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Liquid water 'lake' revealed on Mars (bbc.co.uk)
1104 points by yawz 82 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 472 comments



Why don't we send a rover to some of these interesting places? It seems like we're constantly making fascinating finds on Mars, then send rovers to the middle of a random rocky desert.


For any exploratory drilling, or covering any real amount of ground, you need humans. For reference, Opportunity Rover has only traveled 45 km/28 mi in 14 years.

A human can collect more specimens in a day than ALL of the rovers have to date.

If we remove this year's launch window, you have 10 minimum-energy launch windows in the next 21 years.

2020, 2022, 2024, 2026, 2029, 2031, 2033, 2035, 2037, 2039.

If we could get the top 5 GDP nations to contribute 1% of their GDP to a proper global space program we'd have 400+ billion dollars a year (NASA has has a budget of around 18 billion lately). We could probably start sending unmanned missions in 2020 with test hardware for in situ resource production, develop a decent vehicle for travelling, then land 3-4 manned missions by 2022 with overlapping areas of operation as Zubrin (and others) have proposed that way if something goes wrong with one you can travel in 1-2 days, without exiting your vehicle, to another one of the missions.

You could have extra ships there waiting just to return specimens (and to offer a backup return vehicle for each team to get back up to orbit to return on an ISS-sized ship for the travel to and from Mars, not unlike in The Martian, which you could then park in Orbit around Earth or even the Moon and use as a slightly-used international space station or use it again for another trip out). You could return literal tons of specimens to earth for study, you could have human beings processing the stuff there "no this looks like a waste of time, this one is interesting, that's interesting, that's a weird feature let's drill a few samples here" not to mention just cover more area with various instruments getting all sorts of readings.

sigh

If only. If we could just get 5 countries to agree to contribute 1% for 2-3 years we could establish a permanent moon base and do a hardcore Mars human-exploration mission. Obviously it would take 10-20 years to pull off but an international committee could be selected (representatives from all 5 nations as well as other nations that say want to help with supporting the missions, wouldn't need to pony up nearly as much money). Call it Starfleet 0.5 and make all of the science that results from the missions 100% public, give every country the UN recognizes a certain allotment of specimens as well for display in government-sponsored museums and to allow their own citizens to study.

Alas, I dream too much.


I was talking to an oncologist yesterday. Her biggest frustration is that Silicon Valley billionaires are spending billions upon billions to send things to space, when there are serious problems on Earth that could be fought, most importantly cancer.

It’s hard to argue with her. $400B/yr would fund a lot of research that would benefit humanity a lot better than a coordinated mission to Mars, even though it would be very exciting to see in my lifetime.


An oncologist wishing more money was spent on cancer? In other news, water is wet.

First of all, the optimal place for me to spend my money is not necessarily the optimal place for someone else to spend theirs. We can't know for sure, of course, but who were would have preferred Elon Musk start a cancer research firm instead of SpaceX? Secondly, there is no universal "cancer" that we can fight. There are hundreds of different types, just as distinct as different diseases. You could turn pancreatic cancer into a chronic condition tomorrow and no make any progress at all toward curing oropharyngeal cancer.

There's a great exchange in the West Wing episode "Galileo" about just this type of narrow minded viewpoint.

Sam Seaborn: There are a lot of hungry people in the world, Mal, and none of them are hungry because we went to the moon. None of them are colder and certainly none of them are dumber because we went to the moon.

Mallory O'Brian: And we went to the moon. Do we really have to go to Mars?

SS: Yes.

MO: Why?

SS: Because it's next. Because we came out of the cave, and we looked over the hill and we saw fire; and we crossed the ocean and we pioneered the west, and we took to the sky. The history of man is hung on a timeline of exploration and this is what's next.

No to mention the fact that all the cancer drugs in the world will not save us from an asteroid. If we don't get people living and populating on other planets, the human species is doomed.


I think the dialogue quoted here demonstrates the underlying issue that is lost in futurist thought.

No one "pioneered the west". Various groups of people with powerful technology traveled west and stole land from other groups of people. They also traveled south and east and used that technical and economic power to enslave other humans and forced them to develop the west. Development and progress for progress' sake alone leaves a lot to be desired, namely, ethics.

Also, It's clear that much like economics, technology doesn't inherently trickle down. It certainly has the potential to have positive downstream effects, but without having a priority of pushing those positive impacts downstream I would argue that we're left with a larger gulf between the marvels of modern science and technology and those and the bottom. That is to say, without prioritizing equalizing the gains of science and exploration and those gains actively stratify society further.

There are many, many people in the world who don't know that we went to the moon, there are people who don't have access to electricity and plumbing. I'm not arguing here for not exploring other planets, but I am trying to make a case for focusing out scientific efforts of improving the lives of everyone on the planet. Without spreading the achievements of science and technology to everyone on the planet, humanity is doomed.


Some modern thinking has confused self-loathing and careful introspection. There were a great many things that could have, or arguably should have, been done differently in the past, but many of those things were done in the context and to the standards of the day. The transgressions of the past resulted in a technologically advanced society. Introspection considers this and asks, "what should we do differently in the future?" Self loathing says, "we shouldn't exist and should spend our future doing nothing."

> There are many, many people in the world who don't know that we went to the moon, there are people who don't have access to electricity and plumbing. I'm not arguing here for not exploring other planets, but I am trying to make a case for focusing out scientific efforts of improving the lives of everyone on the planet.

Your second statement contradicts your first. Either you want to ensure that everyone has access to electricity and plumbing before science spends any effort on exploration, or you don't.

The natural conclusion of this argument is that no money should be spent on exploration, and all money should be redistributed evenly to everyone so that everyone maintains an identical standard of living. I don't want to assume that's what you meant, but if it isn't, I can't figure out what your ideal world looks like.


You're presenting an either/or scenario where none was proposed by the poster you were responding to.

The thread began begging the wealthiest countries on the planet to contribute a significant amount of that wealth toward space exploration.

No one here is making the argument that we should spend no money on space exploration. People are simply arguing against spending significantly more on it when we have more pressing issues to contend with.


The person I responded to, in the part that I quoted, brought up people without electricity and plumbing as a contrast to spending efforts on exploration. It looks like an either/or to me.

> People are simply arguing against spending more on it when we have more pressing issues to contend with.

But this argument happens every time the issue of funding space exploration comes up. Every single time. Without fail. Not a single time is there a proposed NASA budget without part of the discussion devolving into, "why don't we just hand the money out to the poor instead?" Not a single time do the risks and costs of SpaceX, or a new satellite, or the rovers, or the ISS, or other efforts get discussed without someone saying, "but cancer..."

This is a line of thinking which scrutinizes every single dollar spent on exploration. Left unchallenged, it would eventually halt all spending on exploration altogether.

I, and a lot of other people -- like the person at the top of this thread -- believe that exploring Mars is not just worthwhile, it's necessary, in spite of the many other people on Earth who have more immediate needs.

Dr. Robert Zubrin argued that case far more eloquently than I could: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j2Mu8qfVb5I


I think that you have associated my comment with different lines of reasoning presented by other individuals.

I made no argument against funding space exploration. I even said "I'm not arguing here for not exploring other planets". Nor did I discuss prioritizing spending in other ways. Please don't assume an argument against exploration is being made whenever a concern about exploration is raised. We can conduct science and also be seriously critical of it's impacts simultaneously.

I was attempting to critique to the narrative presented by pc86 used to frame our approach to exploration, namely exploration for exploration's sake and to interrogate what progress means to us, particularly because the example used included a comment about colonizing the new world. Sure, it's dangerous to litigate the past but also one of the best teachers about how to go about constructing out future.


Could you redirect your pessimism to any (literally any) sport in existence? Before you bitch about people trying to make our species multiplanetary, clean up the existing bullshit we spend money on. Go and convince a redneck football supporter of your point and see how civil that discourse will be.


> But this argument happens every time the issue of funding space exploration comes up. Every single time. Without fail. Not a single time is there a proposed NASA budget without part of the discussion devolving into, "why don't we just hand the money out to the poor instead?" Not a single time do the risks and costs of SpaceX, or a new satellite, or the rovers, or the ISS, or other efforts get discussed without someone saying, "but cancer..."

So? You say that like repetition means it's necessarily a nonsensical droning of idiots. Maybe the reason people always respond with that is that they have a point. Dr. Zubrin doesn't make any compelling points there sadly. There is a ton of "real science" to do here at a wildly better cost-benefit ratio.


Dismissing an argument because it's often repeated by many people sounds like you're making an argument against popularity, maybe even a fallacy fallacy.

Other than the link at the end of your post, I don't think anything you said actually challenges the opposing argument.


I'm not dismissing it because it's repetitive; I'm criticizing the people that make that argument because they've been responded to over and over again, and yet they still make exactly the same argument while, themselves, ignoring the counterpoints.

But okay, here are a few reasons:

1. Because it's difficult. As Kennedy famously said, we choose to go not because it is easy, but because it is hard [1]. We will need to develop and improve a lot of technology, engineering, and science to get to Mars and build a self-sustaining colony there.

2. The technological developments required to get there and stay there will help further improve life on Earth. A number of technologies have been spun off from past NASA efforts [2] [3]. Mars is a harsh and challenging environment; past efforts like Skylab have been stepping stone experiments towards longer-duration stays in space, and Mars is the next step in that progression. We will learn a great deal about the biological effects of interplanetary travel (necessary if we wish to eventually extract resources from other bodies in the solar system) and agriculture in extremely harsh environments (necessary if we wish to stabilize regions on Earth impacted by global warming). You can see this in action right now: SpaceX is driven to get to Mars, and to get there, they're developing technology that's making it safer and less expensive to get payloads into orbit. If they pull off their planned global communications network as another step towards Mars, that will be a huge benefit for humanity on Earth.

3. It's the only way to begin answering the question, "how rare is life in our solar system?" We already know that Mars had the necessary conditions for life. We don't know if life ever developed there. We don't know life might still be present there. We don't know what forms it may take, how it may be different -- or not at all different -- from life on Earth. One of the oldest questions humanity has is, "are we alone in the universe?", and if we hope to ever answer that, we'll need to venture into space.

4. It will inspire a new generation of scientists and engineers. I think a lot of people assume that scientists and engineers are just sort of a thing that happens. No, they come from dedicated college students, and dedicated college students come from kids with dreams. Science fairs and after-school programs aren't enough; you have to give young kids something really big and really cool to dream about, and then they'll want to be part of that dream. The Apollo program gave us a three-fold increase in PhD students in US universities. You like Amazon? Apollo helped helped provide the fertile ground from which Jeff Bezos found the inspiration to build Amazon [4]. I don't know if the effects of all these new scientists and engineers can be overstated; people say, "we should cure cancer instead of going to space", and I say, "if you want to cure cancer, go to space." I grew up on Neil Armstrong and the moonrise photo and Scotty from Star Trek; I'll probably never get to fulfill my dream, but I got in to software development at the age of 8 because it was the closest I could get to being in a futuristic space ship.

5. Because it is historic. You want to make America great? Do something great. Dr. Zubrin described this really well; in 500 years, nobody will even remember who the President of the US was. But they'll remember -- and celebrate -- the year we went to Mars. Somebody will do it, eventually. China has the resources. India has the potential. Russia has the capability. If America doesn't get there first, I think it'll be time to admit that our great democratic-capitalist experiment has failed. It'll mean we, as a population, have become uninspired and lazy and complacent and lost the spirit of exploration that got us in here in the first place.

6. Because it is possible. We have the technology and science right now to get us there. We just have to try. We aren't still crossing vast bodies of water in wood-hulled ships. Mars is within reach now, so why aren't we reaching for it? What is holding us back? Cynicism? As Dr. Zubrin says, if we can do a great thing, then we should.

7. It will be a "remote backup" for humanity. There are still any number of things beyond our control that could wipe out most life on Earth, set human progress back a thousand years or more. If we expand into space, if we build a self-sustaining colony on Mars before that happens, not only will we develop more technology that will further reduce the chances of that happening, but if it does happen, we'll have much better chances of rebooting civilization on Earth. But it's going to take time for us to develop that far, so we should start as soon as possible.

8. A Mars colony will become a new experiment in human society. Look, there's just no way that a Mars colony will be governed entirely, long-term, by any government on Earth. It's going to need to develop its own governance. What will that look like? Technology is a fundamental part of life on Earth now; how might the next colonial government, full of scientists and engineers, incorporate it into government? What new solutions might they find to the political problems of Earth? We don't know yet. There's only one way to find out.

All of these points have been stated before, more eloquently, by other people before me.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/We_choose_to_go_to_the_Moon

[2]: https://spinoff.nasa.gov/Spinoff2008/tech_benefits.html

[3]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NASA_spinoff_technologies

[4]: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2012/dec/16/apollo-legac...


> I'm criticizing the people that make that argument because they've been responded to over and over again, and yet they still make exactly the same argument

This statement might be true as a generalisation, but is probably not true for this specific instance of conversation in this thread. I certainly haven't been responded to over and over again, yet I considered making similar arguments.

I appreciate the effort you've put into your points, though - thank you.


Certainly we ought to solve global hunger and access to water before spending trillions of dollars to go find water on mars.


Hunger and access to water are political problems not scientific ones.


I think the simple answer is 'hedging'.

Cancer, hunger and the like are unlikely to kill the entire human race in one go. A climate event or asteroid could, which would render all other efforts redundant. Mars exploration means hedging the survival of our species.

A diverse portfolio is where the smart money is.


This is a nobel reason, however I imagine the real answer is closer to sex appeal and money.

Also, who should determine how the resources of humanity are deployed?

People who arbitrarily have gained control of the resources?

For a tiny fraction of what is spent on space, we could solve world hunger and water.

It also seems a well fed and hydrated global population would be much happier, healthier, creative and productive.

Another question for folks who make the hedging argument — at what point do we say “ok, we have X% of the population living off world, so now we are going to divert funds to make sure people have access to basic human needs on earth.”


My point is that we might not solve those problems even if all resources are directed there. It makes sense to hedge because our survival is too important to risk with 'all our eggs in one basket'.

You bring up fair questions, but questions that are likely to always be there and never answered. At the end of the day, if we become extinct, all these questions are superfluous anyway.

Space exploration is, quite literally, a moon shot. But it's one that could give us the space (pun intended) to keep trying to solving the rest of the issues.


> For a tiny fraction of what is spent on space, we could solve world hunger and water.

No we realistically can't. How exactly do you propose doing that? Keep in mind that there is a ton of precedents where local governments withheld foreign aid (which was supposed to "solve hunger" at least at that part of the world) to enrich themselves and/or to control their citizens. How do you solve that with any amount of money? Bomb the "bad governments" into submission? Just keep the money in some account waiting for those governments to become more civilized? Might as well colonize Mars in the meantime


I think Scott Harrison has done well with Charity Water -- I believe he has singlehandedly solved 1-2% of the global water problem in the last decade.

