Spaceships or Hospital Beds?

I’ve just retuned from a debate with Dr Chris Busby, UK Green party representatvive on science & technology on the BBC Radio Wales programme run by Nicola Haywood Thomas. It was the old chestnut of why spend money on space exploration when there are so many problems here.

Here are my points from the debate.

As a major advance in man?s understanding of the cosmos occurs today with the landing of the ESA Huygens probe on Titan. Despite the public interest in this endeavour once again the issue is raised ? is space exploration too expensive and can we spend the money on other, more beneficial things?

Whilst it is clear that more needs to be spent on welfare, education, the NHS and other worthy causes, the recent events after the boxing day Tsunami in Asia show that there is more than enough money in the government budget to take care of many problems. Today we have Gordon Brown promising 1 billion in foreign debt relief, the production of ??75 million from public sources which is matched by further government funding and the promise of untold billions from countries across the globe. Consider the outrageous profits made by commercial enterprises or is wasted in destructive armaments programmes and then contemplate how this money could be used to benefit mankind. It costs $500 million a day to run single a US naval battle group; the cost of a nuclear submarine is the equivalent to the education budget of 23 developing countries; The cost over-runs on the development of the B1 and B2 bombers would pay for a world vaccination programme ? just a few examples) Put all this together and the realisation dawns that space exploration, at an average cost of 600 million per project, including development, on-costs and the building and launching of the craft, is a relative drop in the ocean and furthers mankind?s knowledge of the cosmos and our place in it.

It also assures us that future exploration of the planets is viable, whilst earth resource systems allow us to identify new resources here and help us manage and monitor the environment better. It is through the exploration of space that we lead more comfortable lives through the spin-off technologies and aid us to help the developing world make the most efficient use of its resources.

Consider such advances from space exploration: Whale identification methods, environmental analysis, noise abatement, pollution measuring devices, pollution control devices, smokestack monitor, radioactive leak detector, earthquake prediction system, sewage treatment, energy saving air conditioning, and air purification. Dustbusters, shock-absorbing helmets, home security systems, smoke detectors, flat panel televisions, high-density batteries, trash compactors, food packaging and freeze-dried technology, cool sportswear, sports bras, hair styling appliances, fogless ski goggles, self-adjusting sunglasses, composite golf clubs, hang gliders, art preservation, and quartz crystal timing equipment. Computer systems and advanced keyboards, Customer Service Software, Database Management System, Laser Surveying, Aircraft controls, Lightweight Compact Disc, Expert System Software, Microcomputers, and Design Graphics. Other spin-offs include safer bridges, emission testing, airline wheelchairs, electric car, auto design, methane-powered vehicles, windshear prediction, and aircraft design analysis ? need I go on? There is hardly a facet of modern life that has not been influenced by developments from the space industry ? and most people can only name Teflon!

To think that we get nothing in return from the money put into space research is short sighted and unappreciative. The knowledge of other planetary systems increases our boundaries and provides a motivating spirit which mankind needs.
When it comes to choosing between hospital beds, education, social programmes, foreign aid, any other worthy programme instead of space exploration, the choice is clear ??? we can do it all if we spend the money appropriately.



4 comments


    Mark Brake

    January 14, 2005

    I agree with the general thrust (sorry, no pun intended!) of
    Martin’s argument, and was rather dismayed to hear the floppy
    nonsense coming from orifice of Chris Busby, who apparently is
    Green Party spokesgeezer on science matters.

    Having said that, should he have stumbled upon this BBC story
    entitled
    “Illness linked to rocket station”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4169095.stm , maybe his argument would have had
    more legs.

    Apparently “a tablespoon of hydrazine in a swimming pool
    would kill anyone who drank the water”.

    Matt G.

    January 14, 2005

    I can see the point here, however I do personally feel that the space program shouldn’t be funded by public money, or at least not entirely. If it was a commercial enterprise it would be far in advance of where it is now. Or perhaps I should say if people with big bucks, like Mr. Gates and whoever else, were to fully realise the potential of this as yet untapped resource, we would see a very different space program.

    MarkBanerji

    January 14, 2005

    “Media Labs Europe, is to shut down”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/4183561.stm

    This is just another example of a lack of joined up thinking on the part of governments. It will probably be turned into a call centre.

    Roger Horowitz

    January 14, 2005

    I think Chris Busby made some extremely valuable points. His main one was that we have messed up this planet and rather than spend money on sorting this, people are being encouraged by all this space research crap to believe that we can fly off to another one.
    This is not going to happen.
    I have just read this and remember the program.

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