thoughts on a canadian space program

Tilberian's picture

This has nothing to do with religion but I thought I'd throw it up because I know there's so many like-minded people here. This is my response to a message board on the CBC website that was discussing whether or not Canada should be pushing more than our current pathetic $300 million a year into a space program. The board was stuffed with the usual bleeding heart hand wringing about how we shouldn't spend ANYTHING on space until we are living in Utopia down here.

The idea that spending money on space exploration is taking money away from social programs or other priorities is ridiculous. Even in the US, the entire space budget is a tiny fraction of what is spent on social programs. All of the space budget could be allocated to social programs with no perceptible difference. It is absurd to demand that all government spending be directed at any one area, no matter how important that area is. So let's abandon this red herring argument that we shouldn't spend money on space while there are still social problems left to be solved.

Similarly, we can discard this notion that we shouldn't engage in space exploration because it is "really" about international competition. Space is only about competition if we feel that it is about competition. But there are plenty of excellent justifications for exploring space and having a presence in space that have nothing to do with this. So there is no reason why a Canadian space program would have to be about international competition.
We have a choice as a society to advance scientifically and technologically or to stop advancing. Space exploration and exploitation has already yielded huge, unpredicted benefits for the world. History shows us that EVERY time we set forth as a society to meet the challenge of a new frontier, an incredible surge forward in the progress of our species is the result. Let's stop whining and tackle something fun and interesting for a change.

Lazy is a word we use when someone isn't doing what we want them to do.
- Dr. Joy Brown

Thomathy's picture

Canada's space programme

Canada's space programme needs serious money.  It is high time that Canada invested more into an endeavour that would yield excellent results.  Not to mention the money that would be gained by extra governmental investment in a space programme, it would just be wonderful to see what Canada can bring to space that it hasn't already (Canada has brought some important things to space).

I'm surprised that the socially minded Canadians can't see the obvious positive implications in a space programme with more money to use.  It's sad that people can't see past the current societal flaws and that hesitations about entering into 'international competition' could possibly be used as an argument against a more funded space programme.  Even if it is an international competition, how does that detract from the positives of space exploration and exploitation (rhetorical)?

In short, I agree with you Tilberian.

(By the way, are you living in Tilbury, Ontario as your name suggests to me?)

BigUniverse wrote,

"Well the things that happen less often are more likely to be the result of the supper natural. A thing like loosing my keys in the morning is not likely supper natural, but finding a thousand dollars or meeting a celebrity might be."

Tilberian's picture

Ha! Congrats, Tomathy, you

Ha! Congrats, Tomathy, you are the first person I've met online to figure that out (not surprisingly).

Actually I moved to London a couple years ago but I kept the handle because I like it. I lived in Tilbury for six years while I was working in Windsor and my wife was working in Chatham.

Where are you? 

Lazy is a word we use when someone isn't doing what we want them to do.
- Dr. Joy Brown

You did bring how the push

You did bring how the push for space, or any goal, brings about new technology correct? It takes money and all that, but if people try random research with no goal it would kind of ineffective. Better technology would be necessary to get anywhere close to a utopia some of which may depend on space travel.

Also if their whole argument centers around taking money out of a program, it would be that way in my country, to put it into social program maybe they should pick one that has a lot more money in it maybe the military. I mean finding new ways to kill people vs space research. If it was people eating vs moon base I'd choose the food, but I don't think thats choices we have here.

Cpt_pineapple's picture

Well, we do contribute to

Well, we do contribute to the space program (CanadARM for example.), but yeah, it would be nice to see a NASA quality program here.

mavaddat's picture

Exploitation of space? Hmm,

Exploitation of space? Hmm, that doesn't sound very good to me.

To be honest, I remain highly sceptical of funding for space research. I think there is so much more interesting scientific work that can be done on Earth and that would benefit us more immediately. Consider how little we know about our oceans in terms of ecosystems, water flow, and climate change.

No, honestly I don't think we should be spending much (if anything) on space programs.

I'm in Vancouver by the way! Cheers! 

Tilberian's picture

Voiderest wrote: You did

Voiderest wrote:

You did bring how the push for space, or any goal, brings about new technology correct? It takes money and all that, but if people try random research with no goal it would kind of ineffective. Better technology would be necessary to get anywhere close to a utopia some of which may depend on space travel.

Also if their whole argument centers around taking money out of a program, it would be that way in my country, to put it into social program maybe they should pick one that has a lot more money in it maybe the military. I mean finding new ways to kill people vs space research. If it was people eating vs moon base I'd choose the food, but I don't think thats choices we have here.

The scientific advancement discussion is one you just can't have with people who have no basic understanding of the way in which scientific discovery happens. Most people view all science as applied science, ie the only reason to do it is because it will yield some direct and immediate lifestyle benefit. Since applied science is goal-oriented from the start, you can't convince people that only understand applied science that some benefit might accrue from pure research or discovery. Sadly, these same people also tend to be ignorant of the history of science, which shows us that all breakthroughs in applied science are preceded by discoveries on the researrch side. 

Still, I did say that human progress is about exploration and discovery, which I hope puts the same ideas in terms that these types can understand. 

Lazy is a word we use when someone isn't doing what we want them to do.
- Dr. Joy Brown

Tilberian's picture

mavaddat

mavaddat wrote:

Exploitation of space? Hmm, that doesn't sound very good to me.