Surely, if a NYC nightclub promoter can stop doing blow and start drilling wells, we can scale what he is doing.


No, not really. Two reasons:

- water access is a source for income in quite a few places (e.g. [1]). Drilling a few wells in remote villages might fly under the radar, but "solving clean water" means cutting people very much capable of violence from their income. That can't be solved by NYC nightclub promoter, unless they are willing to wage urban warfare.

- it's not enough to drill the wells as they will dry out eventually if there are no regulations and water distribution infrastructure. It's just not sustainable. And to solve the water problem sustainably requires a lot of infrastructure, water treatment, pipes, pumps, maybe some desalination plants. Even US itself is too gridlocked to solve its own problem of water supply, allocation, and aging infrastructure (e.g. Flint or CA's almond orchards), despite having all the money in the world. Why do you assume it's somehow enough to throw a few trillions at a few dozen countries with wildly different political and cultural climates?

[1]: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2018-06-25/thirsty-v...


But both are competing for limited capital.


And if we colonise Mars without having solved these political problems, what do you think will happen?


Poltical unrest, lost human potential, death, suffering at a massive scale.

Is a humanity that doesn’t bother taking care of its own people worth saving?


Politics is a science of course.


Those are pretty much solved... if you're hungry, eat the incredibly cheap and plentiful food available due to Western technology. If you're thirsty, drink water. Don't have access to water? Move. Or, dig a well.


If you'd like, I can get you an introduction to some folks at the United Nations so you can present your plan.


I don’t see why this is an either or proposition.


We have limited resources and free attention.

Do you feed your kids or do you goto a night club?


It's very tough to explain to someone who hasn't worked on large multidisciplinary projects with mandates to push some sort of boundaries like in exploration, science, and technology. This isn't some theoretical discussion by futurists, there is ample evidence that these kinds of ventures have systemic effects that touch literally every person, socioeconomic class, and daily activity. Academia and private industry have pathological problems with compartmentalization that have a real impact on the exchange of ideas and progress - entire companies like Toyota have risen to the "top of the world" based solely on their ability to open up communication between line workers, robotics engineers, and designers under a common vision. To Toyota that vision is their emphasis on quality control, for NASA and Apollo it was the mandate to beat the Soviet Union to space and to the Moon. Just the act of bringing so many different engineering, scientists, and other people together to work on a single problem like going to the moon allows them to tackle issues that were intractable to each of them individually. Many problems, especially as technology develops, require a solution that is novel across several different fields.

These mandates are powerful. The mandate to defend the nation led to radar and telecommunications, transistors, and many other technologies in use by almost everyone. The mandate to make it to the moon led to a revolution in material science that is now part of every car and phone, it allowed us to map the world and put it in half the world's pocket, and even created a whole new field, systems engineering, that is dedicated to the science of managing gigantic projects spanning thousands of engineers, scientists, manufacturers, and so on. The Human Genome Project, another massive multibillion dollar venture unlocked the human genome to the world for the first time and is directly responsible for much of the biotech boom in the last few decades.

As for "many people don't know that we went to the moon", I'm not so sure that's actually true. Carl Sagan wrote in the Pale Blue Dot in the 90s:

A scientific colleague tells me about a recent trip to the New Guinea highlands where she visited a stone age culture hardly contacted by Western civilization. They were ignorant of wristwatches, soft drinks, and frozen food. But they knew about Apollo 11. They knew that humans had walked on the Moon. They knew the names of Armstrong and Aldrin and Collins. They wanted to know who was visiting the Moon these days.

You're underestimating the biological human desire for exploration - it is a basic evolutionary survival mechanism.


Mandates are cool! Now, given the choice of all the possible mandates (go to mars, fix the environment, fix politics, cure some type(s) of cancer, address aging, fix food distribution, etc.) can you show your work behind why the mandate of going to mars would be the best?

Surely fixing politics, for example, would have a multiplying effect on the efficiency of everything else we do and would just accidentally bring up the living standards of millions of people.


We need a mandate to solve the climate issue and create a sustainable economy on this planet. We humans have a biological human desire to remain alive and eat food. I would argue that that is a stronger innate, biological human desire needed for basic evolutionary survival then that for exploration.


> We humans have a biological human desire to remain alive and eat food.

Humans have a biological desire for exploration because it is critical to remaining alive and finding food. Humans are such a physically weak species with such a long child raising process that we could not have survived any other way.

Exploration is how you survive when apex predators grow out of control, forcing you to move to a safer region. Exploration is how you survive when the climate changes, forcing you to find new sources of water and food. Exploration is how you survive when overpopulation puts pressure on resources, like when tribes get too close and too big to each other and go to war.

Exploration is how we survive.


" I would argue that that is a stronger innate, biological human desire needed for basic evolutionary survival then that for exploration"

I would argue both is interconnected. With exploring new areas, whether on earth or on mars, new potential spots for human life gets found/get made inhabitable. And even though human sustainable colonisation on mars is far away, we need to start sometimes. Maybe just to make it a serious vision, to give people perspective whi say humankind is doomed anyway as we cannot grow indefinitely ... we can.

But for sure there is lots of potential on earth, like the deserts or the sea (ground), before mars becomes a serious alternative ... nut it is all interconnected. Progress in one area of sustaining life in extreme conditions, benefit other areas.

Besides, there never was a time, when there was no hunger on earth. Now while it would be nice to achieve this, I don't think it is smart to stop everything else until we get there ... if we even can get there.


>Besides, there never was a time, when there was no hunger on earth.

We produce enough food, now, to feed every human being on this planet. In fact we make 17% more food per person today then we did 30 years ago, even with the population increasing over that time period. [1]

Ending hunger is an achievable goal.

>I don't think it is smart to stop everything else until we get there

Again, no one is saying we "stop everything else until we get there."

1. https://www.oxfam.ca/there-enough-food-feed-world


"We produce enough food, now, to feed every human being on this planet."

Production is just a minor part of the problem. Yes, there's an excess of food/water in one places and shortage in others, but how will you get these (often short shelf life) products from former to the latter efficiently? Who will pay for this? It's like saying that we have unlimited energy, because Sun produces vastly more than we need -- yes, technically that's correct, but it takes a hell lot of effort and resources while it reaches you wall socket.


"Again, no one is saying we "stop everything else until we get there.""

It sounds a bit like it. Because also the main problem with this thought is, it requires a different distribution mechanism. Socialism for example. And or managed economy. Because today food gets produced the capitalistic way. To make money. Not a charity. Poor people don't have money.

So if there is a charity to buy enough food and able to distribute it to everone ... ok. But many tried, and you could argue it disrupted local food economy (charities bringing in free food, nobody bought from the local farmers anymore, they went out of buisness, simplified but happened)... and therefore increased the need for food delivery etc.

Also, as cruel as it is, the less hungry people, the more people who need food.

In other words, the problem is complex and not simpel. So those who feel the need to solve it (I do a bit actually) should do it. But others who want to explore the mars .. should do that.

Both is important. But maybe mars is actually simpler, than sustainable solving world hunger. Btw. people also like electricity, houses, cars, education ...


It is a matter of order. First, we learn how to terraform ourselves out of our inadvertent unhelpful terraflopping, then we use that learning to terraform anywhere we go. :)


Or we can look at thousands of years of human history, where we stripmined and trashed where we ate and slept, and then moved on to the next place just to do the same to it.

Each day, we're given the choice to change the way we relate to the resources at our disposal. I haven't seen any evidence that the incentives which drive us to cause great harm have gone away. On the contrary, the evidence I have seen points to those destructive incentives as being the driving force behind space colonization.


> Also, It's clear that much like economics, technology doesn't inherently trickle down.

The problem you're identifying is completely independent of exploration. If we spent more on cancer and nothing on space then we would have more medicine-related technologies and fewer of these:

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

But that doesn't have anything to do with what you're objecting to. Look at the HIV drugs the west has access to and Africa doesn't.

And even if the benefit goes 90% to western countries and only 10% to poorer countries, how is that not still better for everyone than using the money to build military drones or ad tracking systems or something equally useless if not actively harmful?


Does modern space exploration still produce the same kinds of spin-off benefits as the old school 'big space' programs did(say, up until the 80s)?

Could we get the same kinds of spin-off technologies if we reallocated NASA's budget to prioritize technology development over, say, planetary exploration?

I'm not anti-space... and I think it's important for us, as a society, to reach for the heavens. I also think, however, that it would not hold humanity back much in the grand scheme of things if we stopped exploring planets for, say, the next 50-100 years.


> Could we get the same kinds of spin-off technologies if we reallocated NASA's budget to prioritize technology development over, say, planetary exploration?

Not really. The private sector is really good at technology development, i.e. take an idea and figure out how to mass produce it at low cost.

What you want government funding for is fundamental research. Which space is good at because of the constraints.

Normally if you can't fit your payload on the truck, you send a second truck. That costs another $100, so it's not worth it to you to spend ten million dollars to figure out how to make it work with one truck, even if you figuring out will save a hundred million other people a hundred dollars each.

With space, you can't just send another ten billion dollar rocket, so you do the ten million in research and actually solve the problem, and we get the piece of new technology that everybody can also use for other things.

"Necessity is the mother of invention." It's hot, it's cold, it's far away, adding a kilo costs nine kilos of rocket fuel, oxygen is scarce, gravity is different, etc. You need the constraints to force an invention instead of just suffering the status quo and covering for the inefficiency with brute force.


Maybe you misunderstood me or I wasn't clear. What I'm saying is to let NASA keep the money but shift focus towards general technological development, ala Australia's CSIRO. NASA's budget is relatively tiny, especially when compared to the military industrial complex(sure, a lot of that is just benefits for troops, but still).


> What I'm saying is to let NASA keep the money but shift focus towards general technological development, ala Australia's CSIRO.

You actually have to go to Mars or there is no impetus to invent the technology required to go to Mars.

Without that you have two problems.

The first is that there is no goal, so nobody knows what to work towards, so you get undirected research that never goes anywhere. This is the problem the NIH and NSF have -- they fund a lot of research and 5% of it is brilliant but 95% of it is not.

The second is that there are other goals, but they're pedestrian. So there is money and somebody figures out how to divert it to their own business, and it ends up funding research that would have otherwise been done by the private sector if those companies' lobbyists hadn't figured out how to get the government to foot the bill instead. Which doesn't grow the pie at all, it just transfers tax money to well-heeled companies with good lobbyists.

Plus, I mean, we get to go to Mars. How is that not awesome enough to justify <1% of the federal budget? Spend a different <1% of the federal budget on the thing you wanted.


That's basically what DARPA is, isn't it? Except that DARPA is focussed towards military applications.


Human effort, passion, and drive are highly dependent on belief in a shared vision and end goal. You're likely to get much more effort out of a team if the end goal is to find a thermal material that can survive Mars re-entry vs. a thermal material that can make some industrial process 5% more efficient.

Effort isn't necessarily a zero-sum game, and necessity as the mother of invention has some truth to it.


Of course predatory mammals pioneered the West. Like all predatory mammals; we went in search of better hunting, better hunting grounds and better mates.

We still do that today. Imo we will still do that 10,000 years from now... because deep down we are what we are.

Edit: We're even "worse" than I gave us credit for.

"https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-34011026"


>We still do that today. Imo we will still do that 10,000 years from now...

If we continue to glibly shrug our shoulders at the premise that mass destruction is just what we do, and if we keep pretending we have no choice in the matter, then the chance of us lasting 10,000 more years is somewhere near zero.


I believe that we can solve our problems, but only if we deal in reality. Once I hear people advancing agendas that rely on humanity pulling together as a world group to help each other for no more reason than "it's nice to do that"; well let's just say I remain skeptical.

I have the same reaction when I hear talk of Socialism. It is simply Not dealing with reality to expect people to; start a business, spend every waking hour thinking and working on that business for some years, and then give Most of the profits away to benefit unknown strangers. Who will do that? (And yes I know Gates and Buffet and others are giving most of their money away, but that's after they have already lived a life of their choosing.)

Glib, sure after a fashion, but much more than that it is a factual reply based on reality.


> give Most of the profits away to benefit unknown strangers. Who will do that?

The majority people of the developed western world already do this. Their taxes are higher than 50%. And they're happy with it.

The US is an exception.

The reason why they're happy with it is because they get benefits too. Transit systems and park systems that they benefit from. Healthcare coverage so broad they do not have to worry about their health.

OK, your house is smaller.

OK, your back yard (if any) is smaller.

OK, you buy less random disposable garbage on Prime Day to fill your smaller house.

But the people in these countries are happier. Because happiness is reality - expectations. And expectations are subjective and controllable.


Off-topic, but that link was really worth reading, thanks!


> No one "pioneered the west". Various groups of people with powerful technology traveled west and stole land from other groups of people.

The people crossing the land bridge to North America from Asia pioneered the west. Or perhaps they considered it East since that's the direction they took to get here. Anyway, I think the point is that humans have an insatiable desire to explore. We have adapted to so many adverse climates here on Earth. And we got around quick with just a lot of bravery, teamwork, and cleverness. I've read that early peoples coming out of Africa swam from the eastern portion towards modern-day Yemen, and then there are the incredibly skilled Polynesian sailors of the Pacific.

> ... without prioritizing equalizing the gains of science and exploration and those gains actively stratify society further.

Technology is all about tools. Science is a process by which we build knowledge. They are not good or evil on their own, that is ultimately a reflection of whomever leverages these tools. I agree that equitability is not a default; privileged few can use their advantages to gain influence, and then repeat until monopoly or oligarchy come to pass.

> I am trying to make a case for focusing out scientific efforts of improving the lives of everyone on the planet. Without spreading the achievements of science and technology to everyone on the planet, humanity is doomed.

Sure, that's a reasonable thing to argue for and I broadly agree. Not all technology benefits humanity; making better bombs with science and technology does harm. Better surveillance measures undermines privacy, and these abuses of science and technology can stalk and kill just as readily as they can benefit us all. It all depends on how it is used.

But space exploration is something that really benefits humanity! There was a boon of technology that benefitted everyone in the wake of the hubbub of the space race. I don't know how it rates with all the other things we could possibly spend money on improving society, maybe below feeding the desperately hungry and below ecological restoration of course. But space has been a great, diverse source of technology, an infinite fount of curiosities, and I believe that if many more people gaze at the Earth from orbit, that a more global perspective will emerge, and this in turn could help direct funds to better causes.


Technology is actually one of the few things that definitely does trickle down.

Refrigeration, washing machines, cellular technology, farming tech, medicine & vaccines, all of these have had extreme impact on those at the bottom.

