Should the U.S. spend trillions on space exploration and big science?

NASA is currently being budgeted for human return to the moon in the 2020s. This budgeting is at the level of tens of billions of dollars per year. NASA is also directed to do research for trips to Mars and possibly beyond. But to send humans to Mars or beyond may cost trillions. This is especially true because of the need to defend against radiation hazards to astronauts. See Radiation.

NASA is planning to send humans, first, to lunar orbit, and then to the surface, in the 2020s. There is talk of two-month stays for astronauts on these missions. I have read things that may indicate that NASA is thinking that three months exposure to deep space radiation is acceptable. Other things I read do not seem to back up the idea that such long exposure times are acceptable. And, as far as I can tell, there are no specific plans for protecting astronauts on the long haul to Mars. Mars trips would be undoable without adequate protection.

The crew module for the lunar missions is planned to be the Orion capsule. The rocketry is to be called the Space Launch System. First, astronauts will be orbiting the moon in a apace station called Gateway. The proposed timeline goes like this: - Power and propulsion modules for Gateway, launch 2022. - Other key pieces shorty thereafter. - Astronauts may visit as early as 2024. - Start making trips to lunar surface a few years later, before end of 2020s.

The most deadly/damaging space radiation beyond earth orbit is the heavy ion component of the galactic cosmic rays (GCRs). (Actually, solar events produce radiation that would kill deep space astronauts sooner, but there seems to be something that can be done to shield them on a near-term space budget.) Rats exposed to radiation doses equivalent to what deep space travelers would experience were significantly brain damaged after several weeks. The human brain is bigger and can supposedly take more damage. But it seems to me that trips to the moon should limited to only a couple to a few weeks per astronaut, to be as safe as possible. And, at present, Mars and beyond is unreachable due to the GCR hazard alone.

While there is talk of using water to shield astronauts against GCRs, I think this is mainly useful for blocking protons. To stop incoming heavy ions, it looks like soil shielding will be necessary. We would need soil around the crew compartment on the spacecraft and around/over surface habitats. This is why I'm saying human exploration of the solar system will cost trillions of dollars.

One proposal for fueling interplanetary spacecraft is to use water ice from polar craters on the moon. The ice would be split into water's chemical components, hydrogen and oxygen, then used as fuel for Mars-bound and other outward bound ships. The purpose is to not to have to launch such large amounts of fuel off of earth, with its deep gravity well. If we could do that, then maybe we also could build/assemble interplanetary craft in space and, at the moon, fill empty shells around the crew compartments with lunar soil. That way, we don't have to lift heavy soil off earth.

Building the infrastructure on the moon to load regolith onto spacecraft would be hugely expensive. But over the long haul, it would probably be cheaper than filling the shielding structure with soil from earth and then launching it.

However we were to do it, it looks like shielding crews for solar system missions will run into the trillions. As long as the U.S. was willing to spend trillions on space, we might as well go for other big science projects as well, such as superconducting super-colliders. This would maintain the American lead in basic science. By the way, if we do spend the big bucks, I'd like to note the book Project Orion: The True Story of the Atomic Spaceship. It's about plans, since shelved, to build big spacecraft powered by nuclear explosions to explore the planets. The book is by George Dyson, son of theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson, who worked on the project. 

But should we invest so heavily in space exploration and big science?

It has been said that the Apollo program caused the invention of the microchip. That's not true; the first microchips were invented by U.S. industry at the end of the 1950s. But the Apollo program was the first big customer for microchips. However, the following is an argument that big defense spending has and can in the future drive the U.S. economy.

Hillsdale College publishes a monthly journal called Imprimis. There is an article in the March, 2018 issue by David P. Goldman called "How to Meet the Strategic Challenge Posed by China." Here is an excerpt:

"So what to do about China? The answer is not to adopt an industrial policy. As Americans, we believe in individual liberty. We are not good at being collectivists. China and Germany have industrial policies. Culturally they can deal with it. We cannot. If we're going to compete with China, we've got to do it the American way. And what we are best at is innovation.
"In the 1970s, all the smart people thought Russia was going to win the Cold War. Economists at the CIA and in the universities believed that Russia had a great economy. But by 1989, we realized that the Russian economy was a piece of junk. It actually had a negative worth, because the cost of environmental cleanup exceeded the value of whatever Russia was producing.

