Why should the government fund space exploration?

Posted on 13 January 2008 in Space

This article (via /.) is meant to discuss whether space exploration is worth the cost, but discusses government-funded space exploration almost exclusively. This makes sense; the discussion as to whether whether commercial and other private space exploration is worth the cost is more one for the boardroom, not the New York Times. And it's an interesting question; I'm pretty libertarian, and government-funded anything tends to raise my hackles -- and to be perfectly honest, many of the arguments mentioned by the contributors to the article sound pretty weak.

But one does stand out.

I asked guests on The Space Show, students, and people in space-related fields what inspired or motivated them to start a space business or pursue their science education, over 80 percent said they were inspired and motivated because of our having gone to the moon.

When I was a kid, like most boys then, I wanted to be an astronaut. I grew out of it, but my interest in science -- which eventually led to my career in technology -- started then.

It's hardly scientific to point at the decline in space exploration in the West and the decline in the number of science graduates, and the contrasting rises in both in -- say - China -- and claim some kind of correlation. But it does make you think.

If space exploration increases children's interest in science, and causes long-term benefits to the economy that are not directly captured (or, I think capturable) by the explorers, then perhaps that's a good reason for state spending in that area.

Of course -- as you might have realised by my use of the word "West" above, it's not directly captured by the funding country either. British children like me were inspired by American space exploration. Would they be inspired by Chinese space exploration?

I'll leave that one open.

View from a launched rocket

Posted on 22 March 2007 in Space

SpaceX test-launched their liquid-fueled rocket on Tuesday, and have made available this awesome camera feed from the rocket itself; the view from the second stage as the vehicle takes off and flies to 188km above the earth. It's aching to be mashed up with music... (Update: that video link no longer works, but there's a copy on this Techcrunch post -- you can see the wobble set in at about the 6 minute mark.)

More information about the launch at space.com; their article is a bit downbeat, but the live webcast was fantastic to watch. SpaceX aborted their first launch attempt after ignition; being able to do that is extremely impressive in itself. They then managed to refuel the vehicle and successfully launch it an hour later; being able to do that is incredible. So the first stage went very well. After that, separating the first stage from the second seemed to go well, but then the second stage... exhibited a couple of bugs. To be perfectly honest, I've experienced times when software has spun out of control and crashed on me halfway through the second client demo, and it's usually turned out OK soon after.

Of course, because we practice exteme programming at Resolver, we have full functional and unit test suites for our code -- so our client demos never crash.