I'd recommend reading Enlightenment Now, an excellent book that really nails the positive effects that general scientific 'progress' has had on society as a whole.


> Technology is actually one of the few things that definitely does trickle down.

Yes, both in both good and bad ways, of course. Lots of people in the world have cheap mobile phones, which enables all sorts of possibilities. But we also all suffer the negative effects of industrialisation (the poor more than the rich, of course) on our environment.

> I'd recommend reading Enlightenment Now, an excellent book that really nails the positive effects that general scientific 'progress' has had on society as a whole.

I'm very dubious of Pinker's Whig-like claims about 'everything getting better'. I'm not convinced that we've become less violent, only better at killing, and from greater distances (so it seems less brutal).


> Without spreading the achievements of science and technology to everyone on the planet, humanity is doomed.

Forget ethics/morals for a second - this is just patently _false_. It depends on your definition of "doomed", but humanity as a whole needs only a few people to survive in order to not be doomed (defined as extinct).

It'd be easier to argue your case without hyperbole.


There aren't native inhabitants on Mars, though. It will be true exploration in every sense, not just displacing existing residents.


This is the wisest comment here.


I promise it's not.


Many medical research organizations have more money than they know what to do with. The heart and stroke foundation is a great example of that. I’m not suggesting we don’t fund these orgs, even reduce funding, but i feel like we could diversify into exploration of the universe a little more than we currently are.


I wonder if we should just spend more money on basic science. There could be discoveries that are just as transformative as DNA that is the key we need to progress treatment of disease. And space exploration could be a part of that basic science.


I don't know how you come to this conclusion. I assume you mean the American Heart Association, whose grants are pretty incredibly competitive. Lots of good science doesn't get funded.


I'm in Canada, so i'm guessing its a different organization here v's there.


> We can't know for sure, of course, but who were would have preferred Elon Musk start a cancer research firm instead of SpaceX?

I would have preferred that.

EDIT: Sure, downvote me for honestly answering a question. I don't really care about colonizing space right now, I care about a lot of other problems here on Earth. Perhaps you think that's short sighted, but I'd rather Musk have started another Simons Foundation or DESRES than SpaceX. More power to him, and I don't bear him any enmity, but I don't respect the decision.

We don't need to leave the planet to solve our current problems with overpopulation or climate change. More importantly, the reality is that the things that will kill anyone reading this are not going to be solved by going to Mars.


Hey, you are not alone, I would prefer solving Earth's problems too. The downvotes for simply having another vision of a better future are silly.


> The downvotes for simply having another vision of a better future are silly.

It's hubris to declare that your vision inherently provides a better future.

Happily you are completely free to start your own project(s) to 'solve Earth's problems' too -- it won't get in the way of what others (in this case, Musk) is doing, and you can look forward to basking in the glory of curing cancer, etc.

Unless the problem is that other people aren't working exclusively on the things that are important to you?


> your vision inherently provides a better future

I didn't say that, I said that there are different visions of a better future.

I also didn't say that I have a problem here, only that I would prefer things going another way.

You are attacking a comment I didn't write and had no intention to write.


> I didn't say that, I said that there are different visions of a better future.

You agreed with GP who stated they would prefer Elon Musk had started a cancer research firm instead of SpaceX, and you said 'I would prefer solving Earth's problems too'.

(Personally I'd prefer cancer research wasn't conducted by 'a firm' at all, but that's aside.)

What was the 'better' in reference to a 'better future' mean?


Better than now.


> Better than now.

Aha, so you weren't comparing different futures, you were comparing now to a type of future that you weren't committing to (and certainly weren't suggesting a future with Musk running a cancer-curing-firm would be better than a future with Musk not curing cancer for profit).

Perhaps you can understand why I was confused.


Yep, sorry for the confusing wording.


Asteroid. Clathrate gun hypothesis. One-in-a-billion solar event. Planet-wide nuclear war. Random destabilization of the Earth's core.

There are a lot of things that wouldn't kill you on Mars.


Maybe I should clarify my point: all the things that will realistically kill everyone reading this comment are not unique to Earth. Some of the things you've mentioned are quite literally so astronomically unlikely that worrying about them is unproductive. And in any case, each of the extinction scenarios you've listed is also fully plausible on Mars.

Scores of people die from cancer, heart disease, obesity, malnutrition, vehicular accidents or warfare every day. In my opinion, there's a sort of messianic hubris involved in the idea that we should colonize an utterly foreign, unfamiliar and inhospitable environment for the sake of our species, when everything that actually threatens our species comes from our own biology and the way we treat each other.

The current state of Mars is a vastly more hostile environment than even the worst, most pessimistic scenarios offered by Earth's paleoclimatology. We completely lack the technology to terraform Mars' environment to our needs. It is strictly easier for us to develop the technology, lifestyle changes or sociopolitical reforms necessary to continue thriving here on Earth than it is to learn how to adapt to Mars or to terraform its environment to approximate Earth's.

You and I are probably going to die from cancer, heart disease or random accidents. On a long enough timeline, everyone we know is probably going to die from one of those things. But sure let's go to Mars, where the things that kill approximately everyone apparently aren't an issue.


If fixing all our problems on earth is easier than going to other celestial bodies, why have we visited the moon but not done the former?

Nobody thinks going to Mars will make us immortal, you're kinda just throwing that straw man in there.

The disagreement is really that colonizing Mars does not make us any less capable of solving problems on Earth, but it could have many benefits. There are realistically zero downsides. The great thing about space exploration is that it's mostly a purely scientific endeavor. If you throw money at it, you can get stuff done. That's not how global geopolitics works. That's not how convincing people to take better care of their bodies works. You can't just throw money at that problem, so the idea that spending money on Mars takes money from those things is a baseless premise anyway.


It's also worth noting that an all-out effort to help humans thrive in the harsh environment of interplanetary space might have a nice side benefit of curing cancer.

Don't underestimate the power of poetry. In the 60s we used the poetics of the moon landing to fund research. This was an innovation, in that previously we could only get that kind of money together for war projects.

So I see space as the poetics that saves us from spending all our money on war.


It could also be said that an all-out war on cancer would allow humans to survive better in the harsh environment of space. As a geek I like the idea of space exploration, but I don't think it is the only way, or even one of the better ways, of driving technological progress.


Replying to a [dead] comment...

The space program was obvs a war effort. But I view war as one of capitalism's ways of managing the problem of overproduction. When we can substitute other outlets (eg space instead of war) for that part of the business cycle we should jump at the chance.


>If we don't get people living and populating on other planets, the human species is doomed.

It's probably significantly cheaper to transition to fully carbon-neutral, non-polluting energy sources and infrastructure than it is to create a self-sustaining colony on the moon or mars. Space isn't going anywhere, and even if this delayed space exploration by a few decades, the odds of an event out of human control destroying us in that time are extremely slim.

And yes, many people would rather money be spent on cancer research, or better yet, alleviating poverty. Plus, it is certainly possible for general cancer therapies to exist and work, such as gene therapy or drugs that prevent metastasis. But this is a false dichotomy anyway - money could just as easily come from government debt, higher taxes, a shift away from luxury spending/goods, etc.


There are a whole lot of reasons why space exploration could help the poor. Off the top of my head: infrastructure spending and asteroid mining.


I find the "asteroid" argument (and Musk's "multi-planetary species" argument) to justifying investment in Mars so strange. Mass-extinction-level asteroids hit Earth once in 100s of millions of years. And even when one does hit us, it'll be easier to find ways to make more of us survive on Earth (we'll see it coming, and can build whatever structures and equipment more easily on Earth than on Mars) than we'd be able to do so on Mars.

These arguments are the software equivalent of noticing the possibility of a super-unlikely bug (that probably won't happen to any customer in the software's lifetime), and then investing in a massive multi-month rewrite instead of a simpler one-day fix.

I'm not saying we shouldn't invest though: there's lots of positive side-effects to solving the requisite hard science problems, and to inspiring people with space exploration. Investment in Mars and cancer (and literacy, and a bunch of other important things for society) can happen in parallel. We're not yet at the point of exhausting our engineering capacity with just those things: and if we're running out of capacity, better to reduce our investment in the Nth messaging/photo-sharing/js-framework/... piece of software than to reduce investment in these ambitious pursuits.


When you're discussing space exploration, and more specifically space colonization you're never speaking in your or even your great x5 grandchildren's lifetimes. You're speaking at the time scale of civilizations, where something like an asteroid is a very real concern. We're not guaranteed to know that one is coming and "build a bigger bunker" is not necessarily a panacea, especially if the surface is completely decimated. Having a few thousand people in a bunker in that scenario just makes it a bigger coffin.

And exploring Mars isn't about protecting the people on Earth from an asteroid. It's about having multiple civilizations so that when one of them eventually gets wiped out by an asteroid (because at these time scales it is an eventuality, not some super-unlikely thing), there are others and the human race can survive.

Literacy or hunger are not scientific problems, they're political ones.


> If we don't get people living and populating on other planets, the human species is doomed.

does it have to be a planet? what's wrong with space stations?


Even if you manage to create a self-sustaining space station, that's going to cap the number of viable residents pretty low unless it's truly massive. And I don't even want to think about the psychological toll of being one of the last few dozen humans orbiting a dead Earth.


Tangent: Seveneves by Neal Stephenson is a hard sci-fi novel that explores this very situation.

Present day humanity (i.e., no manned interplanetary missions, minimal manned presence in orbit, etc.) discovers total-extinction cataclysm will happen in two years. Scramble to figure out short (how to get genetically viable population into orbit) and long (how to keep them alive for a thousand years until the surface is habitable again) term solutions to preserve humanity.


True. Doesn't make any sense sending things down a gravity well. Unless of course the resources to be mined are too valuable down there.


"there is no universal "cancer" that we can fight. There are hundreds of different types, just as distinct as different diseases."

There's no universal bacterial infection, there are hundreds or even thousands of different types, yet antibiotic drugs have been effective for a wide range of diseases, and have probably saved billions of lives since their discovery.

Of course, those drugs are becoming less effective since they've been so overused, and we need new ones. But the pharmaceutical companies aren't too keen on developing new antibiotics because it's not profitable for them -- just the kind of thing that a big monetary investment can significantly help.

So, would you maybe like a few more classes of antibiotic drugs, which could potentially save the lives of billions more people, or would you like to go back to the days when a paper cut on your finger could kill you but we might potentially get a tiny, fragile colony on Mars?


> No to mention the fact that all the cancer drugs in the world will not save us from an asteroid. If we don't get people living and populating on other planets, the human species is doomed.

This is what I always come back to. Curing cancer is a great form of self improvement for the human race, but essentially that's like an ant colony learning how to make it's ants live a little longer. It doesn't protect from floods, or fires, or even an exterminator. What does? founding new ant colonies in different locations. Many of them.

Additionally, the caveman analogy is apt. A balance needs to be struck between advancement, and standard of living. Too much focus on standard of living and you reach the cap of what your technology is capable of. To much focus on advancement and people suffer unduly (and too much of that is unsustainable). To me, the parallels between this and the whole socialism and capitalism extremes are obvious, and similarly, we're best off with some shifting middle ground rather than at the extremes.


I'd argue that there are many problems endemic to the way we've structured society that spell out our doom on Earth, and if they aren't fixed here, will spell out our doom on other planets.

We should fix our problems here, today, before exporting them elsewhere.

Nevermind the fact that the after almost any type of disaster, the bottom of the ocean is infinitely more habitable than Mars. Mars as a holdout for humanity is truly a moonshot.


You could say pretty much the same thing about other cities, other states, other countries, other continents. Why did mankind leave Africa if they just repeated the same mistakes in Europe and Asia? Why did they leave Europe to go to the US if they just did the same thing over there? Why would someone leave New England and go west across America if they're just bringing the same thing?

All of that ignores, of course, that the culture of mankind evolved dramatically between and during those big migrations, and then again ignoring that Africa, Asia, Europe, and America all have wildly, wildly different belief systems, cultures, politics, and people.

Who is saying that we'd take our same problems to Mars? The kind of people who were willing to move from Europe to America were not the same kind of people who wanted support the system in Europe at the time, and the kind of people who want to move to Mars aren't going to be the same people who want to continue the same system we have on Earth.

"Fix our problems here"... but what if "here" is the problem? If the Pilgrims had stayed in England and the Netherlands, they wouldn't have been able to fix what they considered to be "the problem" no matter how hard they tried. It was only by starting a new life that they could solve their problems.


Europe certainly brought their problems to their colonies: they exported their religious extremists, criminals and brought their need to profit, proselytize and conquer with them.

Considering the same pressures are behind space colonization as were behind colonization of old, I find your concerns as merely speculation based in fantasy and not history.

> but what if "here" is the problem?

The same "here" that is humanity's proverbial garden of Eden? Food grows out of the ground, an atmosphere can exist and it's breathable and, until relatively recently, we didn't have to worry too much about the Sun's radiation destroying our own biological processes.

If "here" is the problem, and the solution is a dry, cold rock that's millions of miles away without any signs of life, we're truly doomed.

> If the Pilgrims had stayed in England and the Netherlands, they wouldn't have been able to fix what they considered to be "the problem" no matter how hard they tried

The problems pilgrims face were those of religious persecution. The problems we face as whole are truly existential, we're in the process of changing our planet for the worse.

The same forces that are driving the destruction of our planet are driving space colonization. I don't see any evidence to the contrary.


You talk about these things like they're some kind of final solution, like either option is the one single path that humanity must travel, and if we pick the wrong option we're doomed, and if we pick the right option we're saved. I don't see it that black and white.

Many people in Europe stayed and eventually fixed their problems, and ended up with revolutions across almost all of the continent to throw off the monarchy and old religious system in favor of tolerance and democracy. They did that even after people who were sick of the old system left for the New World. The Pilgrims established the system they wanted on another "world", and eventually everyone who stayed behind fixed their problems as well. It can be both.

It can also be neither. Like you mentioned, both America and Europe have a lot of the same problems now that they did back then. They never got fixed. So in your vision, we all stay on Earth, never fix the problems, and eventually die off. Or we send some people to Mars and even if we never actually fix the problems we're facing on Earth, at least we reset the clock to give us more time.

Ditching capitalism and militarism isn't going to stop the sun from devouring the planet. Shunning religion and solving the problem of crime isn't going to prevent a supervolcano. And being in the Garden of Eden won't matter much when an asteroid destroys the planet. What seems like fantasy to me is the idea that we can solve all of humanity's oldest and most deeply ingrained problems if we just try hard enough. What is actually history is that extinctions have happened before, and the biggest one wasn't caused by humans.


Under rated perspective here.


Aside from us killing ourselves in myriad spectacular ways, the most looming threats are cosmic. The sun is on a timeline and asteroids hit planets with some measure of regularity. Any cosmic extinction-level event will render the bottom of the ocean just as inhospitable as the south of France or the Midwest US.

