Wednesday, June 14, 2006

To boldly go…?

My Nature article on NASA’s manned spaceflight program has drawn some flak, as I suspected it might. That’s good – it is only by compelling people to voice their arguments for such a goal, rather than taking its validity as a self-evident truth, that we can assess them. And how woeful they can seem. Certainly, I find it depressing when people suggest that the only way the human race can survive is to get off the planet as soon as possible. I’m struck also at the difference in attitude between the US and the rest of the world – it really does seem as though the national narrative of frontiers and pioneers in the States shapes so much of public thinking in a way that just doesn’t resonate elsewhere. I don’t want to be too critical of that – it’s surely driven some of the great American achievements of modern times. But I do wonder whether it has led to distortions of history all the way from Columbus’s voyage to the Apollo missions – for example, a failure to appreciate how much commerce and military dominance have played a part in such events. That's certainly brought out in the gobsmacking article by Michael Lembeck mentioned by one of the correspondents - read it and weep. I've responded to that on the Nature site.

Brian Enke makes a new point, however: that manned spaceflight is needed to keep the public on board. I took this up with Brian, and we've had what I think is a productive exchange (certainly more so than some of the stuff posted on the Nature weblog). Here it is:

Dear Brian,
Your comment on the Nature weblog raises an interesting point that I'd not heard put before: that a manned space program is necessary to keep the public on board in funding space science. As a pragmatic expedient, I could accept that. If the only way public funding of space science can be sustained is to provide the public with the justification that ultimately the aim is to get us ‘out there’, then so be it. But that would be a sad state of affairs, and one that I'd find somewhat intellectually dishonest. It may be that some space researchers do indeed feel this is the appropriate end goal, but I suspect that just as many would argue that it is right to fund intellectual inquiry into the universe and our place in it just as it is right to fund any other kind of basic 'big' science, or indeed to fund research on history or linguistics or to give money to the arts. High-energy physics does not need to appeal to any great mission beyond that of finding out about the world. Space science poses equally grand questions, and these ought to be justification enough. Certainly, I find it highly disingenuous to argue (as some have done, though you have not) that manned spaceflight is warranted for economic reasons such as space mining and tourism. I take the point that, in the current climate, science has to be able to 'sell itself', but I'd prefer that we can be as honest as possible about why it is being done.

I'm not against manned spaceflight per se. Indeed, I think we need it for good space science: the Hubble repair showed just why it is valuable to be able to put people into low-Earth orbit. And if we could put a person on Mars tomorrow, I'd be hugely excited. I simply don't see the latter as such a priority that it needs so much of NASA's budget channelled in that direction. This is really the point: the science is suffering, and at the expense of a politically motivated program. I agree that it would be wonderful for NASA to be given enough money to do all things well (I can't say I'd consider the money well spent that would go on a manned mission to the moon or Mars, but I'd rather that than have it spent on defence). But this isn't going to happen, it seems. With limited resources, it seems a tragedy to have to devote so much of them to what is basically a PR exercise.

The international scientific community owes NASA a huge debt of gratitude for the fantastic things it has done. But it does seem to me that Mike Griffin is now having to practice some realpolitik that goes against his inclinations, and that seems a shame.
Best wishes,

Hi Phil -
Thanks for the comments - it's always exciting to have a good dialogue on these issues. Most of the time, people end up stomping around, posturing, blind to any alternative viewpoints, and ultimately frustrated for that very reason.

I was simply pointing out how things are, motivationally, rather than how they "should be" (if anyone could ever possibly agree on that). I hear your words, respect your opinion, and agree with most of it... but I personally don't have a problem with science being MORE than a mere intellectual pursuit. If science can lead to something tangible, so much the better. That's how you tie into real funding... make a business case for the science. Otherwise, we're left over with the dregs - mere stipends that keep a program alive but lacking inspiration and excitement. Off my philosophy box... ;)

Here's a major point for you to consider quite carefully. You refer to "the NASA budget" below, as is common... but what exactly IS "the NASA budget". You can take the stipend view - our government doles out X amount of dollars to create Y number of high-tech jobs, and what comes out of it really doesn't matter. In that sad state of affairs, one science job equals one engineering job, more or less... and one science dollar equals one human exploration dollar. Again, what is accomplished doesn't matter - it's all a line-item in the federal budget - a happy-pill to placate the masses. OR you can take (IMHO) a far more progressive view - the NASA budget is a combination of individual programs, each of which has meaning and stands strongly on its own merits. Sounds much more honest, right? But watch out - here's the trap - in that progressive view, taking a dollar away from human spaceflight doesn't necessarily add a dollar to space science research. They are individual programs - and the budgets must (eventually) be justified individually. Taking a dollar from human spaceflight eliminates a dollar from the federal deficit. That's it, period.