"What happened in the interim was the greatest wave of industrial innovation in American history. We invented fast, light, small, inexpensive microchips. We invented sensors that didn't exist before. We invented the semiconductor laser. And we did virtually all of this through the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and NASA, in cooperation with the great corporate laboratories.

"The U.S. turned the Russian economy into junk by creating an economy that hadn't existed before. That was the Reagan economy. During this creation, the Fortune 500 lost employment. The monopolies were all ruined. New companies no one ever heard of sprang up to commercialize the new technologies, and corruption declined because we had challengers taking market share away from the entrenched interests.

"In 1983, I wrote a memo for the National Security Council arguing that the Strategic Defense Initiative would pay for itself - that the impact of the new technologies we were researching, once they were commercialized, would generate more tax revenue than we'd spent of R and D. When you do R and D, you don't know the outcome.

"Manufacturing using CMOS chip technology came about because the Pentagon thought it would be great for fighter pilots to have a weather forecasting module in the cockpit. The semiconductor laser came about because the Pentagon wanted to light up the battlefield during nighttime warfare. These technologies produced unforeseen consequences that rippled in unimaginable ways through our economy.

"We have failed to continue this innovation in recent decades. Starting with the Clinton administration, we came to believe we were so powerful that we didn't have to invest in national defense and new technologies. Investment went into the Internet bubble of the 1990s, as if downloading movies was going to be the economy of the future.
I'm a free marketer. But the one thing markets cannot do is divorce themselves from culture. It is when we have a national security requirement, forcing us to the frontier of physics to develop weapons that are better than those of our rivals, that we get the best kind of innovation. So the government has a role - a critical role - in meeting the Chinese challenge.

"If the Chinese are spending tens of billions of dollars to build chip fabrication plants and we come up with a better way of doing it, suddenly they'll have a hundred billion dollars' worth of worthless chip manufacturing plants on their hands. But you can't predict the outcome in advance. You have to make the commitment and take a leap of faith in American ingenuity and science. We can meet the strategic challenge of China, but we have to meet it as Americans in the American way."

What Goldman is saying about defense spending could theoretically carry over into space exploration spending. And, if you think political conservatives would not be behind a big, expensive space program, think again. Check out: Rush Into Space.

So, there's the possibility that spending what it takes to have humans explore the solar system could be beneficial to America and its economy. On the other hand...
One concern about the possibility of the U.S. spending so much on space and science is a highly notable interpretation of one biblical prophecy. In the New Defender's Study Bible, by Dr. Henry M. Morris of the Institute for Creation Research, there is an especially interesting set of notes about Daniel chapter seven. If for America to spend trillions on space in fact "breaks the bank," that could be a fulfillment of part of this prophecy. What follows is a quote from Daniel chapter seven, verses 1 - 8 and 11 and 12, from the New Defender's Study Bible, which is in the King James Version:

1 In the first year of Bel-shaz'-zar king of Babylon Daniel had a dream and visions of his head upon his bed: then he wrote the dream, and and told the sum of the matters.
2 Daniel spake and said, I saw in my vision by night, and, behold, the four winds of the heaven strove upon the great sea.
3 And four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from another.
4 The first was like a lion, and had eagle's wings: I beheld till the wings thereof were plucked, and it was lifted up from the earth, and made stand upon the feet as a man, and a man's heart was given to it.
5 And behold another beast, a second, like to a bear, and it raised up itself on one side, and it had three ribs in the mouth of it between the teeth of it: and they said thus unto it, Arise, devour much flesh.
6 After this I beheld, and lo another, like a leopard, which had upon the back of it four wings of a foul; the beast had also four heads; and dominion was given to it.
7 After this I saw in the night visions, and beheld a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth: it devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with the feet of it: and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it; and it had ten horns.
8 I considered the horns, and, behold, there came up among them another little horn, before whom there were three of the first horns plucked up by the roots: and, behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of man, and a mouth speaking great things.
11 I beheld then because of the voice of the great words which the horn spake: I beheld even till the beast was slain, and his body destroyed, and given to the burning flame.
12 As concerning the rest of the beasts, they had their dominion taken away: yet their lives were prolonged for a season and time.