An ELE on Earth in the short term future wipes out the human race, full stop. The only thing that can continue our species is having that species on more than one rock in space.


Yet, given the last asteroid induced extinction event, the south of France, the midwest US, and the bottom of the ocean would still have been more habitable than Mars.


Not for the ones that experienced it first hand.


Our ancestors got through it, somehow.


Human would not have. The point is not to ensure that any life on Earth survives, the point is to ensure that human life survives. An ELE of similar size today wipes out the human race. There is no coming back from it and without a generation or more of warning there is no surviving it.

At least having colonies on other planets and moons would give us more of a chance.


> We should fix our problems here, today, before exporting them elsewhere.

Although, if we export them, that's that many different places to try out solutions in semi-isolation in an attempt to find one that works. If we can parallelize the process, and also get cleaner starting conditions to test, why shouldn't we do so?


This is the cosmic equivalent of "laboratories of democracy"[0]

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laboratories_of_democracy


The problem I see with this is that each independent laboratory cannot be easily configured to the same initial conditions. Especially not one on Mars and one on Earth. It would take a tremendous effort to turn Mars into Earth and then use it in parallel to carry out experiments. If the two laboratories are vastly different, comparisons between the two won't have much backing.


> An oncologist wishing more money was spent on cancer? In other news, water is wet.

Yeah, because only oncologists care about cancer.


Feel free to quote where I said that; or, you can continue willfully misinterpreting my sentiment.


It's called an implication. Duh.


Humans do have a stunning track record of fucking up the things we explored and pioneered. Maybe it's time we clean up the messes we made instead of finding a new place to ruin?


This is a false dichotomy that always annoys me. It is entirely possible that by spending $400B to safely send people to Mars and live there, especially in a moderately high radiation environment, that we will discover EXACTLY the mechanisms that send cells into cancer states and how to reverse that so they stop. Otherwise we're going to have colonists getting cancer and dying too quickly.

Then not only do we get to be multiplanetary so that when the crap really starts hitting the fan there is a lifeboat, but we also cure cancer.


It's also entirely possible that the cure for all forms of cancer is a diet consisting entirely of frosted flakes, and that spending $400B researching the effects of all-cereal diets would also discover the cure for cancer.

However, it's far more likely that $400B in cancer research will do more for curing cancer than hoping for side effects from $400B in other research.


We have already spent $500B on cancer research[1] and it hasn't cured. This also isn't an "either/or" proposition. As I mentioned, people travelling in space are subject to a lot of radiation which is known to cause cancer, so part of the research is going to be figuring out how to fix cells that are cancerous.

Cancer is a systemic problem, it isn't measles or polio or TB. You have to understand the system in order to fix it and pushing humans into new environments will give us better insights into the system we call human life.

[1] https://bigthink.com/devil-in-the-data/the-never-ending-war-...


> We have already spent $500B on cancer research[1] and it hasn't cured

That's a pretty absolutist statement. We've spent more preventing murder, but murder still happens. We have developed many treatments for cancer that have added many quality life years for millions of people.


I agree, both that it is absolutist and that we've spent more on preventing murder. What is the common thread to both of these absolutist comments? Both cancer and murder are systems in crisis, not 'things' in their own right. They have the same questions

1a) What causes a cell to decide live forever (metastasize)?

1b) What causes a person to decide that killing another person is the solution to some problem?

2a) How can we detect a cell that is about to metastasize? How can we stop it?

2b) How can we detect a person that is about to murder? How can we stop them?

3a) What would have to be true for cancer to never be the cause of death ever again?

3b) What would have to be true for murder to never be the cause of death ever again?

See? Both are systems where individual elements within the system have decided to work against the system rather than within its constructs.

There is no drug, no treatment, that will 'cure' cancer until we understand exactly what is going on in a cell that knocks it out of line. And there will be no end to murder until we understand exactly what is going on inside a person's head when they decide that is the correct course of action. Everything we do on these two fronts (cancer, and murder) are delaying actions to minimize their impact on the greater whole.

The other part that some people have assumed (but the GP did not) is that spending this money on Mars exploration would reduce the amount of money that is currently allocated to cancer research. It wouldn't, it was specified as 'new funds'.


> There is no drug, no treatment, that will 'cure' cancer until we understand exactly what is going on in a cell that knocks it out of line. ... Everything we do on these two fronts (cancer, and murder) are delaying actions to minimize their impact on the greater whole.

So what? Even if everything you say is true, the outcome of the research is possibly hundreds of millions of additional quality life years.

And there are many treatments that 'cure' cancer. Many people have cancer, are treated, and never have it again. Many have it, are treated, and live much longer than they otherwise would have. I'm not sure what you are saying, or why research that saves and prolongs lives has to meet some other standard (and what is that standard?).


Yes, cancer and murder are duals. Do you think there may be a way to convert between measures against either?


Not sure how this relates to the argument. Can you be a bit more specific?


I think what might be more damning is if the preventative measure for cancer is better full spectrum healthy habits


Imagine giving someone 200 years ago $400B for cancer research; what do you think it would have happen? Do you think they would have found the cure? No. The same thing happens today, $400B may do nothing big for cancer research and what's needed to advance in that area its time; decades (maybe centuries) of advancements in many fields that are not directly related to cancer research but given enough time those advancements will be used together to find a cure (e.g. map the entire DNA; nanorobots, etc)


There are about a thousand things you use and benefit from everyday that were side effects of other research and spending (primarily military). But you take them for granted and so it is easy for you to make value judgments regarding how money is spent.


Eh, the military invents very few things, they mostly spend money on custom development of existing tech to make it better at killing things or facilitating the killing of things.

The car, the calculating machine, the photograph, the steam engine, the radar: none where invented by military men or even those funded by the military.


I might be very wrong (as I don’t have right now time to research more) but I think _the calculating machine_ and _the radar_ are things actually created as usable products because the military needed them in the first place. I am not in favor of spending (more) money on military.


Not really, their further development certainly benefitted from military money, but the basics came from civilian need for navigation, in general and in mist.


I'm fairly certain this is not true. Marconi and Hülsmeyer had some early ideas about using radar to find ships, but they weren't really developed and didn't use the pulsed approach that subsequent systems used.

This wikipedia article (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_radar) suggests a huge military involvement from the 1930s onwards


If you count nothing but the earliest version of military radars, then of course nothing but the military has funded it.

I will, however, not count pulsing as more than an improvement to the basic invention of distant object detection with radio waves.

As you can read on the page you linked Hülsmeyer made a working system, clunky as it was, for detecting ships in mist. Taking a system from prototype to mass produced, worthy as this investment might be, is not inventing it.


> But you take them for granted and so it is easy for you to make value judgments regarding how money is spent.

It's rude to make such assumptions about me. I do not take the positive side effects from research for granted.

You simply haven't made a case showing why $400B in space research will generate more or better positive side effects than $400B in cancer research.

All research will have side effects that can't be anticipated. It's stupid to perform research with "random, unknowable" side positive side effects as a primary justification.


>>You simply haven't made a case showing why $400B in space research will generate more or better positive side effects than $400B in cancer research.

You made the original claim that spending that money on cancer research would be more beneficial. The burden of proof is on you, not me.


Eventually the Earth is going to be hit by an asteroid or cooked by the sun. It's an eventuality that on cosmic timescales is going to happen sooner rather than later.

Getting mankind off of Earth and spread across multiple planets and solar system will yield untold positive side effects, and one or more of those may impact cancer research.

More cancer research is not going to stop an asteroid.


> Getting mankind off of Earth and spread across multiple planets and solar system will yield untold positive side effects, and one or more of those may impact cancer research.

And yet perhaps one of the blocks with modern science is people hitting the grave before they can finish innovative research. It takes at least 26 years to train a human from scratch to advance to basic research level in a field. You can add another 10, 20 years before proficiency. At least half the human life until total proficiency (as it stands) is reached and perhaps a quarter of the human life for which researchers can make meaningful contributions.

Arguably, focusing on problems on Earth - like eliminating mortality, solving longevity, curing cancer and dealing with death - will do more for our species long-term than exploring space right now. When your scientists live longer, more discoveries, contributions, and innovations can be made.

Spending $400B on dealing with the greatest tragedies and sources of sorrow known to mankind today - death, disease, illness - would be far preferable to most people than investing in space.


So far our legacy as a species on earth is one of destruction. Only by taking on the challenge a place that is already dead can we be certain of creating something new. Maybe we will learn some perspective in the process.

Going to Mars will have myriad discoveries & side effects, if we knew what they were what would be the point of going?

Also, what if curing cancer is harder than going to mars? One is by now a fairly quantifiable objective, the other is debugging a mind bogglingly complex system with no version control.


I think it is the other way around. Somewhere up the thread someone made the that instead of spending 400B on space travel we should have spent it on cancer research.

There was little, if any, explanation of why this should be done; and the posters arguing the opposite are, in my view, suggesting some of the "why not" arguments. The burden of proof is still on the fellow who made that "we should" claim. My 2c.


Cancer isn't one disease, it's dozens, each with different causes.

For example, almost all cases of cervical cancer are traced to HPV infections...so the research into the HPV vaccine arguably did more to reduce future cancer cases than research into cancer has. Further research showed that HPV can also cause a number of cancers in men (though at lower rates), which is part of the justification for offering the HPV vaccine to boys.


Cancer is often caused when tissue is damaged and needs to heal or try to heal itself repeatedly (inflammation).

Sunburn, smoking, chewing tobacco, HPV, acid reflux, can all cause cancer. Saying those are all different cancers that require different cures is a good way to waste a lot of effort and money. It is more accurate to say that inflammation is a cause for cancer, and focus on that.


Point is, this is one of but many causes of diseases jointly classified as "cancer". Cancers share similarities in their (visible) method of action, but they have very different causes. There isn't going to be a single cure for "cancer".


Yes, there are many causes. We are in violent agreement. If you focus on the causes, you are preventing cancer, not curing it. You are playing whack-a-mole.


LOL Seems more cost efficient long run to address lifestyle than deal with proximal consequence


The thing about cancer is that you can live a perfect lifestyle and still have it ravage your body.


The reality is there's no escaping the causes for cancer, many of which are environmental and increasing. No amount of lifestyle change is going to eliminate the growing number of carcinogens present throughout our air, food, and water.


OK. You tell your mom that, after she's gotten cancer, asshole. How did her lifestyle cause her cancer in her ovaries (another inflammation caused cancer), I wonder?

While you're chastising your mom for her lifestyle, the rest of us will be looking/hoping for a cure.

You should know that even you will experience increased and chronic inflammation as you age, no matter how much better than your mom, your lifestyle is. Increased chronic inflammation and aging are linked and we're still trying to understand why.


> You tell your mom that, after she's gotten cancer, asshole.

Posting like this is a bannable offense. I'm not going to ban you for this because it's clearly a personal topic, but if you post like this again, we will. Please review https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and follow the rules from now on.


My mother did get breast cancer and it went into remission partially by increasing the quality of her lifestyle during and after treatment, as mandated by a pilot study she went through to help assess such an intervention. The lifestyle change was more extreme than what we would have considered necessary before her cancer, but doing cardiovascular exercise every day is already known as having an influence on bodily inflammation. Yes chemotherapy was involved but we are speaking of where the next span of marginal investment would have to go to make the highest impact.

At the individual level finding a cure would be great, and during late-stage we would definitely want to understand how to have more successful treatments, but to remove the long-term load of the cancer problem on the medical system would mean better environmental and lifestyle interventions which act at a level of root cause instead of proximal treatment. If anything maybe we would find common ground have having cheaper diagnostics so that we could find more motivation to engage in preventative measures concretely rather than as a catch all.


Nice that your mom got better with her breast cancer. I'm sure you know that a lot of breast cancer "survivors" are victims of an over hyped mammogram screening that calls any lump, no matter how slow growing, "cancer". Whether that's what your mom had or not, it's still scary though. [1]

My mom died of ovarian cancer after living a lifestyle that even you would approve of. Victim shaming pisses me off.

Shaming the victim with this lifestyle bullshit is not productive, and neither is minimizing people who actually search for cures rather than preaching lifestyle.

[1] https://www.bmj.com/content/348/bmj.g366


> Victim shaming pisses me off.

Yet you’re going right ahead and assuming that someone else’s experience is not _real_ cancer because they survived it and your mom didn’t? You really don’t have the right to be calling anyone else an asshole.

> and neither is minimizing people who actually search for cures rather than preaching lifestyle.

It seems like your feelings about your mom are preventing you from thinking objectively about this. Lifestyle can be a cure as well as a preventative, an extremely effective one, but that’s often overlooked because it’s easier and more profitable to get someone to take pills than it is for them to change all their dietary and exercise habits. Attitudes like yours, that say it’s wrong to call it anyone’s fault, really don’t help.


You have that precisely backwards. The humans don't get sent to live in a high-radiation environment until we figure out hot to prevent the cancers. We're not just going to send a bunch of people to their death.

This is what irks me about "send people to Mars!" - we aren't anywhere near high enough on the technology tree to even contemplate the endeavor. Or to quote Bruce Sterling:

I'll believe in people settling Mars at about the same time I see people setting the Gobi Desert. The Gobi Desert is about a thousand times as hospitable as Mars and five hundred times cheaper and easier to reach. Nobody ever writes "Gobi Desert Opera" because, well, it's just kind of plonkingly obvious that there's no good reason to go there and live. It's ugly, it's inhospitable and there's no way to make it pay. Mars is just the same, really. We just romanticize it because it's so hard to reach.


I like this image, although when I think about deserts I think about the Mojave desert and the people who died crossing it to get to the gold that was in the Sierra's. Or the oceans people crossed to get to the Americas. While there is 'hospitable' there is 'hard to survive' and I think surviving a journey across the ocean with 16th century tech might have some parallels.

I get the mindset of staying at home around the known campfire and the known wildlife and the known hazards. But I observe that it has never been a winning strategy for humans.


There's a pretty substantial difference between "living on the other side of the ocean" and "living in a submarine", which is probably what life on Mars would be like given foreseeable technology. It's not just fear of the unknown. It's the sheer practical matter that life on Mars (if possible) will be extremely difficult, and the only obvious benefit is that you can say "hey look, I'm on Mars!"

Hell, you can simulate life on Mars by signing up for a career in deep sea diving. Actually, deep sea diving is probably a million times easier since you can pretty easily get parts from the surface.

I should have posted the full Bruce Sterling quote:

I'll believe in people settling Mars at about the same time I see people setting the Gobi Desert. The Gobi Desert is about a thousand times as hospitable as Mars and five hundred times cheaper and easier to reach. Nobody ever writes "Gobi Desert Opera" because, well, it's just kind of plonkingly obvious that there's no good reason to go there and live. It's ugly, it's inhospitable and there's no way to make it pay. Mars is just the same, really. We just romanticize it because it's so hard to reach.

