Bryan Caplan  

Robin Hanson to Technophiles: Get Real

Extending the Enlightened Pref... My Favorite Fifteen Minutes in...

I've often heard Robin Hanson called a "space cadet" or even a "replicant." So it's pretty dramatic to see him throw cold water on his fellow cadets:

Sigh. The US government spends more on space research than on NIH and NSF combined, which most scientists consider far out of proportion to its science value. Most any ambitious tech project, like floating cities, 3DTV, or robot mules, gives similar indirect tech spinoffs per dollar spent, and surely we can find other projects with larger direct payoffs. Sure the Chinese might have colonized the Americas, but we can see now there are no similarly lush gardens accessible in space - we'll colonize Antarctica and the Earth oceans long before, as these are far less harsh environments with plenty of the sunlight and materials which are mainly what space has to offer.
Technophiles, I beg of you - don't throw Robin out the airlock! :-)

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COMMENTS (3 to date)
KipEsquire writes:
far out of proportion to its science value
But even that is not the issue. The issue is exclusively whether space exploration is a legitimate public good in the first place.

NASA was unquestionably a critical defense program during the Cold War. It may still be today in the limited context of asteroid detection. But to the extent NASA is undertaking "inspirational" (i.e., warm-fuzzy-feeling) missions, it is an objectively illegitimate use of taxpayer funds.

Dr. T writes:

I agree that we should focus more on undersea habitats, preferably associated with undersea mining and aquaculture. Creating self-sufficient and profitable undersea colonies would be excellent preparation for orbital, lunar, or planetary colonies. I disagree about Antarctica; there is no reason to colonize it. Eskimos, Inuits, Finns, and Lapps mastered cold weather survival long ago.

Darry writes:

I sit here, safe and alive, thanks to weather satellites giving early tornado warnings earlier this week. I can browse sites and watch news from around the world. GPS is transforming navigation, farming, and may very well hold the answers to save us from cooking ourselves with global warning.
Out of Earth's gravity, materials science is giving us new understanding of the stuff of our daily lives. Many chemicals and metals cannot be combined in gravity. We are only beginning to learn why, but be sure that that reason will matter.
The genie is out of the bottle, the real question is whether we will address the challenges before us, and reap their benefits or step aside to let others have free and unencumbered sole rights to the future.

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