General Question

mattbrowne's avatar

The famous physicist Stephen Hawking once said: "It's spaceflight or extinction." Why do so many people think space exploration is not very important?

Asked by mattbrowne (31600points) April 29th, 2009

From Wikipedia: Space and survival is the relationship between outer space and the long-term survival of the human species and civilization. It is based on the observation that space colonization and space science could prevent many human extinction scenarios. A related observation is the limited time and resources thought by some to be available for the colonization of space.

Extinction can be prevented by improving the physical barrier or increasing the mean distance between people and the potential extinction event. For example, people may survive imminent explosions by being in a bunker or evacuating. Pandemics are controlled by putting exposed people in quarantine and moving healthy people away. In the long history of animal life on Earth only lineages that diversify survive into the deep future. Our lineage, genus Homo, has reduced from several species co-existing on Earth to just one — all but our own going extinct since the start of the last Ice age. This would be a danger sign for any other large mammal genus. Space colonization, particularly of other star systems, would allow our genus to diversify and adapt to potentially new habitats.

Life support systems that enable people to live in space may also allow them to survive hazardous events. For example, an infectious disease or biological weapon that transmits through the air could not infect a person in a closed life support system. An internal supply of air and a physical barrier exists between the person and the environment.

What do think? Does space exploration matter to you? Should we rather focus on short-term goals, motto: first things first? Why do so many people think space exploration is a waste of money? Is it perhaps more ethical to remain on one single planet? Maybe we don’t have the right to colonize space… Terraforming Mars means changing the planet’s natural evolution. What about Earth-like planets in other star systems? Maybe there’s primitive life that humans should merely observe. What is your opinion?

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29 Answers

tinyfaery's avatar

In my non-scientific opinion, I believe that if we spent the money wasted on space exploration on figuring out how to solve our earthly problems, there would be no need to go to space.

We are the human animal, a product of earth, I’d stay here and die before I went to space.

syz's avatar

Because as individuals and as a species, we are short sighted. If it doesn’t benefit us now, this year, this decade, this lifetime…...we don’t invest our effort and our time. The same reason we’ve been egregiously slow (and inadequate) to respond to global level environmental concerns. “Why should I care about some trees being cut down in Madagascar? Nah, I won’t worry about my grandkids’ world, ‘cause they’ll have come up with some fantastic immediate fix for all of the world’s ill by then.”

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

Maybe it’s possible Hawking may not be right?

Personally I think space exploration is the appropriate thing to do with our current level of technology but governments are more interested in fighting these days so that’s where the money goes.

Perhaps we are destined for extinction. There’s nothing that guarantees success in space exploration. Maybe species extinction is the natural order of things.

Triiiple's avatar

Because im not an Astronaut or Astrochuck

wundayatta's avatar

I think if we are wealthy enough, then it’s a great exploration. I don’t think we are wealthy enough at the moment. Too many problems to solve here, and, while people claim that the space effort has resulted in many inventions, I think we would have had even more had we not tried to go to the moon.

In any case, the need for space is not urgent at the moment. We are not about to implode—even if we unleash a nuclear war. We might lose a couple billion people, but there will still be 4 billion left.

Your question made me think of a generation space raft that was supposed to travel to other stars. It would have to be very, very huge. Big enough to hold maybe 100,000 people, and all the air they will need,plus other supplies until they get to a place where they can acquire more.

I was thinking about what if they lost more air than their worst estimates predicted. What would you have to do? Would people have to lie around all the time, and breathe as little as possible? What would be the minimum amount of air needed, assuming you had the energy to separate oxygen and carbon from each other, for as much CO2 as you had? I suppose the air pressure would get lower and lower, until finally everyone would have to wear helmets and suits that recaptured the air more effectively. Even then, surely oxygen would escape, and eventually, people would start dying of oxygen starvation, or killed to free up their oxygen allocation for others.


