What is the cost of space exploration?
If I remember correctly, Heinlein once wrote of space program critics that it’s raining soup up there, and the critics are complaining about the high price of bowls.
A thirst for exploring and investigating our solar system (and maybe, one day, beyond) translates to costs now. Yes, most things that pay off in the long run do. When a young student moves on to university, you can either criticize the cost at the moment, or send him or her knowing that, educated, college graduates contribute more to both their own wellbeing and to society in general.
Lots of people like to count the cost now, as you said, and talk about what could be done with space exploration money in other arenas at the moment.
Honestly, though. What we do now can easily lead, if we sustain and expand our space exploration efforts, to things like asteroid mining, orbital solar power collection, and humans living in large numbers in multiple locations so that if another dinosaur-killer asteroid comes around, or if a megavolcano caldera like the Yellowstone region blows, humanity’s eggs are not all in one basket.
And you’re right, if we do not foster and advance the cause of pure-science space missions now, we won’t have these opportunities later. It is far too easy to imagine scenarios that end with a slowly-declining humanity maundering around on this single rock we live on for another few hundred years and devolving into the stone age, never to look to the stars again.
That’s not the future I want for my childrens’ childrens’ children. And I know we CAN achieve a future in which humanity inhabits the whole of the solar system, which holds resources capable of sustaining TRILLIONS of human beings.
It really is raining soup — resources and room to live — up there. It behooves us to study the art of making bowls with a will!
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea”
– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
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