Alan Boyle reports on the “debate” in Seattle on Thursday at the space event sponsored by The Economist (which was overall very interesting and worthwhile, other than this). As I noted at the time, it was a false choice based on a false premise.
It started out annoying, and got worse with time. Talmadge said something like (I’m paraphasing) “Before we start this, let’s see if we’ll be able to change some minds. How many think we should go to the moon first.” Hands go up, not mine. “How many think we should go to Mars first?” Other hands go up. “How many think we shouldn’t do either, and should take care of the earth?” Very few, if any hands went up, given the audience. My hand obviously didn’t go up at any of them.
And then they launched into a debate on those three topics, with Naveen Jain making the case for the moon, Chris Lewicki doing the same for asteroids, and poor John Logsdon having to defend the premise that we shouldn’t be doing things in space (something that he doesn’t believe).
So that was the false choice (that is, he didn’t ask the fourth question: “How many people think “we” don’t have to make such a choice, and that some will do one, some will do the other, some will do some other things not mentioned, and some will stay home?”).
The false premise, of course, is that this debate has some relevance to policy, and that unless “we” have a societal “consensus” on what the next step will be, it won’t happen. This is Apolloism.
I think that Chris made the best case, which was basically, we should go anywhere we find useful. And of course, John’s argument isn’t that we shouldn’t settle space, but that we probably won’t. But his example of Antarctica as a harsh environment that hasn’t been really settled (ignoring his arbitrary rule that a settlement requires more than a couple thousand people) fails to persuade because, as Jeff Greason pointed out in audience discussion. On Antarctica, people cannot own the land, they cannot dig the land, they cannot sell the output of their labor, they cannot pass on anything they do there to their descendants.
What he didn’t point out, which I would have, is that the reason for this is the Antarctic Treaty. And if we don’t settle space, a large part of the reason is that the Outer Space Treaty was modeled on it, and it was enforced.