On the other hand, many people lost their lives exploring for other lands on this planet. What else is new?

ratboy's avatar

Extinction is not necessarily undesirable; had dinosaurs not become extinct, we wouldn’t be here. Perhaps a better species is in the wings awaiting our end. Since our technology evolves exponentially faster than our memes, extinction is inevitable regardless of which planets we inhabit.

mattbrowne's avatar

@tinyfaery – We are a human animal and a product of central Africa. Should we have stayed there? Besides, Hawking’s point is: if we stay on Earth homo sapiens will go extinct.

oratio's avatar

These are merely my thoughts. In my opinion exploration and search for understanding is one of the most basic qualities that make us who we are. I don’t think we would be here without them, and we can’t deny our nature. There were not really any good purposes for Amundsen to reach the south pole, speeding over the ice on dog sleds, other than to triumph the ordeal and being the first to do that.

We will explore space, because we have the urge and need to. Not for any other purpose than to know.

I don’t much see the point atm to send people into space other than to run the ISS. I think manned expeditions will be sparse. One for Mars surely, but for the close future, exploration will be made through telescopes, computer calculations and robots.

Obviously, to be able to go to other stars, we will have to do something about time or the speed of light cap. Since that is not really in our grasp atm, and terraforming is not in our ability, colonization is just an abstract idea, not an agenda. If it becomes possible we will most likely do that. If it will show that we can live in space on stations for generations, there probably will be people doing that too.

In my mind it is not a waste of time and resources. War, fear and xenophobia is a waste, but searching for understanding and overcome ordeals is not. Just because we are not making money out of going into space I don’t see why it would be a waste.

What we have to do is work together, sharing the costs and the responsibility. And we are. The ISS and many other project are multinational. NASA, ESA(EU), RSA(Russia), JAXA(Japan) and many others must be working together to explore our universe outside the militarization of our solar system.

Plans are being made for a joint expedition to Mars. I don’t want to see an american space craft, or a russian one landing on Mars. The times have changed and I feel that it needs to be an earth expedition, and us all working against the militarization of our space.

mattbrowne's avatar

@daloon – The Apollo program triggered a flood of additional students enrolling in science and engineering programs. Now we might run out of them. Without immigration from Asia many colleges and graduate schools would be in big trouble. So in retrospect, in my opinion without the moon landing there would be less wealth.

Russell_D_SpacePoet's avatar

I honestly don’t now why more emphasis isn’t put on developing a lunar colony. As it stands right now, if we were hit by a sizable body from space, humans might not make it. We need to be at least a 2 planet species. All of our eggs are in one basket right now. Not a good scenario.

btko's avatar

It certainly is true what Hawking says. Either we will cause it, a body from space will cause it, or the sun will cause it.

I don’t see a problem with exploring space, but I think sending people up there is a waste (at least for now). Sending robots has such a lower cost that the only reason to send people is for status and glamour.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to be an astronaut and be on my way to Mars but I still think it’s a waste until the cost is comparable to sending a robot or it’s a necessity.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Russell_D_SpacePoet – Yes, maintaining a lunar colony will allow us to gather knowledge and prepare for more challenging projects.

@btko – Robots first. People come next. We’ve already accomplished the Mars Pathfinder and Sojourner projects. I also like the idea of sending cryobots to the moons of Jupiter after successful Antarctica missions.

RocketGuy's avatar

Check out the movie Wall-E. People mastered spaceflight, and abandoned Earth to robots and cockroaches. If humans remained confined to Earth, we may find motivation to keep it clean.

OTOH, there are many cosmic scale risks to humankind’s survival on Earth. To ensure survival, we should spread out to other planets.

oratio's avatar

@RocketGuy There is kind of an irony in this. What we are talking about in that case is an Ark.

tinyfaery's avatar

@mattbrowne I don’t agree with your analogy. We are still on earth, what country/continent does not matter. I said my opinion and you do not have to agree. I think the best thing that could happen to the earth is for humans to go extinct. I have no problem with it.

oratio's avatar

@tinyfaery Just not in your lifetime, maybe? I agree to some extent, it wouldn’t be a cosmic tragedy, and it’s in the nature of life to disappear in favor of others. Though, it’s in our nature to fight for survival. I think we deserve to survive. If we succeed we do.

tinyfaery's avatar

@oratio I have no problem with dying. I am not too attached to my ego.

