Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Real Value Of Space

In a recent speech, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin argues that is is the "real" reasons we explore space - competition, monument building, and curiosity - which provides the real value to society. He compares the space program to Cathedral building, and explores how what was learned in that activity led to western civilization. Likewise, exploring space provides inestimable benefits to our society.
What is the economic value to a society of upgrading the precision to which the entire industrial base of that society works? Anyone who wants to put together space artifacts, who wants to bid on a competition for space artifacts, who wants to be a subcontractor or supplier, or who even wants to supply nuts, bolts and screws to the space industry, must work to a higher level of precision than human beings had to do before the space industry came along. And that fact absolutely resonates throughout our entire industrial base. What is the value of that? I can't calculate it, but I know it's there.

What is the scientific value of discovering the origins of our universe? Or of discovering that literally 95% of the universe consists of dark energy or dark matter, terms for things that we as yet know nothing about? But they make up 95% of our universe. Is it even conceivable that one day we won't learn to harness them? As cavemen learned to harness fire, as people two centuries ago learned to harness electricity, we will learn to harness these new things. It was just a few years ago that we discovered them, and we would not have done so without the space program. What is the value of knowledge like that? I cannot begin to guess. A thousand years from now there will be human beings who don't have to guess; they will know, and they will know we gave this to them.

Let's think for a moment about national security. What is the value to the United States of being involved in enterprises which lift up human hearts everywhere when we do them? What is the value to the United States of being engaged in such projects, doing the kinds of things that other people want to do with us, as partners? What is the value to the United States of being a leader in such efforts, in projects in which every nation capable of doing so wants to take part? I would submit that the highest possible form of national security, well above having better guns and bombs than everyone else, well above being so strong that no one wants to fight with us, is the security which comes from being a nation which does the kinds of things that make others want to work with us to do them. What security could we ever ask that would be better than that, and what give more of it to us than the space program?

What do you have to do, how do you have to behave, to do space projects? You have to value hard work. You have to live by excellence, or die from the lack of it. You have to understand and practice both leadership and followership, and both are important. You have to build partnerships; leaders need partners and allies, as well as followers. You have to be willing to defer gratification, to spend years doing what we do, and then stand back and see if it works. We learn how to leave a legacy, because we work on things that not all of us will live to see – and we know it. And we learn about accepting the challenge of the unknown, where we might fail, and to do so not without fear or apprehension, but to master it and to control it and to go anyway.

These are lessons that we all need to learn, and they are lessons the space business teaches us. And I would submit that our country is a better place for those who have learned those lessons.

These are the values that the space program brings. This is why it must be supported. And this is why, although we don't acknowledge it, we don't admit it and most of us don't understand it, this is why if we didn't have a space program, we Americans would feel less than ourselves. We can never allow that to happen.

All this is true. It's also true that moving into space is essential to mitigate existential risks and insure the survival of humanity, which is reason enough.

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