4 Reasons Why We Don't Explore Space - And Why They Aren't Reasons At All (Part 2 of 4)

Thursday, 29 September 2016 - 11:30AM
Thursday, 29 September 2016 - 11:30AM
4 Reasons Why We Don't Explore Space - And Why They Aren't Reasons At All (Part 2 of 4)
The following post is the second of a four-part series developed by our partners at Exosphere (for the first part in the series, click here). 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 out their program here: http://exs.ph/2cP0jKA

Reason number 2: Lack of Resources

Total U.S. outlays for 2016 are estimated at $3.99 trillion. NASA's budget request would earmark $18,529 billion, or 0.46 percent of the total.

In the 1960s, when the US struggled to overtake the Soviet Union in the space race, NASA's budget was 4.5 percent of the US budget.

There is a common misconception that the single biggest cost factor in space missions is rocket fuel (due to the high cost of rare earth metals needed for production), but this just isn't the case. Yes, at this stage of development of the industry, fuel costs are high. But the main item of expenditure, the single biggest cost factors, are the rockets.

According to Elon Musk, fuel costs could account for only 0.4% of the total cost of a launch as long as the frequency of launches increases – a goal towards which we are making progress.

The main objective of space science right now is reducing the cost of launches, and one of the ways to do this is by making rockets reusable. Continuing the tradition of the Space Shuttle program, Musk is expecting a hundredfold reduction in overall cost.

The recent attempt to return one of these machines to Earth was somewhat successful: even though its landing failed, the unmanned Falcon rocket delivered its Dragon cargo module to the International Space Station and made it back to the ground.

ESA brought us good news too: its Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) splashed into the ocean after a successful launch this March.

The strategic goal of the global space science community is – and should be – to involve business in space research by allowing for economic incentives. Making it work economically by opening up space to tourism and other commercial uses will allow the industry to develop in a sustainable way. After 50 years of space research it is time to shift from government funding to profit optimization as the main driver behind continued exploration. Now the development will need to aim for conveyor belt production of rockets as the painstaking work of building by hand is a major obstacle to growing this industry.

Every dollar invested in NASA was recovered and brought huge profits, but these kinds of long-term investments will bring profits 10-15 years down the road. Only very wealthy companies can afford this kind of money and long term commitment – that's why they built so many telescopes around the world, and that's why they are the first to believe in the success of the Planetary Resources.

Every time the government tries to cut NASA's budget, scientists are quick to remind us that all GPS navigation has grown out of scientific contributions, especially made as a result of the space flight program.

Scientific research is generally conducted with a long-term vision of actual usefulness through eventual technology development, but only very few countries have this mindset. Graphene is made in the United States, because they understand that cutting-edge technology development takes time, but in the end tends to lead to profits for the commercial sector.

Some companies are now actually starting to think about putting production facilities in orbit, because having access to 24/7 non-stop solar energy combined with zero-gravity conditions holds promise for new production possibilities. It will be possible if science and business work together and drive down the price point of sending cargo to orbit, be that with reusable rockets, the space elevator or other methods.
If you are enjoying the series, stay tuned, next week we will have the third reason of "Why We Don't Explore Space and Why They Aren't Reasons At All."

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