On the other hand, there might really be some way to make living in the Gobi Desert pay. And if that were the case, and you really had communities making a nice cheerful go of daily life on arid, freezing, barren rock and sand, then a cultural transfer to Mars might make a certain sense.

If there were a society with enough technical power to terraform Mars, they would certainly do it. On the other hand. by the time they got around to messing with Mars, they would have been using all that power to transform _themselves_. So by the time they got there and started rebuilding the Martian atmosphere wholesale, they wouldn't look or act a whole lot like Hollywood extras.


I don't disagree, just like there is a substantial difference between living in a submarine and living in orbit. But we've gone from "impossible to live in a submarine" to living in orbit in less than 100 years."

There are a lot of indications that 'living under conditions that were true for the last 1500 years but may not be available again for a while' is also a good plan. A city on Mars is likely a 100% energy sufficient and materials sufficient city. Such a city could survive any global warming catastrophe as well.

Most of this discussion comes down to various belief systems. I believe that any civilization that can live on Mars will also be able to treat cancer effectively, as well as survive other threats like asteroid bombardment, climate change, or major volcanic events. I don't believe that a civilization that can "only" treat cancer can survive those other problems. Clearly others have a different set of beliefs and that guides their research investment priorities.


Um, we have settled the Gobi Desert and there's plenty of ways to make it pay, most notably this one:

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


This is a good illustration of what Charlie Stross says:

But even so, when you get down to it, there's not really any economically viable activity on the horizon for people to engage in that would require them to settle on a planet or asteroid and live there for the rest of their lives. In general, when we need to extract resources from a hostile environment we tend to build infrastructure to exploit them (such as oil platforms) but we don't exactly scurry to move our families there. Rather, crews go out to work a long shift, then return home to take their leave. After all, there's no _there_ there — just a howling wilderness of north Atlantic gales and frigid water that will kill you within five minutes of exposure. And that, I submit, is the closest metaphor we'll find for interplanetary colonization. Most of the heavy lifting more than a million kilometres from Earth will be done by robots, overseen by human supervisors who will be itching to get home and spend their hardship pay.

This is not "settling" the Gobi desert any more than manning an oil rig is settling the north atlantic.

Much more well-reasoned detail here:

http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2007/06/the_high...


I look forward to seeing the summary of this discussion thread on n-gate.

If Earth were hit by a dinosaur killing asteroid it would be more habitable than mars before, during, and after.

Any ridiculous boondoggle might have beneficial side effects. There’s no evidence, however, that spending money on a boondoggle is a more effective way of generating positive side effects than spending the same money on something sensible.

I contend that if we were to spend $400B on a crash program to cure cancer we might accidentally end up figuring out how to live safely on mars.


My thoughts exactly about n-gate.

There's this funny assumption that the Earth might get hit by an asteroid but such an event can't happen to Mars. I'd like to know why Mars is asteroid-safe. Also what's the rationale in going to what in fact is an extinct planet to deal with the possibility of extinction in this of ours, which despite the bad press has been sustaining life continuously for billions of years.


personal callouts.

You've been seen!


I think if we in the U.S. stopped killing people in senseless wars, we could use some of the trillions we spend on that to both fund medical research and fly to Mars. But that's obviously a fantasy.


Then again, for the 700 billion dollars defense budget you'd get free universal healthcare and higher education for all of the US — AND would still have a few dozen billions to spare on cancer and Mars expeditions... but who in their right mind would want that?


You're missing the fact that the US military is in its core a employment and social services program used extensively to create artificial jobs and artificial demand for skilled labour and high-tech products and services.

Not to mention the cultural importance that the US military as an institution has on the US, of course.


And those skilled labor and high-tech products and services would transition extraordinarily well to a space-based economy.


What exactly makes you believe that rocket science is a domain that's easy to transition into?


Very little about space is rocket science. Cars are really hard to build and it took thousands of years for mankind to build one, but that doesn't mean the person changing your oil has to know how to fabricate one from scratch in his garage. There are thousands of job titles around the auto industry that require zero knowledge of how cars work.


40% of US GDP is financial services it would be hard to argue that you could preserve that without being dominant military power.


Financial services - including insurance - are 7.5% of the US economy, not 40%.

https://www.selectusa.gov/financial-services-industry-united...


Most places put it at around 20% I am def off on the 40% figure. (might be the % of exports?)


I would blame the size of the financial services sector on the Fed and inflationary money. I don't see what military power has to do with it?

What's the size of the financial sector of Luxembourg or Switzerland?


Well name 1 other country that cab increase money supply the way FED does yet maintains the status of world's reserve currency? Luxembourg nobody cares on a global scale. Switzerland has extremely competent military and they are def. not in a position to manipulate the currency the way FED does and remain a viable financial center.


"Switzerland has extremely competent military and they are def. not in a position to manipulate the currency the way FED does and remain a viable financial center."

Well, actually, since you brought it up ...

The SNB has been buying euros, and other currencies (selling swiss francs) since 2011 in an effort to depress its value, which they believe is too high and hurts their exports.

Here is a decent summary of the events leading up to their interventions and the current scenario:

https://admiralmarkets.com/analytics/traders-blog/price-shoc...

In summary, the CHF is viewed by many market participants as a safe-haven, or reserve currency (especially in Europe) and the Swiss National Bank has been acting, unilaterally, for many years to manipulate the CHF downwards in value.


Thats an interesting read I was not aware this was done at this scale. But still hard to remove military from equation.


Switzerland has been manipulating their currency for almost a decade now. The central bank has been consistently selling reserves to keep their currency low.

The USD is the world's reserve currency because we have a balance of being the largest economy with a fair rule of law, lots of real estate, 50 competing states, natural resources, and the manufacturing expertise that means if anything goes super wrong we're the best place to be.

Luxembourg and Switzerland also have a history of being tax havens.


You wouldn't need that much for free healthcare. Remember people already pay a ton for healthcare. You'd just repackage those payments into taxes for free universal healthcare and then the government would have to pay the difference.


This word “free” you keep using.... I’m not sure it means what you think it means?


This point you're making is pretty pedantic considering the OP clearly recognizes that funding for universal healthcare comes from somewhere, they say as much themselves.


I mean, that was kinda the point?


"Free" as in "free at the point of use" is a well-understood concept


You're underestimating the cost of US healthcare per capita by an extreme amount. Universal healthcare would cost a minimum of $3.6 trillion (that's an ideal scenario where the US gets its per capita spending down to other high spending nations), and a more likely ~$4.5 trillion.

Higher education for all would cost at least $600 billion (close to the existing spending for all post secondary institutions annually), more likely $750b+ with the cost expansion that would entail.

You obviously can't eliminate all of the US defense budget. That would be wildly irrational and dangerous. Let's say the best you can do is a 2% of GDP expenditure rate, or roughly $400 billion per year.

That $300 billion directed at universal healthcare would pay for the healthcare of 20 million people, 6% of the US population.


> Universal healthcare would cost a minimum of $3.6 trillion (that's an ideal scenario where the US gets its per capita spending down to other high spending nations)

Mmm. No.

In 2016, government spending on healthcare would have been lowered by $435 billion and covered every single American if we somehow had transplanted Canada's healthcare system and costs to the US.

Total healthcare spending (including co-pay and what not), would have been lowered by $1.6 trillion.

Indeed, we could have increased to coverage to every American just with the government healthcare spending we already have with a similar transplant of all but 3 countries systems/costs the OECD collects data for.

That said, that would all be taken right out of the GDP hitting the economy pretty hard.

--

US Federal healthcare spending (2016): $944.1 billion

US State & local healthcare spending (2016): $564.5 billion

Total gov spending (2016): $944.1 + $564.5 = $1.508 trillion

Canada govt spending (2016): $3,319 per capita

US population (2016): 323.4 million

Cost with Canada's system (2016): $3,319 * 323.4M = $1.073 trillion


“If we somehow transplanted Canada’s healthcare system and costs”

Get back to me when you’ve convinced US healthcare workers to take a 30-50% pay cut. Until then, US healthcare will remain more expensive than developed countries that don’t routinely compensate doctors and nurses at the level we do.


This is incorrect.

The cost of care in this country is not a function of salary; it's a function of grotesque inefficiencies in the system.

When I dug into this during the attempt to repeal the ACA, what I found was the US pays 50% to many times more per capita for much worse outcomes than any other first world nation, with comparisons against Japan being particularly bleak.

Furthermore, that is the result of systemic inefficiencies here resulting from, in a nutshell, protected oligopolies and preservation of profits.

One underreported aspect of the ACA was that in order to secure recalcitrant GOP votes, the Democrats essentially caved on everything other their mandatory features–namely, on allowing the GOP to engineer in changes written by the health care industry and IMO extorted at gunpoint.

The result has been clear, the industry has enjoyed record profits since the ACA passed. So much so that one of the problems with the attempt to appeal it or weaken it was that the GOP and its industry interest groups had already gotten most of the things on their wish list.

The worst part of this trainwreck is that for much more money, we enjoy far worse outcomes when you consider most any metric that matters to people: life expectancy, infant mortality, incidence of chronic disease, incidence of disruptive mental illness, incidence of opiate addiction, and so on. In all of these we trail not only the rest of the first world but many countries in the developing world.

There are other factors such as a diet and lifestyle distorted by e.g. the sugar lobby, but even when you 'correct' for those things, the quality of service we get does not make for healthy or happy citizens.

Then add the likelihood of personal bankruptcy or financial ruin as the result of carefully engineered carefully obscured limitations on coverage.

None of this is particularly hidden or hard to uncover; it's just utterly obscured by GOP empty distracting whipping horse talking points and scare tactics.


What part of your comment is responsive to “total cost of healthcare is dominated by labor” other than “that is incorrect”?

There are, of course, inefficiencies in every system, and without a doubt, the US system of health care has more than universal health care.

We might be able to shave 10% off the health care system by doing away with those inefficiencies, and conceivably another 5% by bulk negotiating on pharmaceuticals.

But given the (I believe correct) statistics that are bandied about showing the US healthcare system is 50-75% more expensive than other systems, where do you think the rest of that money is going?

It’s labor.



Would you please provide some sources on all your numbers? those are some astronomical numbers and are essential in validating your point.

Edit: I did some of my own research, UHC take 8~11% GDP in other countries. That would put us around 1.8 trillion (2016 GDP). Much less than $3.5 trillion you claimed.

Plus, US is already spending 16% of GDP (~3 trillion) on health care, despite not having universal healthcare. 11% GDP for UHC does not seem like a bad idea to me

source: https://data.oecd.org/healthres/health-spending.htm


Universal health care isn’t magic pixie dust.

The way UHC costs less is by paying doctors and nurses less. Negotiating lower pharmaceutical rates and reducing billing costs is nice and all, but it’s tiny compared to labor costs.

It turns out, doctors and nurses are very popular, and they vote their economic interest. Good luck getting UHC in the US that pays them less.


Remember, government spending increases the GDP. You'd have to get closer to $2 trillion to hit 11% if, for some reason, one wanted to use that as a target rather than per-capita spending.


> You're underestimating the cost of US healthcare per capita by an extreme amount. Universal healthcare would cost a minimum of $3.6 trillion (that's an ideal scenario where the US gets its per capita spending down to other high spending nations), and a more likely ~$4.5 trillion.

I think you're forgetting that right now, the cost of healthcare is externalized to the citizens. So, yes, we'd pay more in taxes for socialized healthcare, but we get more in our paycheck because our companies don't have to deal with private health insurance anymore. Especially with the mandate...everyone is aalready paying for health care in some form or other.

Not to mention that many projections show socialized healthcare would be a net gain as far as money being spent goes.

In other words, socialized healthcare would more than pay for itself, if US citizens weren't so fucking stupid about labeling things "socialism" when it has nothing to do with the workers seizing the means of production.


But think of all the DoD employees who would lose their jobs! And the Lockheed Martin engineers! And their hungry children!

/s


To be fair cancer is super overfunded and a waste of money to fund relative to lots of more easily cured third world diseases or poverty itself.

Always someone with a better case than you.


"waste of money" is strong. Live with a loved one as they progress through rounds of cancer therapies and I suspect you will identify unmet need. It will change you. It's not a cancer vs infectious disease/clean water situation, both goals are valid and possible within reasonable means.


Unfortunately, they compete for the same funding.

We have a much more pressing issue than either: lack of working antibiotics... Cancer unsolved does not cause too many issues (it is a terrible disease nonetheless), while solving third world medical problems is mostly matter of goodwill and logistics (and comparatively cheap).

But if we hit a new resistant superbug... That will decimate everywhere, everyone. Think plague combined with malaria. Talking about multidrug resistant strains of bacteria. If just one becomes reasonably virulent we are really out of luck.

We need something new to have in reserve.

Basic research as done in cancer research may or may not help.


> But if we hit a new resistant superbug... That will decimate everywhere, everyone. Think plague combined with malaria. Talking about multidrug resistant strains of bacteria. If just one becomes reasonably virulent we are really out of luck.

AFAIR this is a bit of a dramatization. The primary threat of superbugs isn't a new super plague (which is unlikely). The danger is that a big part of our medicine will suddenly revert to preindustrial mortality rates - surgeries that are routine today will become life-threatening, including probably anything you do at the dentist's. Imagine getting a cut in the kitchen, going to hospital for stitches, and ending up in a body bag. This alone will be both seriously deadly and disruptive to the economy. It is a serious issue indeed.


100% this, for sure. you don't have to sell me I'm a microbiologist-- my username here is a tribute to a bacterial genus that drives cholera, necrotizing fasciitis and other nasty stuff. We need new antibiotics now, and it is an economic problem at least as much as a scientific one.

The basis for my post is the implication that funding cancer research is a "waste", which I disagree with.


since you're a microbiologist : is the threat to health you describe that bad ? I mean, when I read you, it's Michael Crichton level dystopia stuff.


Michael Crichton/Outbreak type stuff isn't what scares me. It is going into a hospital for a routine hernia surgery or dental surgery and getting an infection that responds to nothing. It could happen right now, but is unlikely. The chances will increase as antibiotic resistance spreads. It's not people screaming in the streets, it a more gradual change to a new normal where routine care may no longer be routine, with maybe occasional bursts of incidence at some hospital or other. There will be a lag-time to making new antibiotics, and honestly it's not now an area of focus for Pharma for economic reasons.


Probably closer to 19th century rates right after aseptic techniques are introduced. But I completely agree it would be disastrous nonetheless.

The actual major problem would be hospital acquired infections not directly related to surgery. We have some really good asepsis nowadays but it cannot be maintained too long, is expensive and hard to scale.


I can point directly to a close friend who'd died of a particulaar forrm of cancer in the 1980s.

