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Good to know that Bill Gates shares this viewpoint. It's not that space travel is wrong or doesn't have great potential. It's just that, in my view (and I guess it's also BG's judging from his short quote only), it cannot not alone bring humanity into the bright future. Look at how we are (mis)treating the environment. Look at all the greed, corruption and anger around us. Anyone seriously thinks going to new worlds will change these human tendencies? Of course not.

I see only one truly worthy alternative - education, with strong emphasis on sustainability and care about the environment, as well as some sort of moral principles that would help prevent spending trillions on new ways to kill each other (aka defence) in future generations.




> sustainability and care about the environment

The reason we have a solar power industry at all is because satellites needed robust long term power sources, not because someone cared about the environment. The first solar cells were invented in the 1880s, and were so inefficient -- less than .5%! -- they were little more than a scientific novelty. They stayed this way for 70 long years, until Bell Labs began researching them as a source of power for satellites in the 1950s.

Space is an extremely demanding environment, and it's precisely those demands that actually drive the development of technologies that enable us to radically reduce our environment impact on the Earth.

Human beings living on the Moon or on Mars will need to reuse and recycle everything imaginable, for instance, creating closed-loop systems where there is little to no waste. They will have to grow food in ways that recycle nutrients instead of destroying topsoil. They will have to be able to make extremely reliable products, and they'll have to be able to reuse and repair these items in ways we will never have the incentive to do in a disposable consumer economy.

It's simply not economically efficient to develop those kind of technologies terrestrially. It's cheaper to dump obsolete electronics and ship them to some impoverished part of the world, like rural China, where they contaminate the ground water and poison the air and the residents.( http://tinyurl.com/toxic-e-waste )

The planet is big and human labor and human life is cheap here. Recycling is optional here. Up there, it's not. It's only the extreme demands of manned space that will drive these sorts of advances.

It ain't just about shootin' rockets up into the sky.


It's kind of sad how people fail to realize how much of the modern technology they take for granted may not have ever been invented if it weren't for various space programs around the world.

Beyond that, I personally believe that NASA and the Soviet Space Program already saved the world once by allowing the US and the USSR to have a public competition in the midst of extreme nationalism. Without the space race, who knows if we would have been launching ICBMs instead of Apollos?


Your point and the OPs are not mutually exclusive. It's sad to think that we may soon have the capacity to colonize other planets, yet remain incapable of calming the handful of petty & destructive emotions that plague us.


Completely agree on the point that putting hard constraints like living in space is a good driver for reusability and sustainability - tech that can be put in use on Earth later.

But let's look a little deeper why pollution is happening in the first place. Don't you think that people's greed and desires of having more and more things contributes to this at least a little? Overconsumption? Short-term profits? But what if we can fix _that_ at least a bit? Now that's a question I'm much more interested, since I believe it can have real effect and stop the runaway consumption culture.


Of course peoples greed contributes to this problem. Each and every one of us have some suspect ancestors in our gene pool. It's how evolution works, so saying "But we're greedy and we need to fix that first" seems silly to me - you're fighting millions of years of evolution. That doesn't mean that I want to see unfettered capitalism, but these problems won't go away by sitting around a camp fire and singing Kum Bye Ya My Lord.

Our consumer consumption culture won't change until it has to, whether that means folks going into space and living in an incredibly demanding environment or it becomes untenable on this planet. Wish it were different, but that's just how this stuff works.


There is money to be made in space (such as mining asteroids), but I don't think that's the biggest driver of going into space. If it was, you'd see much more emphasis placed on unmanned space travel. What we have instead is people motivated by exploration. When people first travelled to the North Pole, South Pole, top of Everest, etc... they didn't do so out of greed, I'd suggest they did it 'because it was there', for the challenge and wonder of experiencing somewhere new.

Colonies on Mars is kind of a grey area, only because Mars isn't the final destination, there's plenty more in this solar system/galaxy/universe to explore. There are some people who probably see it as just another place for humans to take over, but I'd suggest those aren't the pioneers, they tend to be the ones that come in later once the risks are reduced.


>> I see only one truly worthy alternative - education

I strongly agree - but education in regular sense - schools, etc probably won't do. We maybe need something closer to the training Buddhists monks get in a monastery, a training that deeply changes the structure of their mind, and instill them with deep compassion and caring for others, eclipsing at enlightenment.

But:

1. Buddhist monasteries aren't scalable - they fit only a rare few, they take too long, and are very hard. And it seems that with science/tech we can create something better.

