This kind of article drives me up the wall:
NASA Ames’ main goal now is to transfer technology for commercialization and the betterment of mankind… However, over the years, government and popular support for further space exploration has dwindled, despite its many benefits. So, I’ve made a list of the top 10 reasons we should continue to explore the outer depths, “to go where no man has gone before”.
It then goes on to list a number of earthly spin-offs, few if any of which have much to do with going “where no man has gone before, and at least one of which that isn’t related to space technology at all, other than it may have been helped by NASA on the aeronautics side. This irritates at least two of my pet peeves.
First is the notion that what NASA does or should be doing is “space exploration.” JPL does that, but it does it by sending robots where no robot has gone before, not man. The vast majority of NASA’s budget, and particularly the human spaceflight budget, has little-to-nothing to do with space exploration. Now, I don’t actually mind that this is the case, because I’m not that big on space exploration myself. I think it’s a worthwhile thing to do, but it’s a means to an end, not the end itself. But people who think that “exploration” is the be-all and end-all of what NASA does, or should be doing, are part of the problem, not part of the solution. Unfortunately, the public (and the media) has appropriated the word as a catch-all for orbital research, technology development, launching rockets (even for defense or commercial satellites), etc. — anything having to do with space. And as long as we misuse the language in such a way, we’ll continue to be unclear in our goals and our policy.
Second is the notion that spin-offs are a good argument for “space exploration,” even if space exploration actually results in the spin-offs (as already noted, they didn’t). The first reason is that they don’t generally come from “exploration,” even if they were a serendipitous result of some NASA expenditure. The other is that serendipity is by definition too unpredictable to use it as an argument for efficient technology development. The third is that it assumes that the technologies wouldn’t have been developed absent the space application. One of the favorite false myths of the spin-off crowd was that we wouldn’t have had large-scale-integration of semi-conductors in the absence of Apollo, which is simply nonsense. The technology was driven much more by military satellite requirements and miniaturization of warheads than by human spaceflight.
When I saw the headline, I expected to see the word “exploration” misused, because it seems as though it’s almost a professional requirement on the part of the media to do so, but I hoped to see some actual compelling reasons for continuing to fund spaceflight. For example: develop the ability to divert asteroids, utilize extraterrestrial resources beyond the silly example of “gold,” provide humanity backups in case things go sour on this one planet where we evolved, offer a new frontier for human freedom, even philosophical ones such as helping the planet to reproduce and spread the seed of life throughout the universe. But no, with the exception of orbital gold mines, it comes off as just more teflon and tang (both of which existed before NASA was formed).