There's been no effective advance in therapy since then.

There hadn't been any since the late 1950s.

Some conditions are simply resistant to improved theerapies.

(CRISPR or similar direct genetic editing might break the logjam. But it's been a long time. And my friend remains very dead.)

Rather than high-tech aadvances, increased and consistently available medical care and public health measures would be vastly more effective. And always have been.


>both goals are valid and possible within reasonable means.

I thought that was the point zimablue was trying to make.


That's a mainstream argument against space exploration. We could then apply it to, "we could try to feed everybody before developing new medication for the rich"... We can tackle many problems at once and we have to ask ourselves : what's the goal of humanity ? Also : are we safe forever on Earth ?


> are we safe forever on Earth ?

and that's why Mars exploration is more important than curing cancer. Cancer is unlikely to kill everyone of us all at once.


There's almost nothing we could do to this planet which would make Mars a more attractive option. I guess there's always a meteor/comet risk, but practically anything else still leaves Earth as a better option.

Even if we all had to live in bio-domes because the planet was so polluted, it would _still_ be a better option than Mars, just by virtue of the fact that we have gravity and an atmosphere. On Mars, a cracked bio-dome means everybody dies. On Earth, you could probably just go fix it.

Earth has:

  - Gravity
  - Much better temperatures compared to Mars
  - A moderately-pressurized atmosphere
  - Water (even if it's salty/polluted)


A thermonuclear war and the ensuing nuclear winter would shift the situation quite a bit. Which is not that far-fetched, we have the capability and have been dangerously close a couple of times. Earth might still have stronger fundamentals, but it is good to have options. And, perhaps more importantly, technology developed in pursuit of becoming a multi-planetary species might very well help here on earth too - both in our current development path and in case of disaster.


I generally agree (and I'd add: magnetic field, more sunlight - not just for temperature, but also power generation), but come on, Mars does have gravity :).


Its not that Mars would be better or even equal, but that it would be a second chance, just in case.


So are planetary risks. They give the name to "astronomically unlikely". But while cancer might not kill everyone at once, it's going to kill billions of us.


We're all going to die. And if we don't get killed by something else, we die of cancer, eventually. Death, taxes and cancer are as close to a trinity of certainty as you can get, and I'm not sanguine about finding a "cure" for conditions that represent the terminus of a lifetime of wear and tear on the body, at least on actionable timescales.


I don't think that's true. Musk, whose probably the most prominent billionaire funding space exploration, put about 100 million into SpaceX over a decade or so. While the funding just by the National Cancer Institute just for breast cancer in just one year is something like 500 mil. The funding for cancer research seems to dwarf that for privately funded spacecraft. (plus, its not like there aren't any billionaires funding cancer research)

Plus, I don't think its obvious that slow progress in finding cancer cures is due to resource constraints. Even if you showered 400 billion on cancer researchers, its not obvious you'd get a huge uptick in cancer treatment innovation.


"Why doesn't Elon Musk try to solve problems down here on Earth instead of wasting it on space???"

(Meanwhile, two weeks ago as Musk and team are trying to solve problems down here on Earth...)

"WHY ARE YOU TRYING TO SOLVE PROBLEMS DOWN HERE ON EARTH? YOU'RE NOT THE EXPERT! STAY. IN. YOUR. LANE!"

(With the caveat that Musk's reaction wasn't exactly great, this is literally what happened. Notice that billionaires NOT trying to solve problems are safely ignored as they buy yachts and islands.)


When someone's as public a figure as Musk, it becomes nearly impossible to be any sort of human being and still be "decent" according to the standards of the noisy crowd. The few celebrities that are mostly universally liked pull it off by having almost no personality, so everyone can agree, "oh, yeah, they're nice."

After @popehat's tweet the other day [1], it finally sunk in that everyone's favorite hobby today is finding people to hate, and hating them. A lot of people are competing to be the noisiest about it, to make sure that they have an opinion about other people and that as many people as possible know what that opinion is.

We've added audience participation to the afternoon soap opera.

Celebrities can let the public chisel away at them until the only thing left to say about them is that they're "nice", or they can resist being chiseled at and that will only make the public hate them more.

[1]: https://twitter.com/Popehat/status/1021912366722637825

footnote: people whose hobbies include "hating Elon Musk" might interpret this as a defense of Musk. It's not. It's an indictment of modern society.


To be fair, dealing with radiation induced carcinogenesis is already on NASA's radar (https://humanresearchroadmap.nasa.gov/risks/risk.aspx?i=96). Any long-term space mission will require mitigating cancer risk, which is probably about as close to a cure that we can reasonably hope for. So the two (space travel and cancer) are actually very closely linked.


Disease and hunger will be ongoing for as long as we continue to be human. If it's not cancer or hunger it will be something else.

Interplanetary travel is very obviously the next logical step for mankind. This doesn't have to come at the expense of biotech or medicine, and in fact would probably enhance it and accelerate discoveries across all fields of science and technology.

Just how much of a window do you think we have on this planet? It's not a free ride forever. At some point whether tomorrow or 1000 years from now things can and will go very wrong. We were not the first dominant species on earth and it's more likely that we won't be the last.


Hi highly recommend anyone to read Ernst Stuhlinger's (former NASA administrator) letter to a nun in Africa : https://launiusr.wordpress.com/2012/02/08/why-explore-space-...


"significant progress in the solutions of technical problems is frequently made not by a direct approach, but by first setting a goal of high challenge which offers a strong motivation for innovative work"


That assumes that more money equals more results in cancer (or any) research, which is just not true. We're already making huge breakthroughs in cancer research, research takes a lot of time.


Money is going into biotech fortunately though. Sam Altman started nudging YC towards biotech a few years ago (one article example https://www.wired.com/2015/11/y-combinator-sam-altman-interv... ) and to date has funded the following companies directly involved in cancer research and treatement: Cambridge Cancer Genomics, Oncobox, Mednet, HistoWiz, Luminist, iSono Health, Notable Labs. And I agree, cancer needs figured out (at least the common ones) I lost my father's mother and my father to cancer in my youth and my mother is a survivor of thyroid cancer, I figure I'm a ticking time bomb.

Space needs to be a priority though, we're quickly screwing this planet and we're one space-rock or super-volcano away from extinction (both have happened before, both will almost certainly happen again).

What I'm more upset about is people spending obscene fortunes on Farmville, World of Warcraft gold, Candy Crush EleventeenNinenty4 Now With Extra Bedazzle, Fortnight etc. Energy, agriculture, medical, space are often neglected in favor of the iPad fruit of the month app of the week. It is extremely frustrating.


> we're quickly screwing this planet

I'd love to see humans achieve interplanetary colonization in my lifespan, but that one is a lame reason: as much as we hurt Earth, it will remain much more habitable than Mars.


If we develop the technology to live on Mars, then we may be more ready to deal with Earth getting messed up. Otherwise, the deterioration of Earth might happen too suddenly for us to develop technology to deal with.

(We could develop the technology without going to Mars, but it might be harder to fund tech for "what if Earth's atmosphere becomes unbreathable" to completion long before that's an issue.)


Indeed. Through development of space colonization technologies also gives us an on-Earth backup. Whatever habitats we could put on Mars, it will be much easier to put them here, and isolate ourselves from the effects of environmental devastation we caused.


> but that one is a lame reason: as much as we hurt Earth, it will remain much more habitable than Mars

If we stopped using all fossil fuels TODAY (as well as eliminated the cattle and hog industries), as in every single person on the planet, it would a few thousand years to return to pre-industrial revolution levels of CO2. We're realistically looking at a MINIMUM of 6ft increase in sea level before the end of the century (bye-bye most coastal cities unless you ring every last inch of coast with dikes). We are rapidly depleting aquifers the world around (much faster than they can replenish), we're rapidly depleting soil (creating appreciable amounts of topsoil takes centuries), population is still climbing, electricity demand the world around is climbing, someone is producing a banned ozone depleting compound ( https://arstechnica.com/science/2018/05/it-seems-someone-is-... ) etc.

It's not a lame reason, it is an extremely valid one. We need to develop the technology and means to have self-sustaining colonies (even if enclosed in habitats) off of Earth before stuff gets so bad here we simply don't have the resources to commit to doing such.


A supervolcano eruption, nuclear winter, or large asteroid impact would still leave the earth more habitable than Mars.

We're a long way from being Venus


Tech developed for off-world colonies can be used on earth...


> What I'm more upset about is people spending obscene fortunes on Farmville, World of Warcraft gold, Candy Crush EleventeenNinenty4 Now With Extra Bedazzle, Fortnight etc. Energy, agriculture, medical, space are often neglected in favor of the iPad fruit of the month app of the week. It is extremely frustrating.

I'd like to think that this is a transfer of wealth from idle hands to productive hands, since I have to assume that at least a portion of the business owners behind those cash machines you mention won't just sit on a montain of money, but rather reinvest it in something. But perhaps I'm too optimistic.


> have to assume that at least a portion of the business owners behind those cash machines you mention won't just sit on a montain of money, but rather reinvest it in something.

Of course they reinvest it in something. They reinvest it in the same trivial businesses - Farmville, Candy Crush, etc. It's a self-perpetuating cycle of inanity.


I agree with you, but I think money spent on iPad games is nothing compared to what's wasted in trying to kill each other, bailing bankers and other things that keep funding the 1%


Yes, however, while the money spent on those is not much, just imagine the time spent, and all the people, all the mental effort, that could be going to something real that builds something new, but instead is going into building virtual things in a virtual world that is virtually meaningless.

I'm not saying games are a waste of time in general, but societies current obsession and normalization of playing them is unfortunate. Same goes for TV, so this started awhile ago, but games dial it up quite a bit.


Agreed. War is idiotic and a lot of it, throughout history, has been egged on by those with financial interests. Proper war profiteering in the US even goes back to the American Revolution.

Mercenaries can be traced back to the 1300 BC and if there weren't mercenaries in nearly every single conflict they've fought in since time immemorial, conflicts and wars wouldn't have lasted nearly as long as they did.

sigh come on humanity, can't we just get along. I know we have to take out bad-apples like Hitler and the 'Nazi high command' but most military actions are often idiotic in nature.


To be fair, the commercial space industry isn't focused on stuff like Mars (that's mostly PR stuff) - it's about satellites. GPS, communication, mapping, etc... These are things that make a huge difference to our everyday lives.


A letter from an associate director of science at NASA in 1970 answering this question: http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/08/why-explore-space.html


This is almost exactly the point addressed in Dr. Ernst Stuhlingher (then the associate director of NASA) in this elegant response:

http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/08/why-explore-space.html

Which was written to a Zambia based nun who asked how this funding could be justified given the numerous starving children she saw everyday.


I usually think of wannabe Mars-colonists as the unrealistic ones, but I can’t help but think of the umbrella notion of curing cancer as the more fantasty-driven idea.

Is cancer not just the accumulation of cellular damage? Sometimes it happens earlier than we’d like or is induced by external factors a la radiation, but ultimately cell replication wears at telomeres and degrades molecular regulation of cell growth. Sure, some specific cases are treatable, but if you live long enough, you’ll get cancer in one way or another - the upper bound. Does “curing cancer” not entail solving all problems associated with aging as well?

It sounds so good on the surface, but do we actually have a better idea what we’re talking when we say “curing cancer” than “solving artificial general intelligence”?


There are populations of humans on this planet that have very low cancer rates. All we have to do is adopt their lifestyle. Eat right and exercise. That’s probably 90% of it right there. Don’t need to spend any money.


Eat right, exercise and do not live in a environment plenty of carcinogenic substances like a cit... oh, wait.



Look at it this way. If we don't make it into space for long-term living, mankind will very likely be extinguished. The disagreement is only about how pressing the issue is but we might just as well start now before it's too late. Look at the rate of species extinction on earth.[1]

[1] https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/population_and_...


Alright so we split it. 200B for space, 200B for humanity research


Stuff cancer, $400B/yr would actually let us address some of the climate change issues that we should have dealt with a decade ago.


A lot of technology she takes for granted was built by the space missions. The tech behind CAT and MRI scans are two examples, but there are many more within medicine.

A lot of money is sent to various billionaires. The founder of 5 Hour Energy, for example, spends millions of dollars a year on various medical and green energy projects.


What technology behind MRI scans was "built by the space missions"?

The underlying physical phenomenon is nuclear magnetic resonance. This was first observed by Isidor Rabi in 1938, well before the space missions. NMR spectroscopy was developed in the 1940s and 1950s, again before the space missions.

The first magnetic resonance imaging work was done by Paul Lauterbur in the early 1970s. Before him there was Raymond Damadian (who had the idea of using NMR diagnostically but didn't make any images) and after him there was Peter Mansfield. None of these people, so far as I know, had anything to do with space exploration.

Good MRI machines need very powerful magnets, which these days are made using superconducting wires. Superconductivity was discovered in 1911, long before space exploration was a thing. The first superconducting electromagnet was made by Yntema in 1955, before the space program; the first good superconducting electromagnet was made by Kunzler, Buehler, Hsu & Wernick in 1961; so far as I know they have no connection with space exploration.

But don't trust me. How about NASA? Here's a quotation from https://spinoff.nasa.gov/pdf/AIAA-2010-8885-305.pdf:

Confusion about NASA’s technological contributions to daily life exists even at the highest levels of government. In his speech at NASA Headquarters in January 2004 in support of the Vision for Space Exploration, President George W. Bush said, “Medical technologies that help prolong life—such as the imaging processing used in CAT scanners and MRI machines—trace their origins to technology engineered for the use in space.” This, like the previous examples, is incorrect. NASA has contributed in recent years to the advancement of several specific forms of medical imaging devices, and in the past the Jet Propulsion Laboratory has done groundbreaking research in the field of digital imaging. The CAT scan and MRI technologies, however, are specific applications for which NASA can take no direct credit.


All these benefits are indirectly the result of NASA funding for space exploration:

https://www.nasa.gov/directorates/spacetech/techtransfer


Single-planet redundancy isn't a problem until it's a _really big_ (say, inescapable) problem.

I'd put good odds on us wiping ourselves out or being wiped out before we manage to put a sustainable stake in some other chunk of ground.

Also $400B/yr is great if you can make use of it. Do we have the intellectual and facility resources to make use of that sort of windfall today? Probably not. Could more money go to cancer research for immediate positive effect? Probably, although working out the logistics for how best to direct that funding requires resources of its own (which is of course the sort of work the Gates Foundation does).


If you're going to Mars there is plenty of room for cancer research as part of that. Unless spending years exposed to the solar wind is fine with everyone. Plus this argument is bullshit. Why spend more on cancer when only a third or less money is spent on mental illness affecting huge numbers of younger people many of whom turn to suicide? Once you play this game we end up with the poorest of societies focussed on the very bottom of a needs hierarchy exploding a useless population.