BookReader's avatar

…to he who much has been given, much is required…i believe that we should address the world’s problems and prove that as a human race we can handle the responsibilty before we take on much more responsibility that space travel would provide…

…prove ourselves accountable…

oratio's avatar

@tinyfaery Yeah, I guess only time will tell if we are fit to survive.

hiphiphopflipflapflop's avatar

While I’m sure Hawking is well intentioned, the space program really comes down to military Keynesianism.

hiphiphopflipflapflop's avatar

Or to put it another way (a line I’m stealing from the movie The Right Stuff): “No bucks, no Buck Rogers.” Follow the money. It goes from the taxpayer to the government to aerospace firms and their suppliers. Ultimately, most of it ends up in the jacked-up salaries and bonuses of the upper management in these firms and in the dividends paid to large institutional investors. Some of it trickles down to keep a cross-section of the hoi polloi off the street (I used to, and might one day again, count as one of those people).

NuclearSnail's avatar

I don’t see the point in going to other planets, when we can’t even sort out the one we’ve already got.

fireside's avatar

I think the isolation studies they are doing now in preparation for a trip to Mars may be interesting. It’s about exploring human limitations.

I suspect that the real reasons to begin exploring are about the search for new resources, as we continue using up the ones on this planet. But I am in agreement that the reason that funding isn’t seen as necessary is because military funding to try and take resources from others is still imagined to be less expensive

oratio's avatar

@NuclearSnail I agree somewhat, but I don’t think the problems will get any more solved by us not going.

RocketGuy's avatar

@mattbrowne you are correct about the flood of science and engineering students. I read a study that correlated the number of students with the Apollo program. Numbers fell off during the Shuttle design period, then dropped after that. I wonder how enrollment was affected by the Mars rover and CEV/Orion programs?

There was another study that determined that engineers create wealth, but lawyers only redistributed it. (but that’s a subject of another discussion).

mattbrowne's avatar

@tinyfaery – Your parents had a problem with dying, otherwise you wouldn’t be here posting comments into Fluther text boxes ;-) And you carry your parents genes whether you like it or not…

@RocketGuy – Yes, the Apollo missions were a success in many respects! We desperately need more scientists and engineers. Otherwise our Earth won’t be able to accommodate 9 billion people, of which many are still eager to become new middle class citizens with cars and air conditioners and all the rest we take for granted. We need to solve the resource and energy crisis.

mattbrowne's avatar

@fireside – Yes, psychology is key when it comes to planning manned missions to Mars.

jpshipsey's avatar

Let’s be honest. People are too shortsighted to see the value in space colonization. The people answering this question prove it.

The problems on Earth won’t get any less solved by us getting off the rock. If anything, they’ll get more solved. It’s been proven that space travel is the best way to get nations to unite. Hawking compared it to the Wild West- after the Civil War, the nation came back together as one remarkably quickly. My theory for the reason is this: the West had opened up. Instead of focusing on North and South, the Northerners and Southerners all migrated West, and became Westerners. In the same way, I believe that taking to Space, instead of focusing on being Americans and Europeans, Christians and Muslims, Easterners and Westerners, we will become “Eartherners”.

The fact is, there are too many accidents that can happen to a single planet. Whether it’s a nuclear war, a supervirus, global warming or what-have-you, there are too many accidents that can happen to a single planet. Of course, most people would rather deny this and go on living in their happy little boxes, but that’s just not sustainable. Even besides that, there are benefits to going to space. Don’t be shortsighted, support your astronauts.

wundayatta's avatar

@jpshipsey It’s always possible that it’s not that people are shortsighted, but that you are wildly fantasizing about the benefits of space colonization, and our ability to afford it or even accomplish it. There are other international cooperation projects besides space exploration.

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