Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Not Just Science

geek.com put up a brief post about the latest news in the ongoing shuttle repairs. I posted a reply which I hope gets people thinking a little bit deeper about human spaceflight. I thought I'd repost my comment here just in case anyone would like to discuss it further.

Those who claim that Science is the primary driver for the human spaceflight program are either deluding themselves, or are just not aware of the full truth. Science has been used as a justification for our current space program because it is capable of so little else.

In the beginning, the human spaceflight program served as a rigorous arena for expanding the technological boundaries of engineering. These advancements would have occurred with, or without the Cold War, however, it's influence certainly increased the investment in many technologies. Our human spaceflight program was perhaps the most visible example of this progress.

By the time the Shuttle program came about, national priorities had changed, and NASA was left with a very expensive legacy. The shuttle was a rather poor engineering test bed. They could not afford to push it's envelope then throw it away when they had learned all they could from it. This left them with the problem of trying to justify its existence. If it was not to goint to be used to push the boundaries of human spaceflight engineering, then what purpose would it serve? This is when people began to believe that human spaceflight was about doing science. That was the excuse cooked up to justify the Shuttle's continued existence.

More recently, there have been many groups who have rediscovered the original goal of human spaceflight as technology driver. However, these companies have to close their business plan so you'll probably hear that the new motivation for sending people into space is to tap the adventure tourism market. This again is just an excuse to justify the expense necessary to develop the technologies required to advance human spaceflight capability.

So, why do we need to advance human spaceflight capability? What purpose does it serve to put humans into space? It serves the purpose of growth. Everything that mankind has ever done has been to support growth: social, economic, technological, and even territorial. It is our nature to expand beyond our current means. To fully explore every possible niche in the universe and to exploit all available resources as they are made accessible. The rest of the universe has an abundance of niches and resources of which we have only seen the smallest glimpse. We will use these resources to our advantage some day, but before we can do so, we must learn how to gain access to them and to properly exploit them.

In the end, there is just one reason why we need to invest in human spaceflight. It is our destiny to eventually leave this planet and spread out into the universe. To fail to do so would defy our human nature. - by PhysBrain