Tuesday, September 02, 2008
Letter in the Herald today. I have previously said why going to space by paying for X-Prizes is economically sensible & except from full blooded libertarians who think ANY government economic action is wrong in principle & full blooded members of the "LibDems" who think ANY economically useful government action is wrong in principle (sect 5) have had no real argument.
That argument is therefore won/ignored & this letter is about the cultural reasons for space development. We are told that we live in a "2 cultures" society where people are concerned either about art or about science & I went to some length not to criticise spending on art but to make this letter about how anybody who wants a united culture must wish to see spending not monopolised by either. The Herald have edited out bits marked [ ]. These were a comparison with the £1 billion annually spent on windmillery, which I regard as the opposite of progress & an economic justification for the project.
What we spend money on as a society shows what we value. If the "great & good" say we must spend £100 million for paintings because they are indeed magnificent achievements so be it. [I do begrudge the hundreds of billions we waste on Ludditism, windmillery & the theory that "nature" must trump mere human achievement.]
But I think we should spend at least comparable amounts on progress. Just as 2 centuries ago a government prize of £20,000 led to the development of a way to measure longitude, making ocean travel far easier, & an X-Prize of $10 million was enough to stimulate development of Spaceship One & Virgin Galactic, experts say that an X-Prize of £280 million ($500 million) would be enough to produce a private enterprise reusable shuttle able to fly us to orbit at a price comparable to flying to Australia.
[If it cannot be done then the prize will not be won. This is a bet where, if you lose you get your stake back. Ignore the unlimited economic impact of developing the resources in space & of having our country play a major part in it.] Surely the value to the human spirit alone of becoming a spacegoing civilisation is far more than a couple of paintings.
"Reaching for the Moon" once meant seeking an unattainable goal. Have we declined so far that now, when it is attainable for the price of government's pocket change, we are so fearful of innovation that we turn away from it?
UPDATE Jerry Pournelle has put this letter on his blog as well . I am almost becoming a regular fixture which is a considerable honour.