2. Once we have the tech - it isn't trivial to use it. People fear messing with their brain. How do we prevent abuse. Making people too relaxed and compassionate may make them less fit for the 21 century. How do we integrate this. How do we convince everybody .etc.

I feel like this is THE biggest question of our current century, because once this can be offered mass scale, human nature changes deeply - and everything changes with it.


It doesn't have to be that complicated though.

For example, there's a window of opportunity in everyone's lives where the brain is at its most plastic and 90% of development occurs: between 2 to 5 years old. Yup, preschoolers.

We can focus the education there to create a more compassionate and creative generation.

One source: https://www.google.co.uk/amp/www.medicaldaily.com/brain-deve...


Yes! I strongly agree and your definition of education if very close to what I had in mind.

I also see Buddhist ideas as one of very few hopes of real change in the world. Yet, as far as science goes, the best it can do is help spread these ideas (internet, which we already have). Personally, I don't believe in brain-changing tech for the near future at least. It will be always up to the individual so go sit in the corner and do some meditation/self-improvement. That's not scalable indeed.


There is already brain-changing tech, drugs.


Being Buddhist doesn't magically strip away anger, hate, pain, and violence. I get what you're saying though. I do think education on these philosophies would help.

http://world.time.com/2013/06/20/extremist-buddhist-monks-fi...


>And it seems that with science/tech we can create something better.

Are there any leads on how to accomplish this ?


Why "change these human tendencies"? They're part of what's made us what we are today, and I don't think that undisputed mastery of an entire planet is such a bad place for a species to be. And even if you don't feel the same way, it's hard to see how undisputed mastery of only one planet gives humanity a better chance to eventually engineer itself into something more what you'd like it to be than does undisputed mastery of several.


I don't agree that these tendencies are what makes humanity great.

First, you seem to think that humans are somehow special and above other species at who's expense "we became the masters". Would truly superior being not care about less superior ones, at the very least (not to mention intentionally killing them, often for fun).

Second, fighting these tendencies will make everyone's lives better. These are basic things: less wars, crimes, better air quality, increase in happiness. I believe greed and corruption and related qualities are what prevents that from happening now.

I guess what I'm saying is that we got caught up with technology so much that we put all out hopes and dreams into it. But it cannot (in any near future) make us morally and spiritually superior. And why even bother? There are other ways to go about doing that. Education. It's a much longer and harder route, but it seems to be the proper one. Otherwise we are just waiting for a tech product what would fix all our problems at the push of a button - ridiculous.


Almost nothing to which you're responding is anything I've actually said.

Too, you contradict yourself. You decry the sense of superiority you imagine my words to express, while two paragraphs later favoring one of your own - and, more crucially, you fail to recognize the inherent contradiction between your apparent desire that we act in ways which make us "morally and spiritually superior" (to whom? by whose measure?), and your dissatisfaction with my point that we're in a position to act at all, and might do well to value even the less apparently savory of the traits which got us here.

Your arguments revolve around a preference for a particular sort of destiny which we might choose to make for ourselves. I'm talking about how we've put ourselves in a position to make any such choice to begin with. They're not at all the same thing. And, in general, I'm less concerned with the particular sort of future we choose - I don't even think that's something we're within millennia of being able to do, on the level of our species as a whole - than that we choose our more immediate actions with an eye toward the more immediate goal of maximizing the chance that we reach a point where we're able effectively even to contemplate such lofty purpose.


except the undisputed mastery of a planet is worth nothing if it leads to the destruction of said planet.


I don't see any reason to imagine that lies within our power to do. If we exerted all the singular, concerted effort of which our entire species is capable, we might at most annihilate ourselves and make a mess that the biosphere will need as much as a million years to evolve beyond. But a million years is nothing on a planetary scale.

And if you are worried about that - all the more reason to favor expansion into space, I should think! The thermonuclear genie will never go back into the bottle. Nor will any other. Better, don't you think, to ensure we have at least some part of our species beyond the reach of at least some of those genies, should they turn on us?


A million years? I think you over-estimate how insignificant we are to this planet.

I'm not advocating we destroy the environment, but we really can't do a whole darn lot to it. Can we set off every nuclear weapon at once? Sure, but even that will likely just ruin the surface for 50,000 - 100,000 years. Life will continue, just not humans and most likely nothing of any size.