We could have both if the defensive budget was cut by a percent or two


I think it's fairly straightforward to make a argument against what she said.

Western society worked out ages ago that it's best just to leave individuals to pursue what they find valuable. It may not be the most efficient system, but it works.

Anything other than that implies that it's possible for everyone to have (more likely to be forced to have) the same set of values, and that we can all agree on how to order human pursuits from most beneficial to least beneficial. We already know that kind of collectivist approach fails every time.


Let's say you have cancer, but you're also in the middle of a famine and can't feed yourself. That's a more fundamental problem, right? Zoom out, what good is curing cancer in the face of apocalyptic climate change?

The case for Mars is that “humanity putting all of their eggs in one basket” (Earth) is the most fundamental problem of all. Everything else is a band-aid.

(Cancer can’t be cured, incidentally: https://tapas.io/episode/58081)


A sufficiently sized meteor could wipe out all life on Earth as we know it - or play "Pick your end of days scenario" between WW3, superviruses, or whatever. Having a few backup humans on the Moon or Mars is more beneficial to the survival of the human race than curing cancer is. Curing cancer saves individuals - establishing an off-Earth colony of humans could save all of humanity. Are the chances of a mass extinction of humans slim-to-none? Yes, but currently all of our eggs exist in a single basket: Earth.


Unfortunately, super plagues still have a chance to propagate and Mars (even more so Moon) still can be bombed in the course of WW3.

That is assuming the colony actually is reasonably self sustainable, which is quite a high bar.


The chances are arguably smaller though - which is the point of having more than 1 basket to store your eggs in.


It could not save "all of humanity". Humanity would be down there on Earth dying. In the end who you would save would again be individuals -- a few people on the moon. The question is could you save more people in space in a hypothetical end of world scenario than you could people on Earth dying in a very real scenario today.


I refuse to argue against pedantry. You knew exactly what I meant by saying "all of humanity". 0 humans alive after mass extinction on Earth = humans are extinct, humanity has ended vs 100 humans living in a space colony after mass extinction on Earth = humans are not extinct, humanity has been saved.

>The question is could you save more people in space in a hypothetical end of world scenario than you could people on Earth dying in a very real scenario today.

There is no certainty of an end-of-world scenario but there's also no certainty that a cure for cancer actually exists or would be found. There is reason to believe and enough supporting evidence that a space colony would be theoretically possible - even if not self-sustaining for quite some time. So the question is a very real fix to a theoretical problem vs a theoretical fix to a very real problem.


You argued that on one hand we could save individuals with cancer, and on the other we could save all of humanity. Only that doesn't include the individual with cancer, or anybody else on Earth! I knew exactly what you meant which is that a non-zero number of humans would be alive, but to me that doesn't live up to the grandiose idea of saving humanity.

I don't want to divert money from cancer and presumably other medical research as well, so that the last N humans can live in a space capsule. Mortality rates for cancer have been on the decline for decades, so the issue is not theoretical.


If you think money is being wasted on space think again. The military industrial complex. Money would be better spend on a space industrial complex let alone a cancer industrial complex.


Right, but who's to say though whether some breakthrough in space travel will lead to technology that ultimately helps cure cancer?

In fact, if you look at NASA's spinoff brochure (space technologies that have trickled down to daily life) for this year [0], two of the items are directly related to cancer research.

0: https://spinoff.nasa.gov/Spinoff2018/pdf/2018_Brochure_web.p...


Sending stuff in space is a lot more than just loading weight into a rocket and blast it in orbit. The research involved in space missions is huge and involves materials, fuel, energy, health, etc. potentially benefiting every possible field, including those unrelated with space. Even if cancer cure research isn't directly affected, good chances are that cancer detection is.


>>when there are serious problems on Earth that could be fought, most importantly cancer.

There will be very serious problems on Earth, as long as we are on Earth.

The only way to buy yourself more time and resources to solve these endless problems is to move to the vastness of space and settle there.

Once you have have that much time, do what you feel like doing. Cure Cancer or paint the next Mona Lisa.


This is peculiar logic if you break it into its most fundamental. Dealing with cancer's entire purpose is extending the average human life expectancy. Right now cancer is the cause in about 12.5% [1] of all deaths. And the average years of life lost from cancer victims is 15.7 [2]. So if we completely eliminated all cancer we'd expect to extend the life expectancy for everybody by 0.125 * 15.7 = 1.97 years on average. In the US 22% [3] of deaths are from cancer, so it would be .22 * 15.7 = 3.5 years.

So we change our life expectancy in the US from 79.3 years to 82.8 and now suddenly we can become a space faring civilization? Doesn't really make a whole lot of sense does it?

[1] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_causes_of_death_by_rat...

[2] - https://www.progressreport.cancer.gov/end/life_lost#field_mo...

[3] - https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/leading-causes-of-death.htm


FWIW, far more productive time is lost to cancer, and there is also great suffering (which is important; life != yearslived). There are sick patients, their families, plus all the resources consumed for treatment.


We won't have to worry about cancer if we get hit by a big enough asteroid and have no backup plan...

I hate to break it to you, while cancer is horrible and I'd never wish it upon anyone, it's not even in the top 10 list of things that threaten our entire species. Hell, it's probably not in the top 100.


We know that civilization will survive cancer just fine. We do not know the same about asteroid impacts or global warming.

So in terms of potential future lives saved space exploration and fighting global warming are worth a lot more than cancer research. After all there has to be someone to get cancer in the first place.


There's a great Gil Scott Heron song with the same theme. In his case it was poverty and healthcare among African Americans in the 60s, not cancer.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=goh2x_G0ct4


A lot of research discoveries and new products have come out of both military needs and space programs. In fact, the horrors of war have a long historical association with medical discoveries and medical progress.

I wish life worked like you think it does. But I have no reason to believe it actually does.


You can defragment your hard-drive all day, won't change a thing when it crashes and you have no backup.


Great analogy! I'm stealing that.


Silicon Valley billionaires are spending $400B/yr on space travel? Where is all this money going?


That number comes from the parent comment's hypothetical 1% of each country's GDP


What if there is a cure for cancer but it’s living/growing on Mars?


Countries(Politicians) could use a small amount from the billions spent on defence these days. But who wants to cut out their own existence, right?


We already have problem with over-population. Cure for cancer will make this problem worse. To solve this problem, we need to expand.


Or, just get 2% over 5 years from top 5 ranked nations by GDP for both endeavours ? Doesn’t seem ridiculous to me?


alternatively, you could have big pharma cut the spending they devote to marketing and spend that money on R&D


> most importantly cancer

What about starvation, genocide, growing inequality, or the looming Alzheimer's epidemic? Where should we put the most money, and when?

Scientific/Technological R&D is the ONE thing that can offer solutions to all of these problems, even if the research isn't directly related to them.


There's a relevant xkcd here:

https://www.xkcd.com/1232/


TL:DR; Your oncologist friend does't understand science or that money doesn't buy solutions or guarantee a linear speedup of results.

There's always going to be problems and no matter what problem you're invested in, someone has a more dire problem that they think all the money and resources should be spent on.

And the thing your oncologist friend needs to realize is that throwing more money at a problem doesn't yield better results. We could spend every penny the Earth spends on space for the next 50 years and not get a solution any faster than the current level of research.

The other issue is this, what's so special about space? Cancer has been with us since forever. What if instead of investing in computers, we spent all that money on cancer research. What if instead of investing in electricity we had spent all that money on cancer research? What if instead of investing in exploring the world, we spent all that money on cancer research.

We could walk back through history and smack down every sort of human endeavor not directly related to cancer research and criticize it as a waste of time compared to any problem someone feels is more important and needs immediate attention. If we did that we'd still be in the stone age and that's not going to help solve serious problems.

Some of it is that it's not always apparent what benefits we'll gain in the long term from unrelated fields of research and discovery. What did electricity do for cancer research in 1882? Not a damn thing. But in 2018 it powers computers and labs worldwide that help us make huge advancements, cure people, increase life expectency. Who could have imagined that in 1882 though? But I am sure people lined up by the truckload to poo poo electricity as a waste of time when there's "real" problems to solve.

What did digital computers do for cancer research in the 1940's? Probably not a damn thing and it was decades before they were powerful enough, available enough, and cheap enough to become the backbone for research of all kinds. We've probably learned more and made more advancements in cancer research thanks to computers in the last 40 years than the last 40,000 years. Seems worthwhile to me.

We can't predict what avenues of research and exploration will lead us to the knowledge that changes the world. Yeah, it may not always be obvious and not everything happens on the immediate timescale that we would like or hope for. But it is shortsighted and hopelessly naive to say, "this will never have a benefit the problems I care about so we should abandon it, clearly it's a waste of time."

>It’s hard to argue with her. $400B/yr would fund a lot of research that would benefit humanity a lot better than a coordinated mission to Mars, even though it would be very exciting to see in my lifetime.

How about this: A manned mission to mars has serious hurdles relating to human survivability. The unprotected radiation exposure on the trip and on Mars would certainly have affects leading, among other things, higher cancer rates among astronauts. These are problems we're aware of and need to be solved. And what if that effort leads to serious breakthroughs in cancer research or prevention? And we know space travel has serious effects on the human body, if we study that and gain a better understanding of the human body as a result that would have a hard time not having benefits for cancer research, a subject largely centered around a problem with the function of the human body in certain cases.

There's all sorts of ways manned space travel can lead to benefits for all mankind.


My plumber thinks we should spend the money on better toilets.


Fighting cancer is being the little Dutch boy sticking your finger in a dam. Adding a decade or so at the end of people's lives is great, but bodies break down, and you're going to be fighting a constant rear-guard action.

Getting off this rock is the first step towards getting all of our eggs out of one basket.


Yeah, can we fight "uncurable" autoimmune diseases that affect young people as well please ? I'd appreciate it :(


And this is why we need to approach the problem with the general view of fighting death. Whether it's simulating the human brain or eliminating cancer, the most important thing is stopping life from ending and enabling people to live happy and productive lives for as long as they please.


> Getting off this rock is the first step towards getting all of our eggs out of one basket.

Yes it is, but why should I care whether all of our eggs are in one basket, or two baskets, or a million baskets? The survival of the human race as a whole is not a concern of mine.


Then why do you expect anyone to value your opinion on what to do with human-race-as-a-whole-scale resources?


Because I care to what happens about all living humans today. I simply don't care about the long term survival of our species.

Spreading across the galaxy or the universe so that there can be more humans alive or to ensure that if one planet gets wiped out, some humans live on are placing value on the existence of humans as a species in the universe. That's what I don't care about. I don't think we have intrinsic value that needs to be preserved.


How many generations down do you care about? Do you think fixing global warming is a waste of time, if it might affect 3 generations down?


It's hard to pinpoint an exact generation where I stop caring. Here's how I like to think of it.

If every human alive today died instantly and painlessly, ending the human species and potentially eliminating all sentient life in the universe, I wouldn't care. The people felt no pain, experienced no dread.

The only reason to care in that instance is if you believe that the human race has inherent value just be being alive. That's what I don't have.

Now, the interaction of this philosophy and the real world isn't always clean but in general, it leads me to prioritize current human life over future human life especially over the long term.

So, for example, a dollar spent feeding a hungry child today takes precedence over a dollar spent exploring the universe even if that exploration lays the groundwork for humans being a multi planetary species 500 years from now.

I hope that clears my position up somewhat.


It's a strange position. There will always be hungry children until we fundamentally change human nature.

I'd argue we're more likely to change human nature through space colonization than here on Earth, but that's a debate I don't expect to see much value from.

More importantly, http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/08/why-explore-space.html


<i>> I care to what happens about all living humans today. I simply don't care about the long term survival of our species.</i>

<i>> why should I care whether all of our eggs are in one basket, or two baskets, or a million baskets? The survival of the human race as a whole is not a concern of mine.</i>

In short, because others care.

You cannot reach your goals alone. You need a cooperation from others. But if you didn't care what they care, there would be no cooperation, or cooperation would be not so good as it might be.

Cooperation needs shared values, and the more values are shared, the more effective cooperation would be. If you care only about your goals and not about goals of others, than others would not play with you. If you share some goals (I believe that those who care about long term benefits value short term also) then they accept your cooperation when working on short term goals, but you will not have any influence over them, when they work on long term goals. The only lever on them you would have is a force. Military, political, financial or any other. They would not cooperate willingly.

You can choose war and force those who have other values to work on your values. Or you can respect their values and cooperate with others on them. It is your choice.


That's all fine and good right up until the next >=10km diameter asteroid has a collision with the Earth, in which case all those humans with cancer will be in the same state as all the humans without cancer. Given that it's been about 65 million years since the last one of these and they tend to happen about every 50 million years or so, you could argue that we are due...


> For any exploratory drilling, or covering any real amount of ground, you need humans.

No, you don't.

> For reference, Opportunity Rover has only traveled 45 km/28 mi in 14 years.

That's true, but that is because of budgetary constraints, not technical ones. If you put the same amount of money into a rover as it would take to send a human, you could cover a LOT more ground with autonomous rovers. This is self-evidently true because whatever vehicle you use to get a human from A to B you can instead use to move a human-mass (plus life support and consumables) worth of scientific and excavation equipment instead.

P.S. I used to work on the Mars Rover program.


> I used to work on the Mars Rover program.

I just need to thank you for that and hope that you're still somehow involved in making us a more-than-one-planet species. I don't really care whether it's another planet, a space station or whatever else can ensure our survival past this beautiful blue aqua ball.

On topic, there is no debate that robotics is the key to exploring space, magnitudes of orders faster and farther than we could in flesh and blood. We could —and probably will— swarm this whole solar system or even close stars with armies of tiny (dare I say nano) drones.

A human being is a sniper bullet — one big shot, extremely powerful and focused. A swarm of robots is a fragmentation grenade — small impacts in all directions of space. If you needed to blast/repaint a whole room and only had one shot, which would you use?


I left NASA almost 20 years ago, in no small part because I came to the conclusion that trying to "make us into a more-than-one-planet species" is a fundamentally misguided goal. This is not to say that I do not believe in the value of space exploration. I absolutely do. But I think it's a mistake to try to send our DNA into space. We should be trying to send our ideas into space because they are a lot more robust and flexible than our DNA. I also think that we ought to define our identities by our ideas more than by our DNA.

It is merely an accident of history (and a reflection of misguided priorities IMHO) that we developed space-travel technology before we developed AI. But that seems to be in the process of correcting itself. It has been 50 years since we landed on the moon. I predict that in another 50 years the idea that a human can do anything better than a robot in space will be as laughable as the idea that humans can play chess better than computers.


> For any exploratory drilling, or covering any real amount of ground, you need humans.

