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Idealog AlliesWork In Progress (Chris)
Sunday, December 01, 2002
Watching The McLaughlin Group this morning, they had a segment that they called "space pilgrims", which consisted mostly of showing pretty pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope while insisting that they showed real spiritual uplift, whatever that means.
The segment inspired a few points that I want to make. The first is that the Hubble space telescope provides a really good example of where the government should invest its scientific money... on the basic research that there's no chance of the private sector funding. (I couldn't see the private sector ever spending that much money on basic science, and yet I think that it's good that the money is being spent. This is probably one of many places where I disagree with the libertarians.)
The second, though, is that the way the pilgrims settled in America is a model for the way that space will need to be settled. While the early voyages of exploration were government financed, the pilgrims' voyage was not (remember, it was over a hundred years after Columbus). Instead, the voyage of the Mayflower was paid for by private enterprise.
It seems to me that if space exploration is really going to take off, it's going to need to be privately funded. Until then, we'll be in the Columbus stage of the game. Of course, it will be hard to justify spending the amounts of money needed to colonize other worlds until something is found there worth exploiting. NASA should look for that. There's also the issue of the Space treaty forbidding private enterprise in space, but that's probably not going to be a real issue once people can afford to exploit other planets.
I do see one scenario where space exploration will occur without a good reason, and that's people wanting to flee earth. I can see this happening, say if the war on terror does not go well. But as I see it right now, the war on terror seems to be doing well, so I don't really expect waves of private colonization for a while.
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