If we manage to throw the planet into a run-away greenhouse cycle like Venus, yeah, life's done here but that seems like a tall order (though I am not well read or well versed on this subject matter so I could be wrong on this count.

Ok, off the soap-box, you were making the same point as me :)


But not doing space travel does not fix the environment. Fixing the environment is an orthogonal issue.


As long as the resources are not orthagonal the problems are not orthagonal. Meaning the money and effort shooting rockets could be put into fixing the environment, the "defense" problem, and all kinds of suffering and death.

One could argue that space could give us a shitload of resources to solve those other issues.

On a related note I would like to plug the meme that "humanity" as a whole is worth shit; what matters is the qualia of actual humans and then other possibly conscious beings. I don't care whether there are humans somewhere in space if we down here die from nuclear holocaust, global warming, aging or hunger. I am not "humanity" and neither is anyone else. We are all individuals striving to survive and not suffer, and sure we can cooperate in that endeavour and create superorganisms to aid us - but the emphasis is on "aid", which is not "enslave". I shit on any superorganism building meme that does not put actual humans or consciousnesses first.

EDIT: typos


But the amount spent on space travel compared to all the other expenses is negligible, making it orthogonal for all intents and purposes.


Bill Gates was answering in the context his own philanthropic efforts. He, and billionaires like him, certainly would suffer from major opportunity-cost losses by investing in space travel suboptimally.


I wonder whether those experts and resources used on space could do feasible climate engineering...

The only environmental existential risk (apart from the human extended phenotype of course :) ) is climate-based, no?


You can't really make people work on things they aren't interested in though. The experts that are involved in the space industry may not function well in other industries, regardless of imminent doom.


But money spent on space interested experts could be spent on climate interested experts.


We are going in circles. My original point was that the money spent on space travel is negligible compared to other expenses.


Absolutely. One helps and complements the other quite nicely. Yet currently it feels the focus is very much shifted towards space travel. Sure, it's much more glamorous to fly through space sci-fi style than dig around in the garbage dump. Oh well...


> Fixing the environment is an orthogonal issue.

Not at all. If we, as a species, don't fix the environment, we aren't going to be around long enough for space exploration to become technologically and economically practical.


Space travel neither takes away from nor impedes fixing the environment. Heck, the annual NASA budget is half what Seattle is blowing on a transit tunnel that goes a few miles.


NASA's 2017 budget is $19.5 billion. The Alaskan Way Viaduct is estimated to cost $4.25 billion.

Trump's proposed EPA budget is $5.7 billion.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Budget_of_NASA

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alaskan_Way_Viaduct_replacemen...



I think the general point holds as $19.5B is a rounding error in the US's budget. There are issues with the lack of funding to EPA but with respect to this discussion it's a straw-man.


The research that is necessary for space exploration leads to terrestrial technology as well. Another poster above mentioned how solar panels would not be nearly as efficient as they are if Bell Labs didn't spend the time researching them for satellites. That's just one example. Nasa is currently working on a ton of different research projects with an extremely small budget. One of these projects is designed to take water from waste products such as human sweat, urine, and other gross stuff and recycle it back into drinkable water.

Here are some more examples:

> NASA’s microencapsulating technology enabled the creation of a "Petroleum Remediation Product," which safely cleans petroleum-based pollutants from water.

> In the 1990s, NASA scientists at JPL developed software capable of correcting for GPS signal errors, enabling accuracy within inches. The software is called Real-Time GIPSY (RTG). John Deere licensed the software and used it to develop self-driving farm equipment. As of 2016, as nearly 70% of North American farmland is cultivated by self-driving tractors, which rely on RTG originally developed at NASA.

> Dr. Alain Gachet founded Radar Technologies International (RTI) in 1999 to use satellite generated data to identify probable locations of precious metals and during its use found it could also detect water. The system developed with this data, WATEX, uses about 80 percent of its data inputs from publically available NASA information. This free information allowed RTI to develop the WATEX system to successfully locate water sources, such as in 2004 at refugee camps during the War in Darfur.

> So-called space blankets, developed in 1964 for the space program, are lightweight and reflect infrared radiation. These items are often included in first aid kits.

> Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company developed a fibrous material, five times stronger than steel, for NASA to use in parachute shrouds to soft-land the Viking Lander spacecraft on the Martian surface. Recognizing the durability of the material, Goodyear expanded the technology and went on to produce a new radial tire with a tread life expected to be 10,000 miles (16,000 km) greater than conventional radials.