That's because you associate exploitation with its manifestations on earth, which usually involved either human exploitation or exploitation of natural resources which usually damages the environment. Asteroids, on the other hand, have no one living on them and don't particularly care if they get mined out. That's just one example.

mavaddat wrote:

To be honest, I remain highly sceptical of funding for space research. I think there is so much more interesting scientific work that can be done on Earth and that would benefit us more immediately. Consider how little we know about our oceans in terms of ecosystems, water flow, and climate change.

No, honestly I don't think we should be spending much (if anything) on space programs.

I'm in Vancouver by the way! Cheers!

Again with the false economy. I guess we are so conditioned to pinch pennies in Canada that we can't look at anything except in terms of its opportunity cost.

Of course ocean research is valuable. Of course we should be spending money on it. Why does this mean we should NOT be spending money on space? Why must we insist that ALL the money must be spent on one thing or another?

The only way to defend the proposition that space research should not be funded is to show that it is useless. To rebut this idea, I'll give just three examples of how space science has made a huge impact on earth:

1. CFCs. The only reason anyone today knows that CFCs destroy the ozone layer is because two researchers at the University of California, funded by NASA, were trying to model chemical reactions in the atmosphere of Venus. If not for pure space research into something apparently completely unrelated to any possible practical application on earth, we would probably not be able to go outside today in many parts of the world. 

2. Global warming. The entire idea comes from studies of Venus and one of the pioneers of this research is James Hansen of the Goddard Institute for Space Sciences. It is only through our probing of the Venusian surface and atmosphere with spacecraft and radio telescopes that we understand that Venus' heat does not come from within the planet itself but is rather the result of solar energy being trapped under a stifling atmosphere. Satellites, those other somewhat useful spin-offs of space research, have been critical in looking for signs of global warming on earth.

3. Nuclear winter. Carl Sagan and others first came up with the idea after observing the effects of dust storms on Mars. Because their nuclear winter models showed that human civilization could not survive a nuclear war, the political tide turned against nuclear proliferation and the Cold War, eventually resulting in the detente and disarmament that we see today.

So space science has so far saved us all from blind cancerous death from UV bombardment, roasting environmental disaster due to unchecked CO2 buildup, and nuclear annihilation. What do you say, is it worth a few bucks? Especially when you reflect on the fact that not one of those outcomes was in any way intentional or even predictable given the state of knowledge prior to the basic research.

Lazy is a word we use when someone isn't doing what we want them to do.
- Dr. Joy Brown

mavaddat's picture

Thank you, Tilberian. That

Thank you, Tilberian. That was actually very convincing.

You're right that the only reason to stop funding for space research is if it was useless for us here on Earth.

I suppose I had been thinking in terms of a false dichotomy (either spend on this xor that).

Thanks for the good evidence to back up your position! I didn't really realize how important space research had really been!

mavaddat's picture

Tilberian wrote: Sadly,

Tilberian wrote:
Sadly, these same people also tend to be ignorant of the history of science, which shows us that all breakthroughs in applied science are preceded by discoveries on the research side.
As a matter of historical interest, this is actually not true. The engineers of the six- and seven- teenth century Europe were not informed by the sciences in making their advances.

For example, Francis Bacon cites three world-changing inventions in his Novum Organum, all of which were the result of applied science alone: printing, gunpowder and the compass. Of course, it was these very inventions that inspired Bacon to encourage us to delve into science and find out how and why these things work.

So the fact that it is possible for applied science to progress without science does not lesson the importance of pure science. This is because those inventions were mostly just the result of good luck than an actual systematic process of discovery. The fact is that most applied science that we find important today has indeed been the result of pure scientific research.

Tilberian's picture

mavaddat wrote: Tilberian

mavaddat wrote:
Tilberian wrote:
Sadly, these same people also tend to be ignorant of the history of science, which shows us that all breakthroughs in applied science are preceded by discoveries on the research side.
As a matter of historical interest, this is actually not true. The engineers of the six- and seven- teenth century Europe were not informed by the sciences in making their advances. For example, Francis Bacon cites three world-changing inventions in his Novum Organum, all of which were the result of applied science alone: printing, gunpowder and the compass. Of course, it was these very inventions that inspired Bacon to encourage us to delve into science and find out how and why these things work. So the fact that it is possible for applied science to progress without science does not lesson the importance of pure science. This is because those inventions were mostly just the result of good luck than an actual systematic process of discovery. The fact is that most applied science that we find important today has indeed been the result of pure scientific research.

There could be some quibble about whether those examples were in fact preceded by pure research discoveries. Printing certainly required some understanding of the chemical properties of ink - not a naturally occuring substance (well, not where the press was invented, anyway!), and an understanding of leverage and other principles required to build complex machines. Gunpowder was a chemical curiousity for hundreds of years in China before the Mongols thought to put it into pottery jars that exploded into shrapnel. And certainly the compass would not have occured to anyone without prior experimentation with magneticism.

Yes, the underlying principles of these inventions were not understood at the level that we understand them today, but there was a level of background scientific understanding without which none of those advances would have been possible. I think today we see invention following much more closely on the heels of discovery, which makes it hard to view those earlier inventions as part of the same discovery -> invention continuum.  In each case, the fundamental principles had probably been known for hundreds of years. However, there were certainly many cultures in the world that lacked the scientific background to invent these items, which suggests to me that they are the result of a discovery -> invention process and not simply a reapplication of stuff everybody already knows.

Lazy is a word we use when someone isn't doing what we want them to do.
- Dr. Joy Brown