And here are the Study Bible notes on these verses:

7:2 four winds. The "four winds" are seen in vision as striving for mastery over the waves of the great Mediterranean Sea, not one after the other but all together.
7:3 up from the sea. The interpretation in Daniel 7:17 tells us that the sea is the earth, or land, and the beasts are four kings, or kingdoms.
7:3 diverse one from another. These kingdoms do not represent successive historical kingdoms, as in Daniel's image (which would be redundant), but co-existing kingdoms striving with each other (like the four winds) in the last days. This follows clearly from the fact that all four kingdoms were still future in Daniel's vision (7:17), whereas Babylon was about to fall at the time and Persia would take over. Furthermore, the beast representing the fourth kingdom was slain before the first three (7:11-12).
7:4 eagle's wings. Nations commonly are represented as symbolic animals. Of modern nations, one thinks immediately of the British lion and the American eagle in connection with the first beast. The plucking of its wings, and its transmutation into a man are not explained and evidently are events yet to be fulfilled. It may be that the wings (ability to mount aerial invasions or defenses) will be somehow prevented from [being used] by the Anglo-American alliance. Perhaps, also, the eventual destruction of the fourth beast (7:11) will coincide with spiritual revival in the first beast - but these are only speculations.
7:5 bear. If the lion and eagle represent an Anglo-American alliance, possibly in association with other western nations, then the "bear" would seem to depict Russia and its allies. This "bear" has, indeed, "raised itself up" more in its western side than in the east. It did (and does) "devour much flesh," in terms of its baleful influence and control over so many other nations (at one time, almost half the world).
7:5 three ribs. The "three ribs" are unclear in meaning, but may possibly refer to the three Baltic states (Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia), still under the strong influence - if not domination - of Russia.
7:6 leopard. The leopard, yellow with dark spots, could possibly represent an alliance of the pantheistic nations of the East (China, Japan, India, Indochina, perhaps suggesting the four heads, with all insisting on equal authority). Revelation 16:12 speaks of "the kings of the east" marching toward Armageddon from the other side of the Euphrates. The "four wings of a fowl" are of uncertain meaning, but may simply denote that other Oriental nations are involved, in addition to the four heads. A strong union of these Far Eastern nations would surely pose a serious threat.
7:7 fourth beast. This powerful nondescript beast will gain control over the others and assume the characters of all. It is probably the same as the beast of Revelation 13:2, which will be like a leopard, a bear, and a lion, but with the nature of the old dragon. It may also be the same as the final phase (feet and toes) of Nebuchadnezzar's dream image. For a very brief period, this beastly federation will control the whole world (7:23; Re 13:7).
7:7 before it. The word "before" is not a chronological term. The other three nations are not "before" the fourth chronologically, but confrontationally. Note use of the same word in Daniel 7:10,13,20.
7:8 little horn. This "little horn," suddenly appearing among the others, is the one called "the beast" in Revelation 13:11-13, to whom "ten kings" (7:24) will give their power and honor.
7:8 mouth speaking great things. These "great things" are both "flatteries" of men, and "marvellous things against the God of gods" (11:32,36).
7:12 prolonged The fourth beast kingdom will be led by the beast, who is the man of sin, with all who received his "mark" (Re 13:18; 14:9-11; 19:20), and will be cast into the lake of fire. The other three beast kingdoms may have enough "sheep" left among their citizenry (Ma 25:33-34) so that their nations will be able to continue as distinct nations during the millenial period that follows.

What this analysis of Morris is saying is that Daniel chapter seven prophecies of nations which exist today, including America and Britain. And something will cause the "wings" to be ripped off of the Anglo-American alliance, and will cause it to be given a "heart of flesh" (caused to have spiritual revival). Does an attempt to expand into the solar system by America, at great expense, "break the bank" and cause a catastrophe in our nation? If so, then the idea of spending trillions to explore space is not good. But, on the other hand, the spiritual revival that follows will be good.

But if America decides to, for better or for worse, make a big push for human exploration of the solar system, here is a consideration that relates. The Apollo project cost $25 billion in 1960s/1970s money, or about $200 billion in more recent money. NASA then had 4.5% of the federal budget. Today, it has 0.5% of the federal budget. The current federal budget is about $4 trillion.* If NASA were to be given 4.5% of the budget now, it would get about $180 billion per year. That might be just about right for spending, over a couple decades or more, the trillions necessary to send people to the ends of the solar system.

*(Excepting the new spending for Coronavirus.)

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