> Firefighting equipment in the United States is based on lightweight materials developed for the U.S. Space Program. NASA and the National Bureau of Standards created a lightweight breathing system including face mask, frame, harness, and air bottle, using an aluminum composite material developed by NASA for use on rocket casings.

> NASA developed a cloud compute platform to give additional compute and storage resources for its engineers, called Nebula. In July 2010, the Nebula code was released as open source and NASA partnered with Rackspace, to form the OpenStack project.[42] OpenStack is used in the cloud-based products from many companies in the cloud market.

The above is just a small sampling of some of the technologies born or improved by Nasa research. Nasa, of course, is not the only organization in the space research and exploration game. As you can see, research for space exploration almost always has some level of terrestrial utility.


Let's not forget Tang!


The issue is opportunity cost of resources spent on space exploration.


Forget about human beings. As far as we know, Earth is the only source of life in the galaxy or even universe. There is no guarantee it exists anywhere else, or that it will continue to exist here. In fact it is certain one day life will cease to exist on Earth.

As the only life form capable of spreading it off planet, I feel like we have a moral obligation to do so before it is snuffed out.


Good point. Still, chances of spreading it will be higher if we don't kill ourselves first or drown in our own garbage - that's where things are going so far sadly.

I don't believe that fixing self-destruction and pollution is that much harder than finding a way to travel to distant stars. Why are people assuming that that's the case and putting all their hopes on space travel?


> Why are people assuming that that's the case and putting all their hopes on space travel?

is anyone doing that? the relative market values/investment in tesla (solar/electric sustainability) vs spacex strongly suggests otherwise. where is your straw man?

i say we let the few astrophysicists out there do astrophysics if they've attracted the capital rather than reprioritize based on your subjective unquantifiable morality.


> is anyone doing that? the relative market values/investment in tesla (solar/electric sustainability) vs spacex strongly suggests otherwise. where is your straw man?

You're bending my words a bit. Tesla's function isn't to stop self-destruction or clean up pollution. At best it will not add more to the pollution. That's just the tip of the iceberg and there's a lot of damage already done that should to be undone. But hey, there's no money in that so why bother, right? This kind of one-dimensional judgement further contributes to humanities pile of problems.

>reprioritize based on your subjective unquantifiable morality.

It maybe "unquantifiable", but it definitely exists and plays a vital role. Just look at Mr Gates' activities. I don't believe you can fix everything by putting capital in the right place. That will always give human greed an advantage over good will.


> But hey, there's no money in that so why bother, right?

What are you talking about? Waste Management is a phenomenally successful ($15B) company. I invest in several companies in water treatment. You're just getting worked up without researching or even acknowledging the people on the ground, moving these fields.

> It maybe "unquantifiable", but it definitely exists and plays a vital role. Just look at Mr Gates' activities. I don't believe you can fix everything by putting capital in the right place. That will always give human greed an advantage over good will.

This is just a nonsensical platitude. What about Mr. Gates' activities wasn't enabled by the business Microsoft? All that "good will" is enabled by the "human greed" you demonize. Not the other way around.


Why is it an either or scenario? We should do both. We have a duty to do both.

Life on earth will one day end regardless, though. While we have the chance we should be doing everything we can to distribute it as widely as we can.


> it cannot not alone bring humanity into the bright future

and

> Look at how we are (mis)treating the environment

It took the realization that we are living on something that's not flat, and actually sharing the same sphere, to make people conscious that we are at risk when damaging the environment. This is linked to everything we have learnt through our exploration of space and the fact that we could NOT find find life so far on any other planet in the solar system.

Not sure why you think it's no so important. Actually, it's the other way around. In order to better protect our environment, we need to do more research to better understand the climate models of other worlds and make correct assumptions on ours in the end. If we only study a system with n=1, we can never be sure about our predictions.


Space exploration and protecting the environment are not mutually exclusive. In fact, like you mentioned, they complement each other nicely.

What I'm pointing at is that space exploration is not as big of an achievement as fixing "bad human tendencies", however, strangely almost nobody is talking about that. Instead space travel for many people is becoming some kind of silver bullet for humanity's future.


Actually there's a reason to think that space exploration may be one of the most important means for fixing "bad human tenancies".

Populating new places can enable a new start and experimentation with new forms of social organisation. Escape from the momentum of tradition.

But that's just speculation, right? It's actually not, because we've already seen demonstrations of this, like the founding of the United States and the democratic system they put in place there.

