Hey, here's an idea: how about using our collective wealth for feeding starving kids in Africa?!?
I like Stuhlinger's words
on this subject.
This is a tired old sentiment and I can think of a number of problems with it. The most obvious one is that throwing money/wealth at a problem isn't always the answer. What is a poor farmer supposed to do with your coin when there's a drought and his crops won't grow? He can't eat money. What is that wealth actually doing, exactly? The next most obvious one is that giving wealth to any country isn't necessarily going to result in the changes we want - I have heard tell of charity money flowing into a country, only to be "redirected" to the coffers of the powerful elite of that country instead of the impoverished folks who were supposed to receive it.
There is also the fact that taking money away from space endeavours isn't necessarily going to cause money to be redirected to Africa in the first place. In general, you need to convince people to spend money on something other than their own advancement. You need to convince people to spend money on starving kids in Africa, rather than bombs and tanks and other such things - I would go so far as to wonder why you even bother complaining about the relatively paltry expenditure (less than a percent of the US federal budget goes to NASA; even less private capital goes towards space) of space when the US alone spends hundreds of billions of dollars per year on its war machine and the populace itself spends some non-trivial amount on beauty products, devices which serve little purpose other than the placation of vanity! A space colony at least advances our species and technology levels and employs people here on Earth. In fact, that last fact goes for space endeavours in general - not a single dollar spent on the space shuttle was spent "in space," it was spent employing the thousands of people needed to launch and maintain the shuttle.
So hey, here's an idea, if we're going to redirect wealth from some task and give it to starving children in Africa, let's pick one of the less productive human endeavours. I hope you will agree with me that there are things that are vastly less productive and progress-promoting things humans do than space exploration.
Given Mars's gravity, you could probably construct a space elevator
Now THAT I am most skeptical of. It sounds promising, I know, and I admit that it may be easier on Mars, but still - a working space elevator not only requires materials technology that we do not currently have, but there's the problem of debris avoidance. Space is not empty. I'm frankly amazed that anyone thinks any kind of space elevator is more feasible than a small, sustainable Mars base. I'd rank even space-based solar power as being more likely at this point than a space elevator, and I'm pretty skeptical of that, too.
Create the technology for both the first sustainable extra-terrestrial colony and the longest human journey ever.
It's about 6 months, about the same length as the usual tour of duty on the international space station (coincidence?), and with better propulsion technology that could be reduced. The longest time a human has been in space at this time has been over a year.
I just don't see the point in jumping to mars, when we can solve a lot of the problems within 10,000km of earth and then go to Mars or anywhere else instead of solving mars specific problems and then being just on mars.
The distance argument is a good one, and I'd like to see space-based colonies, but I still feel like you're ignoring the fact that the space colon will have their own equally troublesome problems. Among other things, there's the gravity issue (probably solvable, though), the radiation issue (need radiation shielding, which on Mars is its atmosphere, to protect people from solar flares and cosmic rays - don't want your colony to die of radiation poisoning the first solar maximum after you build the colony!), and the micrometeoroid/debris issue - there's a LOT of debris in cislunar space, especially near geosynchronous orbit where most comsats are, which is what really kills the Earth-based space elevator idea for me. Again, I like the idea of a space-based colony, I just think its own problems are being glossed over.
Edited by Oberon_Command, 08 January 2013 - 11:52 PM.