As we all know, in reality, NASA is a combination of the two approaches... and it IS likely that taking a dollar from human spaceflight will (in the short-term) add a dollar, or 50 cents, or a dime, or whatever to space science. This effect is little more than a local optimization within the government bureaucracy. Long term, it's obvious that everyone at NASA loses, as I pointed out in my initial comments.

There's one other trap in the above paradigm.... or rather a juicy angle for us to exploit. If each program truly stands on its own merits, then a dollar of space science funding equals a dollar of hurricane Katrina relief or Iraq whatever-they're-doing-over-there. Better yet, it's a dollar of Medicare fraud. In this budget-view, there is ZERO reason to take money away from human spaceflight. Bob Park is notorious for preaching a flawed, divisive premise - he wants to fund space science at the explicit expense of the human spaceflight community. Winners vs Losers. I'm going to eat your cake because I like cake, and your piece looks really yummy. Why did he decide to pick on human spaceflight? Did a manned rocket land on his cat or something? Why isn't he on a rampage against Medicare - which wastes nearly twice the entire NASA budget every year funding fraudulent claims?

A robust space industry is either a national priority or it isn't. If space is important, we'll have plenty of funds for space science AND human exploration. If not, we won't. So... I'd rather dedicate my personal efforts toward increasing public awareness of the importance of space science AND exploration. That way, we all win.

- Brian

Dear Brian,
You almost persuade me. That's to say, if NASA budgetting really isn't a simplistic zero-sum game, then I can see the case for why I shouldn't be too concerned if the US administration wants to spend billions on a program that doesn't strike me as having much intrinsic value at this point in time. But it does seem clear that increases in spending on manned spaceflight have taken money from science projects, even if not in a directly zero-sum manner. I do understand and accept your point, however, that providing a vision that captivates the public might in the long term mean that the science gains too.

I suppose I also can't suppress some concern that that vision can lead to snowballing rhetoric that some people take seriously, so that we end up with chaps like the one on the Nature weblog who genuinely believe that humanity is doomed if we don't get on and colonize the moon or Mars quickly. That seems a bit unhealthy.

In any event, thanks very much for your considered response - it has given me something to think about.
With best wishes,

Hi Phil -
I've truly enjoyed our exchange, and I admire your open-mindedness. Perhaps you even want to throw in a mention of my recent science fiction novel, Shadows of Medusa? It turned out to be a fun read, I'm happy to say, and it touches on the theme we've been discussing - that science and human exploration can co-exist (though I take some fictional liberties and digressions, heh heh). If anyone out there wants to order the book, they should go through the website, though... because the full publisher price on Amazon is a total rip-off.

And I agree - there are some reasons for exploring and settling space thrown about occasionally that I don't personally agree with either. Sometimes you have to step back and say, "hmmm... no thanks." But on the other hand, most of the time the people with the opinions strongly believe them, and one has to be extremely cautious and respectful when stepping on people's beliefs. I suppose that's MY belief. :)

In fact, tying that position into the whole government budget and zero-sum game matter... I don't personally believe the government should be spending MY money (there's a charged term you hear all the time) on certain things that I don't see much intrinsic value in. And I reserve the right to complain about it occasionally. But I do have to recognize and accept that for every single government dollar spent, someone out there somewhere feels very strongly that it's being spent well.

So in the end, perhaps "almost" being persuaded by someone is a good thing, if it leads to a healthy dose of tolerance.

Oh, one more parting thought, spurred by what you noted below: "it does seem clear that increases in spending on manned spaceflight have taken money from science projects". Agreed again - it shouldn't be that way in a perfect world, but that's just the way it is. On the other hand, one can find examples of spending in human spaceflight leading directly to increases in science spending. Our LAMP instrument (in my day job, I work at the Southwest Research Institute) is a great example - it will fly on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, an entire juicy science mission funded/motivated with human exploration dollars. This is beautiful synergy - great science coupled directly with human exploration. Personally, I'd like to see more of that.

- Brian


Anonymous said...

歐美a免費線上看,熊貓貼圖區,ec成人,聊天室080,aaa片免費看短片,dodo豆豆聊天室,一對一電話視訊聊天,自拍圖片集,走光露點,123456免費電影,本土自拍,美女裸體寫真,影片轉檔程式,成人視訊聊天,貼圖俱樂部,辣妹自拍影片,自拍電影免費下載,電話辣妹視訊,情色自拍貼圖,卡通做愛影片下載,日本辣妹自拍全裸,美女裸體模特兒,showlive影音聊天網,日本美女寫真,色情網,台灣自拍貼圖,情色貼圖貼片,百分百成人圖片 ,情色網站,a片網站,ukiss聊天室,卡通成人網,3級女星寫真,080 苗栗人聊天室,成人情色小說,免費成人片觀賞,