(I heard this viewpoint from reading Robert Zubrin's "The Case For Mars" https://www.amazon.com/Case-Mars-Plan-Settle-Planet/dp/14516...)


Moving resource extraction off-planet (metals from asteroids, nuclear and solar energy creation) and moving manufacturing off-planet will truly save the environment.


Serious question: How do you get the energy (and other resources) back to earth in a way that is cost competitive with extracting them here? If it costs more money, people will use up what's here before they import the resources from Mars.


Bringing a thing from space down to earth should, if we're smart about it, be a free source of energy. If it's very expensive instead, that's from some combination of insufficient capital base and poverty of ideas. For instance, a skyhook -- a spinning tether in orbit -- could lower one payload into the atmosphere and boost another into space, at no net energy cost.

A pretty good, if very old, popular intro to this kind of thinking was Heppenheimer's Colonies in Space (free on the web now).

Mars seems unpromising because it's at the bottom of a gravity well, has an inconvenient atmosphere, should be preserved for scientific research while there's still a chance of traces of life, etc. Asteroids seem way more useful, and the Moon is nearer.


So, polluting 2 worlds instead of one? Nobody will stop exploiting Earth even once new worlds become accessible.


I'd much rather pollute Mars, a dead rock, than the Earth.


Agree, yet it's not an either Mars or Earth question. Judging by priorities of corporations (making money, of course) it will certainly be both Mars and Earth.


In fact, the whole concept of "pollution" on Mars makes little sense. We could convert it to radioactive slag and plaster it with "Eat at Joe's" billboards, and it wouldn't hurt anyone or anything.

What we ought to be doing with Mars is terraforming it. I'd start by collecting extremophile bacteria from Earth and letting it loose on Mars and see if any of it takes hold.


> polluting 2 worlds

How are you polluting another world if there is no life there in the first place?


Good question. Perhaps. However, my point still remains that it will not stop the pollution on Earth - which will remain much cheaper to do.


A cultural change is also necessary. Our civilization is divided and weak, because we still have a tribal mentality that prevent us from looking at the bigger picture. We still think in terms of "us" and "them" and who will get the upper hand, who will get this territory, this resource, who will "win", who will look "stronger", etc...

The economy also have to change. We must rethink our definition of wealth. What is wealth? Vitality, time, resources and intelligence. Money only helps creating a movement, but the accumulation of vast sums of money is problematic as we're seeing now. Money needs to circulate.

Women will also play an important part, here. Humanity can't progress if 50% of its population can't develop to its full potential.

We need more women in position of leadership, in science, but also in position of religious leaders, because yes, a huge percentage of the world is religious and women can contribute in lots of ways there.

We need more cooperation, more responsibility. Instead of thinking in terms of nations, we'll eventually have to think in terms of civilization if we want a future that is desirable.


The original opinion came from a billionaire monopolist. Even the very best humans can have bad traits. Should we really wait/expect that to change and should space exploration wait?

We're still floating around on a single planet in a single solar system in a universe we know almost nothing about. Like a fly crossing a highway, it seems dangerous to me.


We need more Nobel prize winners in politics. They seem to be more honest, more caring for the greater good, etc., and thus more fit for the job (I know, right now it seems the opposite is true). And in case they lack all these characteristics, at least they pushed the boundary of knowledge.

Perhaps this is unrealistic, but we could increase the admission requirements of politicians. First show that you care about more than just yourself for at least a decade or so, and then you may decide about the fate of millions of citizens, their offspring and planet Earth.


Nobel Prize winners are notoriously kooky when operating out of their narrow areas of expertise, Cf. Linus Pauling, Kary Mullis, Luc Montagnier.


We could still have elections, of course ;)


Not sure why you think we need Nobel prize winners, but we do need more scientists in politics. I think that would greatly help scientific discoveries to shape policy and legislation. Since the last election, there have been some efforts to recruit scientists:

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/01/thanks-t...

http://whowhatwhy.org/2017/04/22/imagine-congress-filled-sci...


Seems like a false equivalence to me. Your statement is:

Space travel cannot fix humanity polluting the environment, therefore we should not do space travel.

space travel is not there to fix humanities issues, it is there to provide an option for survival if humanity faces an (self-induced) extinction event.


"Look at all the greed, corruption and anger around us."

"Erst kommt das Fressen, dann die Moral" (first we gorge ourselves, then the morality.)

These are interesting thoughts. But lets not forget what unsound good old Billy used (and MS still used) to establish his former OS monopoly.




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