should spend the money on other things, like combating worldhunger"-arguments, as the more subtile arguments which is better: human or robotic exploration.

I have pondered a long time about this, and this is my conclusion:

We all heard the reasoning for abolishing space-exploration (particular human-based) before, and I think the major flaw in all these 'arguments' why we shouldn't go into space is that they always set economic factors as a premise.

But, although economic viability is important to create a mass-usage of space(travel), I fail to see why it should be the only possible motive to start exploring space. It's a pretty narrow-minded, materialistic and typical capitalistic view on things. It's the same view that makes progress on medication for very rare diseases, or for diseases that are prevalent in continents that are poor, so slow: corporations can't see how they are ever going to get profit out of it, so they all turn their backs on it.

If ppl (including states) are only going to do something when they are sure of an immediate profitable return, the world has become a sad place. (And we should leave it the sooner ;-)

Arguments based on such a viewpoint fail to recognize other incentives apart from economical ones.

And the reason why we shouldn't (only) rely on robots? You can explore, but you can not colonize with robots. The will to explore is deeply entrenched in the human race, but with a reason: it has survival advantages.

A species that doesn't colonize new territory and adapt, will perish. I think it's paramount that humans always keep their spirit of adventure and keep exploring and expanding, because the moment we will go "ah, let's sit back in our sofa's and let our robots/droids do it", we're basically finished, even when not being aware of it at that moment.

So, to to all the people saying we don't *need* space-exploration (human or otherwise); we don't *need* the pyramids neither, nor all those great buildings and artworks, nor any luxury, etc. The only thing we 'need' is food and shelter. Based on what we truly 'need' thus, we should go back living like cavemen. But of course, we don't, and the reason is that we, as humans, look beyond our immediate needs and have (and should have) grander visions.

So, economics (and also the ratio of costs/science output) is often less good with human space-travel then robotic ones. Contrary to some zealots, I do not dispute that. But, as I have indicated, I do not think one should measure everything in terms of economic benefits. Even if you could send a hundred, or a thousand robots for the price of one human mission, it still would not change the fact that robots can't colonize planets, and augment the survival chances of the human race (and earths' ecology) through interplanetary spreading.


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