Space travel means racial survival!

In this current GD thread:

“OK, We’ve Paid Billions for the ISS: Where’s The Payoff?”

and this one:

"First ever flight to space by private company

a lot of posters have been questioning why we send humans into space at all. Where’s the financial return? Where are the vacuum and zero-gravity industries we’ve been promised? And if it’s just a matter of scientific exploration, can’t robots do the job, with no expensive life-support systems and no lugging along fuel for the return trip?

Valid objections, but I think they miss the point.

I hold with SF writer Robert Heinlein: “Racial survival is the only universal morality.”

And with Jerry Pournelle (or maybe it was Larry Niven?): “There is no physical reason why the human race cannot survive for another 10 billion years.”

Provided, that is, that we get off this planet and no longer have all our eggs in one fragile basket. If we ever reach the point where there are a few self-sustaining human colonies in outer space – “self-sustaining” in the sense that they could survive and continue to grow even if they were cut off from all contact with Earth – then, and only then, can we be assured of the long-term survival of the human race. Until then, we always live with the possibility that our species, as a species, someday will become extinct, just as practically all species that have ever lived on this planet have become extinct. Remember, we don’t necessarily have to create irreparable environmental damage to be doomed. Conditions on Earth could change (fatally for us) in the natural course of things, just as they have done many times before.

Anything that helps us get there from here is worth doing.

Racial survival. That’s the payoff. Any other benefit we might get from space exploration is just lagniappe.


And yes, I know The Master sees it differently.

Sorry, but what the fuck do I care if the human race survives after I’m dead? How does that help me?

Well, it matters to me. Of course I have children and even grandchildren (on the way), so maybe that makes a difference. Plus I have a love and a respect for my species (as a whole…there are plenty of individuals I could do withouth). I agree that human survival is essential. I think that sentient life is a very rare and precious thing in the universe (perhaps its even unique to the human race…for all we know it is), and it should be protected. And that means space exploration and the establishment of human colonies on other worlds. First within our own solar system, later in others (if possible).

I think the benifits of space exploration are more than just scientific. The human race NEEDS to explore and have new fronteers IMO. Not only that, but there are vast resources out there, even in our own solar systems that could transform the human race…could benifit ALL peoples. Ya, we can’t go get em now…because we are in a vicious cycle. The anti-human exploration people don’t want to fund human exploration because it costs to much (there are various arguements given from Robots Could Do It Better to Lets Solve All The Worlds Problems First Before We Worry About Space Exploration)…and it costs so much because we don’t emphasize human exploration or the technologies to have humans explore in space. We went to the moon quick and dirty (and not cheap either)…and then we dropped space exploration almost completely except for some LEO stuff by the US and the Russians. And without pushing the envelop to develop new launch technologies and explorations vehicles, the costs remain extremely high just to get stuff into orbit. So, when you say ‘there are vast resources out there waiting to be tapped by humans’ they roll their eyes and talk about the huge costs. See the cycle?

Maybe with the X-Prizes at least some in the private sector will realize that such things CAN be done…and do them. And hopefully our children or their children will be able to look back on THIS century and the decisions we make about space exploration with the same vision we now look back on the Wright Brothers and Kitty Hawk. Or maybe they will curse us for being short sighted and stupid fools as they get the news that a 500km rock is going to sterilize the earth of ALL life.

There was a book I remember reading called Foot Fall (I think it was by Niven) where one of the characters in the book is a desert rat and environmentalist from the old school. At one point in the book he’s out in Death Valley and he’s watching as the entire eco system is destroyed and says something like (to parapharse) “I wish I had been HELPING the Nuclear people make more plants and the space exploration people develop new technologies instead of protesting against it. None of this would have happened then…” The premise of the book is different (the character is talking about aliens who have dropped meteors on the earth to subdue us) but the thought is the same…if we crap out and something DOES happen to the Earth, wouldn’t it be nice if something of our civilization, our culture…or species…survives?


I’ll gladly take my family and gene line to the stars, and leave the luddites behind to wait for the next ice age. :slight_smile:

Lovely and all to be thinking 10,000 years into the future to save the human race from being doomed to a desolate desert planet by sending us to other desolate desert planets…

If you want to talk about saving the human race (I got a little nervous that this would become another neo-eugenics/human branching/genetic freedom thread when I read “Racial survival is the only universal morality”), you’d be much wiser to invest in terraforming than sending little rovers or a few space men to Mars. After all, that is the EASY part. The hard part is figuring out how the bloody hell to live there.

But there aren’t too many people talking about stopping all space exporation completely, just that the costs involved using todays technology to put humans into space are counter-productive. All that money and effort it takes to put a handful of people into space would be better spent on developing new power sources, engines, and other technologies that would make human spaceflight practical.

Look at ISS: It’s not going to form the nucleus for self-sustained human colonization of Mars or something. They’re too busy studying the effects of zero-g on ant colonies and crap like that to worry about real science. How much better served science would have been had the money that went into ISS been spent on fusion research or colliders or building a cool-ass Dyson Sphere or something.

We need to stop wasting money on manned space travel so we can develop the needed techonologies to make it (someday) possible to build self-sustaining colonies on Mars or wherever.

Well, they have a point. My point is that the “vast resources” are a secondary consideration. They’re there, of course – but there are also untapped mineral resources in Antarctica. They remain untapped because nobody has figured out a way to conduct mining operations profitably in that environment. And that’s a continent on our own planet that we can reach by ship or airplane. I expect Antarctic mining will become profitable long before mining the Moon or the asteroids becomes profitable.

