High School Debate topic: Space development and Exploration

1. Mar 7, 2011

Khanguy

I thought that the high school debate topic for 2011-2012 would be fun to share. Any thoughts on how space exploration and development of space can be implemented is appreciated.

Topic:
Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its exploration and/or development of space beyond the Earth’s mesosphere.

2. Mar 7, 2011

Chronos

Probes are more efficient. Sending humans into space is unnecessarily expensive and complicated. Sending a man to the moon was an exercise in politics, not practicality. There is no need to repeat that waste of resources. The international space station is a more sensible laboratory for testing human endurance.

3. Mar 9, 2011

I am just curious. Why do you consider the moon landings as a waste of resources?

4. Mar 9, 2011

phyzguy

The point is not just exploration, the point is eventual colonization of space. We eventually need to move beyond the Earth as the only habitat for humans. Arthur C. Clarke said, "The Earth is just too small and rickety a basket for the human race to keep all of its eggs in," Try reading some books about space colonization - "The High Frontier" by Gerard O'Neill is a good one.

Since we are the only intelligent race that we know of, I think we have an obligation to spread, rather than sit here passively until we are snuffed out by the next Chicxclub asteroid, the sun heating up, or some other disaster.

5. Mar 9, 2011

Nabeshin

While this may be true on long timescales, in the short term I think almost everybody would agree that the money would be better spent on raising the quality of life for people here on Earth rather than manned space exploration and colonization. There is a time and a place to begin to begin wading out into the cosmic pond, as it were, for survival's sake, and we clearly are not at that point yet. So the only other reason then for manned space exploration besides survival is science, and Chronos is absolutely correct -- humans are marvelously inefficient at this. The benefits involved in sending humans are completely outstripped by the extra costs.

For example, while it is true that a mars rover might make a poor decision and get itself lost, stuck, or miss something we might consider "interesting", for the cost of sending a manned mission we could have dozens!

It's a glorious idea, sending humans to space and all, and it involves a little bit of wonder in us all no doubt. But simply because it strikes a chord with us does not make it practical.

6. Mar 9, 2011

Probes miss the human element. Take the lunar surface, for example. No one knew that regolith would be so sticky on the moon. The probes did not relay this bit of information. If you would like to see benefits that might not have developed had humans simply sent probes to the moon, have a look at this:

http://www.sti.nasa.gov/tto/apollo.htm

In my opinion, the benefits far exceed the cost. There may not be immediate benefits, true. Since when is science impatient?

I also agree with phyzguy about the human race being on one planet. Instead of putting it off, we should be exploring space and overcoming any obstacles that prevent us from doing so now instead of waiting for an event that necessitates a deadline.

7. Mar 9, 2011

phyzguy

A couple of questions:

(1) When do we start?
(2) How rich do we need to be before we spend money on space colonization? The NASA budget is about 16 Billion$/year. As a point of comparison, Americans spend 160 Billion$/year on luxury goods. Do we need to increase the spending on luxury goods 10X, 100X, 1000X before we can afford human exploration of space?
(3) Where would we be if Columbus had made the same decisions?

8. Mar 9, 2011

Nabeshin

Do you honestly think those technologies justify the pricetag for the Apollo program?

As far as the regolith goes, I'm not really a planetary scientist, but it seems to me that there is no reason probes could not have obtained that same information. True, perhaps they were programmed not to, but if we imagine a Spirit or Opportunity being sent to the moon, certainly we would have learned of this.

It is not the science that is impatient. As a scientist, I would love to see more money spent on science, but productive science! Sending humans into space yields very little science that could not be gotten by a probe at a fraction of the cost. And in the economic state we're in, we need to get every bit of science we can for our dollar.

I've really yet to hear any convincing explanation of what humans in space could do for us that probes could not -- science wise.

9. Mar 9, 2011

Nabeshin

These are good questions and of course I cannot give answers, nor do I intend to. I could turn this around and ask you "When should we start sending humans to Mars? How much of the NASA budget should be allocated towards this cause?" Finding a logical answer here is difficult, as anything you pick seems arbitrary. I'm simply arguing that right now, it certainly should not be a priority. It is for future generations to continually reevaluate this based on changing circumstances and find a point where it is a worthwhile endeavor.

