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Why I think the cost of manned space flight is justified
There is a lot of controversy over whether the money we spend on manned space flight is worth it, with many opponents of it claiming that that money would be better spent on social programs or other things.
Those in favor of funding space flight most often tout the scientific benefits of the space program as its justification. Problem is, it's a weak argument. From a short-sighted economic standpoint, the science potential doesn't justify the cost of human space flight, by any reasonable definition (especially since a very big chunk of that science can be accomplished remotely via robots). Some would even say unmanned space flight doesn't justify the cost.
Of course, one can always argue that this is more than an economic issue (which is valid but lost on a lot of people), or that the science will ultimately pay dividends long term, even if we don't live to see it. But it would be missing out on a much better argument:
The most immediate and tangible benefit of the space program is not science, but engineering.
There's an old riddle that goes something like this: What's the difference between science and engineering? Science costs money, engineering makes money.
Well, in the space program that isn't true.
Unlike science, engineering is very much goal oriented. Generally, that goal is to make money. And, in the process of engineering so that we can make money, we learn a lot about how to make things better (i.e., safer, more efficient, more reliable, etc.).
But the thing is, when you're trying to make money, there's only so much risk you're willing to take, and therefore, there are only so many goals you're willing to aim for. But, when you decide to put humans into space at a cost, you create engineering goals that never could have been created simply from people seeking to make a profit. And, in striving to meet those goals, we learn things we wouldn't learn otherwise.
To me, the engineering benefits justify the money we spend on space flight. I think we should spend more.
I'm not just talking about the Tempurpedic mattress, either. Thanks to the space program, airplane and cars are safer and more fuel efficient. Computers are faster. Many products are cheaper.
And what about all those homeless people we should be feeding instead? The engineering advances we make to achieve space flight could make it more feasible to feed those homeless people. (Not saying it has or will, but could.)
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