傑克論壇,維納斯成人用品,免費漫畫,內衣廣告美女,免費成人影城,a漫,國中女孩寫真自拍照片,ut男同志聊天室,女優,網友自拍,aa片免費看影片,玩美女人短片試看片,草莓論壇,kiss911貼圖片區,免費電影,免費成人,歐美 性感 美女 桌布,視訊交友高雄網,工藤靜香寫真集,金瓶梅免費影片,成人圖片 ,女明星裸體寫真,台灣處女貼圖貼片區,成人小遊戲,布蘭妮貼圖片區,美女視訊聊天,免費情色卡通短片,免費av18禁影片,小高聊天室,小老鼠論壇,免費a長片線上看,真愛love777聊天室,聊天ukiss,情色自拍貼圖,寵物女孩自拍網,免費a片下載,日本情色寫真,美女內衣秀,色情網,

Anonymous said...


女優王國,免費無碼a片,0800a片區,免費線上遊戲,無名正妹牆,成人圖片,寫真美女,av1688影音娛樂網,dodo豆豆聊天室,網拍模特兒,成人文學,免費試看a片,a片免費看,成人情色小說,美腿絲襪,影片下載,美女a片,人體寫真模特兒,熊貓成人貼,kiss情色,美女遊戲區,104 貼圖區,線上看,aaa片免費看影片,天堂情色,躺伯虎聊天室,洪爺情色網,kiss情色網,貼影區,雄貓貼圖,080苗栗人聊天室,都都成人站,尋夢園聊天室,a片線上觀看,無碼影片,情慾自拍,免費成人片,影音城論壇,情色成人,最新免費線上遊戲,a383影音城,美腿,色情寫真,xxx383成人視訊,視訊交友90739,av女優影片,

helen shapiro said...

It is such a lovely and informative post. I like these kinds post on your site. Wish you all good luck. I am from America.
digital marketing services in india

Nutra Trials said...

Nutra Trials defines personal characteristics of different health products including skincare, weight loss, muscle and male enhancement. The study presented here is briefly described for reader convenience and to deliver them assurance with health standards. The best possible answers are given here regarding the selection of an ideal supplement or cream or serum that possibly remains to be safe for health and do not cause any side effects.

Mediahub news said...

Hi, I am Rahul thank you for this informative post.Thank you so much and for you all the best. ( That is a great job. Wish you more success. Takes Down

NutraT line said...

It is a great job, I like your posts and wish you all the best. and I hope you continue this job well.
NutraT line

thomus jons said...

Hello, I am thomus jons thank you for this informative post. That is a great job. Wish you more success.Thank you so much and for you all the best. Takes Down

Lovely sindhe said...

Times For Health is Online Health & Wellness Program! This post is really really nice and so informative. Thanks for the nice post share with us!

Steve Coleman said...

TecSmash is your ultimate source of Technology news and Make Money Online product reviews. We research and review all Tech, MMO, Biz Opp and IM products. Tecsmash

rsdcth said...

Healrun is a health news blog we provide the latest news about health, Drugs and latest Diseases and conditions. We update our users with health tips and health products reviews. If you want to know any information about health or health product (Side Effects & Benefits) Feel Free To ask HealRun Support Team.

Steve Coleman said...

Here is our FB SociCake Review, in which I have revealed the good, bad and ugly about Mario Browns FB SociCake Facebook Marketing Tool. socicake review

gnghjmjh said...

Pilpedia is supplying 100 percent original and accurate information at each moment of time around our site and merchandise, and the intent is to improve the usage of good and pure health supplement. For More Info please visit Pilpedia

Supplements For Fitness said...

Supplements For Fitness conditions. But take the time to do the research. You can also see your doctor. Again, make sure you have a doctor who has knowledge about natural health supplements. Some doctors will only advise you not to take natural .

Steve Coleman said...

We are here to give you a complete review on the Parallel Profit project by Steve Clayton and Aidan Booth. If you are someone from the field you would already be familiar with these two names, for those of who are new. Parallel Profits Review

Olivia Jakeman said...

Best softwares for Internet Marketers and legitimate make money online opportunities.

Adam Waterman said... is dedicated to bring you the best in Internet Marketing, Blogging and the entire Make Money Online spectrum. We are your finest source of info.

Keto 180 Shark Tank said...

Keto 180 Shark Tank : Throughout cross-examination, Dr Jayashree Gopal, a diabetologist with a leading hospital, deposed that Jayalalithaa had said "no" to surgery and opted to reduce weight through diet. Body metabolism involves burning of calories that in turn helps cut back fat and weight. It is the sole means to urge the body that we deserve.

mfitweb said...

Mfitweb is a unique health, wellness and fitness online resource for people living stress burdened lifestyles who are striving very hard to attain complete health. This blog contains categories which cover different aspects of health and wellness.