As far as good old Columbus is concerned, he was motivated basically by profit. The New World held a wealth of riches and goods which could be (and were) exploited by the Europeans. So from an economic standpoint, sure sending expeditions may have been an economic risk, but one with enormous payoff. I ask, then, what is the payoff of human space exploration? I'm not really interested in entertaining the answers "spreading the human race" or "a sense of wonder" or any of that -- what tangible payoff other than a fuzzy feeling inside?

10. Mar 9, 2011

phyzguy

Well, we've proven one thing - it is certainly a good debate topic!

In terms of the payback, I think most people think too small. The energy and materials resources in outer space are enormous - vastly greater than what is available on Earth. Given reasonable scenarios of space colonization (I'm not talking Mars, but space habitats as advocated by O'Neill), it is perfectly conceivable that in 500-1000 years there are more people living in space than on the Earth, with space being the major engine for economic growth. Many people would call this unrealistic, as I'm sure most Europeans would have laughed at the idea that 500 years after Columbus the Americas would be a larger economic power than Europe.

11. Mar 9, 2011

Staff: Mentor

I see it like this. The necessary technology and processes required to sustain human life somewhere other than the earth will come much faster if we actively work toward that goal. Part of doing that is to get manned missions out there to see the effect of space and other planets/moons on the human body. Now robotic missions are still a very good idea. I prefer to have both. If you want to land on a moon or planet, its much better to send a probe ahead to scout around instead of trying to send a manned mission before you have that info.

12. Mar 9, 2011

FtlIsAwesome

Yeah, but I think it would have been better if it was a rotating space station. Experiments for weightlessness can still be conducted in the center area.

I think we need better methods for spacelaunch. Our current methods are impractical, and the most expensive out of the other spaceflight costs. The amount of delta-v to go from Earth's surface to LEO is the same as going from LEO to Saturn.

13. Mar 9, 2011

Staff: Mentor

If anyone can come up with a way to lower the cost and still keep it reliable, I'm sure it will catch on.

14. Mar 9, 2011

Khanguy

I see here from the posts above, that spending is a HUGE part of topic. Can the US really afford to spend billions of taxpayer money to explore and potentially colonize space?

Another point of view I would like to throw out here is that of foreign policy. How will other countries react to the US colonization of space? Will this lead to another space race or even the possibility of militarization of space?

I would also like to point out that the topic may include the use of telescopes like that of the Hubble Space Telescope, because it does specify exploration of space. So instead of developing space, we can actually explore more of it.

15. Mar 9, 2011

FtlIsAwesome

I would like to see a network of satellite observatories across the solar system for exoplanet detection. The increased parallax would allow for more precision.

16. Mar 9, 2011

Khanguy

We already have networks of satellite observatories, SETI@home and Einstein@home just two examples of this.

17. Mar 9, 2011

Chronos

The world would assuredly be nervous over a significant US presence in space. They would fear the US would be unable to resist militarization of space. The converse is certainly also true. The US military would be squirming if say China started pouring an exta 100 billion a year into their space program.

Space telescopes are a fabulous use of our space dollars. The Hubble has been totally worth the scant ~10 billion dollars spent thus far on the project. The James Webb telescope will have ~10x the light gathering power of the Hubble and will cost a 'mere' ~ 6 billion dollars to put into space in 2015. I am, of course, prejudiced.

18. Mar 9, 2011

Chronos

ESA has the HIPPARCOS project, a space probe that gathered parallax measurements on nearby stars. NASA has launched Kepler, a space probe specifically intended to detect extrasolar planets.

19. Mar 10, 2011

phyzguy

Just to clarify my position, I think automated probes are great - I agree the Hubble space telescope has been a great return on investment. I just take issue with automated probes instead of human exploration and colonization. We need to do both. Can we afford it? Of course we can. Which is more important, a bigger house, a 3rd car and the new big screen 3D TV, or the future of the human race?

20. Mar 10, 2011

D H

Staff Emeritus
I have an admitted bias toward the pro-human spaceflight side of the equation.

I'm of the opposite opinion of those espoused by many in this thread. When it comes to scientific research with the lowest scientific return on investment, you don't need to look much further afield than those robotic space missions. The justification for those automated missions is that humans may one day follow. If humans one day will not follow, or if that day is a long, long ways to come, why bother? Admitting humanity into the equation changes the dynamics. We do need those robotic missions, but as precursors to human missions.