4 Reasons Why We Don't Explore Space--and Why They Aren't Reasons At All (Part 1 of 4)

Thursday, 22 September 2016 - 12:00PM
Thursday, 22 September 2016 - 12:00PM
4 Reasons Why We Don't Explore Space--and Why They Aren't Reasons At All (Part 1 of 4)
< >
The following post is the first of a four-part series developed by our partners at Exosphere. Their efforts to overcome the obstacles to space exploration have been embodied in their Exosphere Academy program, in particular in the Mars Colonization stream. Check their program here: http://exs.ph/2cP0jKA 
During the first high-profile spacecraft launches of the 70s, public support for space exploration was at an all-time high, but since has been in steady decline. The past decades have been spent formalizing our understanding of scientific data and completing the institutionalization of processes usually associated with any new and unknown industry, with bureaucracy slowing down research efforts so vitally needed for true advancement in the field. As it happens in most organizations, daring pursuit of innovation has been replaced by administration requiring a whole generation of managers focused more on adjusting the accuracy of existing findings than producing scientific breakthroughs.

With explosive growth giving way to steady extension, space exploration became the subject of interest for specialized professionals – not the general public.
Then, about ten years ago, the private sector realized the staggering dimension of potential market impact that space exploration promises and went on to build new companies to exploit it. While Elon Musk's SpaceX managed to get funding through contracts from NASA, Blue Origin—the brainchild of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos—managed to remain completely privately financed. With the promise of overhauling the whole industry, they were granted access to launch facilities and are now making steady progress in pursuit of that goal.

Musk's statements about the importance of Mars exploration and his real efforts to achieve it in his lifetime pushed interest towards the potential economic opportunities of space exploration. A fresh and interesting idea is mining asteroids in orbit around earth, which are likely to hold enormous value in the form of natural resources and precious metals. Growing demand for electronics and a shortage of raw materials for manufacturing them makes it a multi-trillion dollar industry, while also potentially holding the key to sustainable space exploration.

Now, in 2016, sustained and ongoing space exploration is closer to becoming a reality than ever before, but there are still some obstacles we need to overcome. Let's take a look at four reasons why we are not exploring space—and why they aren't reasons at all.

Number 1: Lack of General Interest

News portals in the present never seem to run out of stories related to space exploration – there are companies working on reducing costs for space travel, Saturn is giving birth to a new moon, we rendezvoused with a comet and are now in possession of the most detailed map of our place in the universe to date.

Elon Musk

But these headlines may seem bleak and boring to a public that gets its picture of space from movies like "Gravity" and "Interstellar".

Did you know that the cost of the Indian Mars Orbiter Mission ($75m) was actually lower than that of producing the "Gravity" movie ($100m), and only a fraction of the average cost of regular NASA satellite launches? It's a terrifying thought. We should hope that these movies contribute to public interest in space – if not, it's quite sad to think about what could have been achieved by putting that amount of money to use in research.

But politicians use their nations budgets for appealing to the interests of taxpayers while directors make movies about stories they expect to sell well, and only history will tell which of these ways to direct human effort will have benefitted civilisation more.
There were many news stories about space exploration so far this year, but none of them have been as viscerally breathtaking as the space exploration movies.
Humankind hasn't built a space elevator yet, we are still not on our way to Mars, rocket fuels remain woefully inefficient, we don't know how to deal with high radiation levels found in space, and we have yet to make a breakthrough in decreasing the cost of delivering payloads into orbit.

(And no, aliens still don't talk to us.)

In 2014, when Voyager was 11.66 billion miles (18.67 billion kilometers) away from earth, it was the first time in history that a human-made device left our solar system – yet it is just one spacecraft (launched in the 70s!), going in just one direction.

We can imagine that some day in the future another regular tourist shuttle "Earth – Alpha Centauri" will slow down near Voyager to show this peculiar museum object to the passengers, similar to the way we like to look at prehistoric monkeys' fire stones in museums here on earth.

But in order to make this happen, we need a shift in priorities. Governments and the private sector are indeed allocating some amount of money to space research, to acceleration of particles at the LHC, to the testing of space elevator climbers, and sometimes even donate computing power to process and search for pulsars. We need more people involved in space science, and the enormous amounts money invested in movies popularizing the field is likely to do just that.

Next week we will be exploring part two of the series. Stay tuned!

Elon Musk

This post by the Exosphere Academy team is part of an ongoing series from our partners at Exosphere, a learning and problem solving community based in Brazil. To find out more and be a part of their cutting-edge educational programs visit them at http://exs.ph/2cP0jKA