How has space travel helped life on earth?

First of all, let me say that I am like most people, that I want space travel to happen, go human race, explore the cosmos- not that we’ll ever find life (the universe isn’t as big as ignorant people think it is after all), or that moving to Mars b/c earth is so screwed up will happen within our lifetimes- just the general spirit of exploration.

But let’s say I’m one of the angry people who argue that that money should be spent on the homeless, on actual progress on earth. What are all the things that space travel has accomplished for life on earth in our time (don’t name things like ‘possible future colony on Mars’ or ‘possible future finding of life’- only things that have changed so far for us on earth now). Like inventions NASA wouldn’t have invented if we hadn’t travelled to space- for each invention, you must argue that the invention wouldn’t have been invented if no ship had ever left earth. You must argue that or it doesn’t count.

And there are other benefits space travel allows, like perhaps aerial photographs- a teacher told me once that space pictures of the earth in the 70s is what propelled the environmental movement since then, also, so you can name that kind of stuff too.

Show me the money- how has space travel changed my life?

Satellite communication & navigation are the obvious ones, to me…true, they don’t directly involve putting humans into orbit, but without the investment of the space race, the technology would not have got anything like as far. In this respect I would compare it to jet engines, or nuclear power, and the way these benefited from military development.

It got us lots of tang.

Space Pens!.

Seriously, the satellite programs are wayyyy more important than manned space travel. These allow everything from phones, GPS, weather tracking, espionage, to cable TV.

Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles were part of space research and allow nuclear weapons to be delivered all over the world in a frightingly short amount of time. I don’t know if that is good or not.

I can’t think of much that is important about manned space flight except it allows us to repair the all important satellites listed above.

Right, I knew satellites was like #1 on that list- but the question is,

How long would it have taken to invent and put up satellites if we’d never left earth, just invented technology?

And any other nasa stuff like microwaves and space heaters should be mentioned, but please tell me if we would have invented them w/o space travel (like you know :smiley: ).

Cecil’s column on the subject.

That column is embarrassingly shoddy. Did Cecil have a deadline to meet?

First of all, let’s address the notion that money spent on space technology takes away from dealing with social problems such as homelessness. This is what game theorists call a “zero sum game;” that is, a situation in which, in order for one party to have a gain, another needs to lose. This is true on the chessboard or in a game of Monopoly, but is rarely the case in real life, and certainly not a valid assumption in this situation. Indeed, we’ve spend billions–both on national and local levels–on welfare programs and homeless initiatives, and by and large the problem is as bad as ever, indicating that an influx of money will do little to address the problem. (The essential problem of dealing with homelessness is that there are actually a multitude of problems, few of which fit into the neat categories that bureaucracies are prepared to deal with.) If it’s waste you abhor, we can start looking at things like farm and dairy subsudies, corporate welfare, defense spending, et cetera, long before we get around to the relative pittance that makes up the space program budget.

That being said, it is a fool’s errand to justify the current American space program, especially manned exploration, on any kind of fiscal or return on investment basis. Advocates can mutter on about miniaturized medical sensors, high speed communications, velcro, and Tang (though I wouldn’t boast to loudly about the latter–have you people ever tasted Tang?) but in fact most of these innovations predated their applications by NASA, and were subsequently made available to the general public as part of the natural process of technological maturity. Indeed, we owe far more to the seemingly abominable strategic defense and deterrence programs like the Atlas, Titan, and Minuteman ICBM developments (which were the precursors to all modern commercial orbital lift vehicles), or the SAGE system, which precursors all high speed network communications and control which we use today in commerce, communication, and education.

Although there’s no fiscal payoff to be had, unmanned scientific exploration, from Hubble to Huygens, has given us deepers insights and knowledge of the world we could never have by peering through telescopes through the murk of the atmosphere. What price can you put upon abstract knowledge? (Though someday that abstract knowledge may payoff in a big way, as it tends to do when you’ve acquired a critical mass of it–the first planet-killing asteroid we’re able to identify and divert will serve as justification for any material expense we might outlay.)

The manned space program, especially from Mercury through Apollo, was a source of national pride, a symbol of what could be done to champion the US technological might without threatening to bomb anyone back to the Stone Age. In the post-Apollo era, it has come to be best symbolized as a horrendous, hemmoraging white elephant that goes in circles and does little but attempt to justify its own budget. Such is the life-cycle of a massive bureaucracy once middle-age bloat sets in.

But then, that’s kind of like asking the first guy who built a canoe and sailed out of sight of land what good is ever going to come of such dreaming. It’s hard to call what we’ve done “space travel”; it’s more like “space wading” at this point. We know–as a hard fact–that there are untapped resources of nearly endless abundence in space, barely futher away than the Moon. The man–or woman–who first figures out how to exploit them is going to be hailed as the next Colombus, or Marco Polo, or Cortez; and probably more justifiably–and almost certainly less despairingly–than any of them.

We may always have poverty and the homeless, it seems; despite those seemingly readily tractable problems and the decades of national wealth, nearly universal education, and social development they still plague us, for reasons that are more political and sociological than economic. Our failure to be able to resolve the problems of the present should not deter us from investing in the future, any more than your daughter’s C in second grade math would prevent you from adding to her college fund. Valid and realistic criticism of the value and quality of the space program is necessary and healthy, but demanding a quanitative return on investment isn’t realistic…nor expected of any other government program or agency, even government-run companies like the USPS.


I haven’t had any 'tang since Christmas. :frowning:

Huh? Do you mean the known universe?

