Sunday, January 13, 2008

Everyone agrees

Scholars, I was very intrigued to see this on the Freakonomics blog. (Actually, I saw a link to it on Slashdot.) The headline "Is Space Exploration Worth the Cost?" caught my geeky eye, and I looked forward to reading a Freakonomics (read: challenging and iconoclastic) analysis of the question. Also, this is a question that people ask me ALL THE TIME so I'm always looking to crib new answers.

Be warned, it's long—but it can all be easily summarized with one word: YES. And the reasons are not very groundbreaking, scholars. I caught a hint that this would be the case in the introduction.

For the impatient among you, here are a few highlights:
Logsdon on a not-so-obvious incentive for manned space travel: “Space exploration can also serve as a stimulus for children to enter the fields of science and engineering.”

This is a not-so-obvious incentive? Um, the argument that space exploration inspires children is one that I hear ALL THE TIME. And it's also frankly not one of the best arguments where cost is concerned. If we wanted to spend $7 billion dollars a year encouraging kids to take more of an interest in science and engineering, I bet we could spend it more efficiently (a good place to start would be, hello, improving science and math education in public schools). All of those arguments about space exploration paying off in the form of things on earth, including inspired schoolchildren, Velcro, and pens that write upside down (hey, don't knock them, I have one and it's awesome) are inherently troublesome. If we want things to happen on earth, we should spend the money on earth. If we want to explore space, we should spend the money to explore space.

I guess I would have liked to see some compelling "NO" answers in order to start a real dialogue about this. I shouldn't have to provide a NO answer myself-- it depresses me.

More on this later.

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