From Babylon 5:

In the meantime before the Sun inevitably starts to roast the Earth (possibly as soon as 1 billion years from now) we’ll have to dodge the rare but inevitable biosphere cleansing asteroid. That’s a more pressing concern than the death of the Sun.

But the really bad news is that the latest cosmological theories say that the end result of the universe’s accelerating expansion is that it is doomed to tear itself apart at the sub-atomic level at some distant epoch. So unless there is a way to punch a hole in the universe and jump across to reach another life friendly universe, we’re boned no matter what we puny Earthlings accomplish in the meantime.

I don’t think we’re going to the stars; they are a really long way away.

No, really, they are. Maybe some of our machines will get there, but the trouble with Niven et al (much as I love his work) is that he’s just waved away the tremendous problem of interstellar travel by inventing FTL drives (or their effective equivalent), self-renewing energy sources and indestructible spaceships. OK, I can’t fault him for that; it is pretty much his job to make that stuff up. But the actual human race can’t just wave these problems away; they are real and they are really significant*.
Not that I wish to belittle this achievement; I think it is great; very impressive; I just happen to think we’re deluding ourselves to imagine the human race colonising the galaxy.
To which is often countered what I call ‘The Sneelock Argument’; from Dr Seuss’ If I ran The Circus: “He’ll Manage just fine; Don’t ask how he’ll manage.
That’s his job. Not mine.
” It’s too easy to invent impossible tasks for future scientists.

**To which is most often countered the ‘Ah yes, but stone age man didn’t think we’d have CD players’ argument, which is just a way of repackaging Argument from Ignorance.

I think I remember reading someplace that Alfred Hitchcock once said, when asked what he wanted to leave for posterity, “What has posterity ever done for me?!?”

I sort of agree, although I’d put it more mildly; what does it actually matter if the human race never makes it off this rock? Yes, that means that one day, there will be no more human race, but I don’t see why that is such a terrible thing (I don’t think it’s necessarily a good thing either - just a ‘thing’ - an inevitable, neutral thing).

What strikes my fancy is how some people are so disdainfully proud of their “I don’t believe in an afterlife so it doesn’t matter what you do with me anyway,” but at the same time are so avidly concerned about what happens once humans blink out (and we will).

I don’t think space exploration should cease, nor do I think the budget should be cut. I think it’s just about right where it is.

I do think NASA’s priorities need to be drastically altered. Manned spaceflight is more or less a waste of time. The Space Shuttle is definitely a waste of resources. We’ll get far more bang for the buck with robot drones right now and using capsules for those times when we need to send actual people up there.

Frankly, manned spaceflight does nothing to find a solution to the true logistical problems of long term space flight. Power.

It’s that annoying altruism thing. As a courtesy, I’ll forget all about it if we ever meet, so as not to appear inconsistent.

You might feel differently if a space-technology spinoff results in a re-animation ray.

Or maybe you’ll just roam the Earth, yelling “BRAINS!”

We could solve the problem of “power” as such with shipboard nuclear power plants. I think the real problem is reaction mass. The question “What does a rocket push against?” is not irrelevant – the answer is, a rocket pushes against its own exhaust gases. They are not mere waste products like the CO2 coming out of an automobile’s tailpipe, they are the reaction mass of the ship. And a ship can only carry so much reaction mass with it. So at our present state of technology, space travel means giving a spaceship one big push and then letting it drift in free fall until it reaches its destination – as opposed to, say, a “constant-boost” drive that might allow a ship to accelerate at one g until midway through the journey, then reverse thrust direction and decelerate at one g the rest of the way.

I don’t see any way to solve the reaction-mass problem, not until our technology reaches the point where we can safely build “Orion craft” powered by fission bombs behind a push-plate, or “Bussard ramjets” fusing free hydrogen in space as they go along. But the problem is exactly the same for unmanned as for manned spaceships – isn’t it?

That idea that “racial survival is the only universal morality” is exactly the ethic of the aliens in the movie Independence Day. Of course, it’s not a universal morality, but a racial one. Will you take dogs & daylilies & sea urchins with you? Once you find a habitable planet, it may already have life; will you leave any indigenous life there unmolested?

I doubt it. This is nothing but “Manifest Destiny” writ on a cosmic scale. You would become the reavers, the destroyers, sucking life out of planets in your march to survive until the heat death of the universe. And in the process, destroy far more on a cosmic level than you would save. True universal morality has no loyalties. “The master loves everything & loves nothing.” My sense of justice doesn’t stop at the human race. Can you say the same?

Ok, here’s how we could start colonizing the galaxy NOW (in theory anyway)

Build a HUGE nuclear pulse spaceship. Not just the Orion type that would run on 1-kiloton fusion bombs, but one with a pusher plate kilometers across that would use 1-megaton fusion bombs. Attach this to an O’Neil type space colony, one that will be self-sufficient for centuries. Aim towards Alpha Centauri. Accelerate to half of one percent of the speed of light (0.5%). Your descendents get there ~900 years from now, and start building colonies out of asteroids or build habitats on any suitable planets.

Yes, I know that that glosses over huge problems of expense, engineering, and the development of a space-based society. But from a purely technical perspective, it could be done. So I don’t think the energy argument against startravel is valid.

If and when we advance to the point of having self-sufficient O’Neil colonies in circumlunar space, and especially if enabling technologies like hibernation or dramatically extended lifespans become available, some group of crackpots will probably actually do this.

(Although, even if a ship was ready to leave today, I wouldn’t commit my descendents to it; something faster will almost certainly be available in a century or two.)