I’m gonna quote Bill Hicks here:

“But couldn’t we feasably use this technology to shoot food at hungry people? Fly over Ethiopia… “Hey, there’s a guy who needs a banana!” SKHROOOOM:smiley:

I strongly support the space program, and overall I’d second what **Stranger on a Train ** wrote. The space program has made many contributions to those of us remaining on the Earth - quite a few computer, scientific and medical advances were either developed or accelerated because of NASA funding. Harvard U. did a study of the job-creation and economic impact of spending on space exploration some years ago, and gave it high marks, IIRC. The space program also reflects our national pride and the basic human need to explore and learn; it bears repeating that the Pentagon spends more every few hours than NASA spends in a year.

And, compared to all of human history, we’ve still got a long way to go. I’m reminded of the story of Ben Franklin seeing the Montgolfier brothers go up in their first baloon. A French nobleman nearby scoffed, 'But what good is it?"

Franklin replied, “What good is a newborn baby?”

Huh? How can you have satelites if the satelites never leave earth? Communication and weather/remote sensing satelites are 95% of the space program.

Or do you mean how long to have satelites without MANNED spaceflight? We had unmanned satelites long before we had manned space capsules. The obvious implication of an orbiting satelite is that if you can put a satelite in orbit you can hit anywhere on the planet if you put a nuclear bomb on that satelite.

  1. What makes you believe we’ll never find life?
  2. I’m ignorant because I believe the universe is big?

I do believe the universe is big, but I can’t say “how big” because I don’t believe it’s a closed system; As a result, I believe the universe goes on forever and ever and ever and ever…

You get the idea.

Dude, ask your question by all means, but there’s no reason to people by calling them ignorant because they don’t share your assumptions.

The Universe is far, far bigger than most ignorant folks think it is. In fact, it seems quite plausible that it’s infinite. In fact, it is precisely because space is so big that we don’t expect to ever meet aliens face to face. The closest they could reasonably be is 20 lightyears away, which is a heck of a long way to travel.

Further, you’re asking for technologies which would never have been developed without manned spaceflight. This is horribly unfair. Take computer miniaturization, for instance: That’s something that had some very significant commercial benefits. Maybe, without the manned space program, we would have developed miniaturized computers a decade later. Now, consider the time value of money. Putting money in a savings account now is better than putting the same amount in ten years from now. Likewise, developing a technology now is better than developing it ten years from now, too.

Just for the record here’s some of the technology that has ben derived from the space program:

I don’t know anything about astronomy/cosmology yet- so please, no long-winded explanations- however, I understand that it’s believed? that the universe is expanding infinitely, but that the number of estimated particles (yes, I know that includes a LOT of estimation) is 10^100, which is a gigantic number! But people who know even less than I do about it (that’s not easy) have no idea that anyone ever attributed a number to the number of particles, and they probably think it’s so high we don’t even have a number for it- I started a thread about the highest numbers we have names for a little while ago :)- and that is absolutely untrue, expressed in exponential form it looks dissapointingly small (even though it is enormous), and if you had 55 playing cards you could have more combinations with those cards than that number of particles in the universe.

Drake came up with his equation estimating the number of possible civilations he thinks could exist in the universe based on many factors, I know- 4,000 was it?- but it’s like, a girl sitting in my psych class many years ago may say ‘the universe is huge, there has to be life!’, but well, it’s infinitely-expanding but can be condensed into a number like 10^100 (which is huge) or 4,000 or any other estimated stuff, but people w/ no knowledge of it (even less than I do, ha ha) think it’s just so so big and there can be anything out there in that magical place called space when really it’s finite at any point while infinitely expanding and no, there doesn’t have to be jack out there.

There, now correct my ignorant self.

I know that saying it’s finite while infinitely expanding is not the right thing to say- but do you get what I meant? At any point in it’s infinite expansion, you can give it’s size a general estimated number of particles like 10^100.

Now, I want to ask: what are the best known statistical odds of life existing in the estimated universe? Are there such odds? I really am open to them, despite my seeming ignorant cynicism.

The figure I’ve seen is 10[sup]79[/sup] particles, give or take, in the observable universe. Close enough though to 10[sup]100[/sup], once you get to numbers that large. And the estimate might have changed since I last heard. Maybe the guy who was counting them had to start over.

(“Damnit! Okay, okay, this time for sure. One … two … three … fiv-, no four … five … six …”)

I don’t remember what specific estimate he offered, if any. But the Drake formula basically multiplies together about ten numbers, some of which are fairly well known, most of which aren’t. So depending on whether you plug in the most pessimistic values or the most optimistic, you can reckon that there’s anything from one civilization per thousand galaxies, to thousands of civilizations per galaxy. Quite a range.

Right. As Chronos points out, people grossly underestimate the sizes and distances involved. Also, they generally don’t appreciate the limitations of the speed of light barrier, thinking it’s just a little engineering problem.

Nor do most people think about the huge time scales. The Drake formula takes as an input the average duration of an intelligent species — which of course is one of those highly unknown quantities I was talking about. But unless such species tend to stick around for a long long time, say at least a hundred thousand years or so, then neighboring species are unlikely to even be alive at the same time, even if their planets are a “mere” 20 light years apart.

Look, any estimate of how likely life is to exist somewhere other than earth would just be a complete guess.

What we can say is that there doesn’t appear to be anything unusual about Earth, except that it has had liquid water for several billion years. We don’t know how comman that is, although it certainly shouldn’t be extremely uncommon for some stars to have some planets that have had liquid water for some time. We know that lfie began on Earth by some mechanism, but we don’t understand that mechanism. Was it a 1 in 10^100 chance that life would occur, unlikely to be repeated before all stars in the universe burn themselves out? Was it something that is highly likely to occur any time you have liquid water? There is no way of answering that question, other than to assert that Earth doesn’t appear to be particularly special.

The Drake equation isn’t a method for getting an answer, it is a method for posing a meaningful question. Most of the values for the terms in the equation are completely unknown.