I completely agree that we should better fund space exploration, but I disagree that humans on Mars are the best way to do that. It would be great to have humans on Mars for many other reasons, but realistically, the human body is pretty poor pound-for-pound and watt-for-watt as a rover, actuator, drill, sensor, or computing substrate.

Opportunity didn't cover much ground not because they tried to make a 2800 mile robot but couldn't build one that could do more than 28, but because we have been extremely patient and thorough in exhaustively studying those 28 miles. It's a depth-first, not breadth-first search.


> For reference, Opportunity Rover has only traveled 45 km/28 mi in 14 years.

That's actually much further than I expected - Curiosity has traveled 11 miles in 6 years, it's surprising to me that Opportunity has a faster average pace (not that it's necessarily a hugely useful metric).


Curiosity has had wheel problems going back to at least 2014, so I wonder if the slower speed is partly due to that.


> A human can collect more specimens in a day than ALL of the rovers have to date.

So could a better rover and rovers are getting better quickly. And you could send hundreds of rovers for the cost of a manned mission.


Curiosity cost $2.5 billion. The next generation rover, Mars 2020, is based on the same design. Where is this technological leap in rover technology?


> Where is this technological leap

Umm Moore's Law? Curiosity was a big leap from Opportunity and Mars 2020, while built on the same platform, has a laundry list of upgrades.

Meanwhile, a manned mission is likely to be a trillion dollar project and even if they come in at half a trillion, that's still literally hundreds of $2 billion rovers.


> If we could just get 5 countries to agree to contribute 1% for 2-3 years we could establish a permanent moon base and do a hardcore Mars human-exploration mission.

Or we could spend that 1% on improving social security, healthcare, reducing poverty/homelessness, clean energy research subsidies etc etc etc.

You say 1% as though it's obvious and non impactful. It's a fucking huge amount of money (which you know, because you then go to show what it could do in space exploration space). I'm not even against spending money on it - but you're acting as though it's an obvious best use of money and it definitely isn't


Or just decrease the insane US defense budget.


Can't project global power without 600 billion and god knows how much black budget money.

If anything the need to project influence is rising again in a way we haven't seen since the height of the soviet union. despite the rhetoric being thrown at other NATO members right now i fully expect the budget to swell again towards 700-750 over the next two terms


>god knows how much black budget money.

Lots of people besides God know. It's 'black' because it's not specifically allocated in unclassified breakdowns. The total amount (per agency) is included in the appropriations bill.

[0] $52.6 billion in 2013 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/national/black-...

[1] $81.1 billion requested in 2018 https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2018/feb/28/trump-admin...


I like the direction you're thinking - I've wondered lately if there isn't actually some chance for politicians to get us off of perpetual war-based economies and on to space exploration economies. Maybe naive. One problem I see is the added waste of a global governmental effort. Look at ITER - it sounds nice in theory to have several countries work toward a lofty goal like fusion. But in actuality, each country wants it's own piece so it's built all over the world, assembled in France, is way over budget and the end goal is to do prove the concept by 2025, not build an actual commercial fusion power plant. Similar criticisms are made of ISS. Maybe it wouldn't be a bad thing if those 5 countries were in a friendly "space race" with their 1% GDP each. Instead of one big program you could run 5 parallel programs that compete. It got us to the moon after all. Obviously there is a place for international cooperation and openness especially in science, but I do wonder if there need to be more base motivations to really get things moving.


>> (NASA has has a budget of around 18 billion lately)

the proposed 12B farm subsidy really puts the NASA budget into perspective


Excellent summary. Although I think you're far more likely to make Starfleet 0.5 in the private sector. This problem is too big for current governments because they can't ever agree and ideas will be weighed down by infighting/constituents. Good luck getting 5 countries to agree to anything other than not going to war with eachother these days. Compromises on ideas would be too much for such a mission.

I think the only way to solve this is private industry i.e. SpaceX IPO. Then you've got plenty of cash, fast moving ideas, economies of scale, and most importantly market incentive -> no better type of incentive.


>SpaceX IPO.

I wish they would! I know it likely wouldn't outperform a broadmarket fund but I'd love to own a share or two of Spacex just to feel like I gave a little money towards it.

Hell, I wish they'd sell non-functional models of their rockets. I'd buy one just to put on a shelf at home to look at and simultaneously support them with a few bucks of profit.


I'm with you on this one. I know it probably wont outperform the market but i would like to own a piece just for my own enjoyment.

On the other side I've been in and out of Telsa multiple times in the last 2 years. I get swept up in the hype, make or lose money then come to my rational senses.


> Although I think you're far more likely to make Starfleet 0.5 in the private sector

Can you (or anyone) explain this to me? It's not like there's a bunch of briefcases floating around in space with $4B in them...why would there be any private interest in space exploration? Seems like even the private companies are just being fed money from governments anyway, so in the end it's public funding.


Can you not see the potential of space exploration/settlement? There will be industries we can't even imagine that will be worth trillions. Imagine an economy that is more massive than all state economies on earth combined. That is space in the next 50-100 years.

Public funding and government obviously because they were the only ones with the capability for space exlporation up until maybe 10 years ago. Now that the private sector can, it will, and much more efficiently than government ever could.


two words: asteroid mining. the “resource extraction” industries are salivating at the prospects.


> If we could get the top 5 GDP nations to contribute 1% of their GDP to a proper global space program we'd have 400+ billion dollars a year

You know what's more likely than getting the top 5 GDP nations to donate 1% to a collaborative space program? Obtaining peace on Earth, because that's exactly what you'll need to reach your goal.


There's no way to put human beings on Mars without contaminating the planet with Earth bacteria. The bigger the chances there may be life on Mars, or that life once existed there, the more important it becomes to confine exploration to sterilized robots.


Keep dreaming and pass the dreams on. Humanity needs to dream big in order to survive! Our curiosity has led us here and will guide us to the stars.


Or we could just spend those 400+ billion dollars a year on making life on Earth more sustainable so we buy us plenty of time for space exploration and other long-term pursuits without having to engage of the panicked "get off of earth" escapism that plagues much of the space enthusiasts (like Elon Musk).

We either stabilize life on Earth or we won't have enough time to make humanity inter-planetary anyway. Space adventures are just so low-priority right now (meanwhile important science can be done with unmanned vehicles).


So if I'm optimistic, we could do this.

But why would we?


>A human can collect more specimens in a day than ALL of the rovers have to date.

Why though? Doesn't seem an inherent limitation of rovers -- just the current rover design.


With $400 billion a year we could probably build an orbital ring or some kind of ramp to make all earth-to-space launches much cheaper and greatly advance the space age.


Why are you using 1% of GDP for your number?

2018 spending will be 4 trillion

2018 GDP is 20 trillion

so a thats a 5% increase


Why don't they just put you in charge.


Or better robots. Not more expensive ones but more launches and faster progress. One would need to iterate and tolerate some failure.


The problem is that any launch to Mars is going to be really expensive, even if you adopt the cheapest known means (currently owned by SpaceX).

It might be actually cheaper to solve ancillary problems and actually send humans one than say try 20 unmanned missions... With more benefits too.


Or to send more people to the Moon, push the research on in-space manufacturing and bootstrap some semblance of economy in cislunar space. This seems like the most reasonable way to escape the trap of expensive space missions you mention.

The trap goes like this: launches are expensive, so let's get more bang for the buck by putting more stuff in a single mission; this makes mission both more expensive (insurance) and preparations take much longer; this decreases the frequency of launches, which increases their costs.

Getting some production upwell (fuel, vehicle hulls) would decrease cost of launches, allowing for more frequent and simpler missions, and hopefully break us out of this trap.


The payload cost dwarfs the launch cost. These big missions end up "battlestar galactica" (an actual term used) - a big fail would be a disaster so more money must be spent to really ensure success - meaning it's even bigger - meaning risk must be still lowered.

It's a growth spiral leading to stagnation.


See I like what you're saying, but try this idea on and see how it fits:

What if instead of all that, we just fucken defund education, destroy the environment, and suck as much wealth out of the dregs of society as we can?


The real question here is why bother spending 1% of our GDP on space exploration? What tangible benefits is it going to bring, and why are those benefits worth more than the benefit that will come from spending 1% of our GDP on something else?


The real question here is why bother spending 1% of our GDP on anything?

It's the same argument as to why we shouldn't invest in infrastructure "don't build those high speed train routes, we'll only see the benefit in 30 years" - space exploration is an investment in the future, and like a lot of investments, the potential payoff is variable but we can never know without trying.

If we take a VC analogy (being here on HN and all), then you might as well utilise some of your fund on a literal moonshot - if it fails, you scrub it off, take the learnings (and employ, I suspect, a tonne of people in jobs trying to make it happen). If it wins, you get your outsized outcome to 10x.

Sometimes we need state actors to make big bets - like investing in CERN (which has given us the WWW, the LHC, etc...).


CERN isn't the crazed rush that the moonshot was, it's mostly just stable funding to a certain facility.


True - it was probably a stretch to include it alongside the VC analogy, but CERN's also delivering projects with unsure outcomes a la most investments [0]. If they turned the LHC on for example and found precisely nothing of note, it'd have been a failed investment, but was certainly worth the punt.

I think one of the issues with space exploration for people is that it just feels so pointless and intangible - its perception so locked into the realms of sci fi that the act of trying feels more of an indulgent nod to starship fantasies and "space race" dick-waving than to realistic scientific progress.

[0] money the "whatabout" brigade say should go to cancer research, which too, is also an investment with unsure outcomes (and which usually helpfully ignore things like CERN's impact on cancer research with second order applications of other discoveries...)


Failed in terms of science spending maybe, but even if they found everything they wanted the intrinsic value of this new knowledge to society is not really valuable in the same sense that the steel needed for the construction is valued.

It is now more than 20 years since the top quark was discovered, has society profited enought from knowing the mass of the top quark that the Tevatron is paid off?

Or is this way of thinking of science funding just destructive?


The tangible benefits of research in space exploration are real and benefit us all. This infographic describes a list of products who's foundation was based on NASA research. https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/infographics/infographic.view.php?i...


You can't just point to a list of inventions that came from research in space exploration - you also have to make a case that these inventions would have otherwise not come about, or at least would have come about much later.


I disagree. You would have to make the case that these inventions would come about without space travel - that there were alternative commercial interests and government incentives that would finance the necessary research.


But you're the one using these inventions as justification for future space exploration - shouldn't the burden of proof fall on the one making the claim?


Those inventions provide justification for space exploration - they establish this field as a tried-and-true way of generating very useful spinoff tech.

To counter this argument, the other side needs to justify that either those same inventions can be achieved in a different and more cost-effective way, or that we don't really need new tech (relative to its costs).


Well, unless we outlaw reproduction without government approval we will hit the limit of what the planet can support as far as human life.

Unless we start recylcing 100% of our materials we will run out of various elements we use for production of effectively everything.

Commercially available sea salt has been found contaminated with microplastics, that means are oceans are already screwed so envetually it would be nice to have a new world to do things right on.

Opening up space opens up more physical space for humans and other life, it opens up more resources for construction (asteroids contain unfathomable amounts of rare and common elements that will be easy to exploit once the appropriate technologies are developed).

Space exploration will continue to add more and more technological and general scientific breakthroughs as it has been now for several decades. Look how GPS has changed the world, it's used in everything from tracking wildlife to your watch to moving goods around the world. Literally impossible if we'd not developed a space program.


> Well, unless we outlaw reproduction without government approval we will hit the limit of what the planet can support as far as human life.

The birth rates of richer nations are significantly lower than the birth rates of poorer nations. I'm not convinced that overpopulation will be an issue as long as we can provide cheap and easy access to birth control to the entire population.

> asteroids contain unfathomable amounts of rare and common elements that will be easy to exploit once the appropriate technologies are developed

This is actually my favorite justification for space exploration, but if this is our goal, we should be focused on asteroid mining and not moon bases or manned mars missions.

> Space exploration will continue to add more and more technological and general scientific breakthroughs

You don't know this. It's just a guess. No one can know if the side effects from space research will prove to be more or less useful than the side effects from cancer research or any other kind of research. It's not something that can be known.


#1) The need for a large ellipse of flat plains with a minimal amount of hazardous rocks/slopes. Landing accuracy is constrained by our knowledge of the Martian atmosphere. Odd features tend to be on the opposite end of the ground hazard spectrum.

#2) Planetary protection. Mars his a Category V target: it has potentially habitable niches, it has an atmosphere able to carry biological contamination anywhere, and we want to return samples from it to Earth. Chances of contamination are much lower when we stay far away from water ice and active gullies. Modern landers and rovers are much more delicate and intricate than the original Vikings and we can't just bake off all the contamination.

#3) Communications. Equatorial plains have a better view of the relay satellites.

#4) Close up, most interesting features on Mars are still a rocky desert. The Phoenix Lander landed on top of permafrost, which was unintended as it was thought to be just another rocky desert.

#5) Odd features are often complex geologically and characterizing the area near the rover may not say much about Mars nor provide useful context for future, more detailed missions.

#6) Perhaps, a tiny bit of backlash from Viking's ambiguous chemical experiments. It's easier to get conclusive science and write solid papers from old, stable parts of Mars.


The #1 reason here is one of the most important. You have to be able to draw your landing ellipse in a spot that you can be confident the rover can safely land. Technological advances have shrunk the size of this ellipse considerably, check this image from JPL for comparison of past missions:

https://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/multimedia/images/?ImageID=439...

Another reason is the decisions are made ... ok, perhaps only influenced by committee ... you have to satisfy at least a significant subset of the Mars research community with your site selection. See this site for public information on the process:

https://marsnext.jpl.nasa.gov/

There are a number of other hard engineering concerns, like limits on latitude based on heating (or solar power) requirements, e.g. if you go to far north or south you have to use all your available power to heat the spacecraft and won't have any left to do science. I don't remember the exact values, but I think existing technology puts you in a +/- 60 degrees from the equator. I think it was even less than that, but I don't recall exactly.


A couple of reasons. The first is that to make a mission to Mars cost effective, we have to wait about 18 months for Earth and Mars to line up in the right positions, otherwise it costs too much in rocket fuel to be worthwhile. The second is that the missions lag behind the discoveries - it's much easier to analyze pictures and spectographs than it is to design a mission, secure funding for it, and then do it. Sending a landing craft to Mars is not very easy. We've done it successfully a few times, but we've failed quite a few times as well. A lot of these discoveries happen in places that it isn't trivial to land a rover. We put them in flat deserts because it's safer to and there is still much to learn there, but liquid water doesn't necessarily get found in places rovers can go. I imagine we're much more cautious with rovers on Mars than we are on say the moon. It's very costly to make a mistake and lose a rover on Mars.


We have a proven design in Spirit/Opportunity. There should be an assembly line cranking them out.


There would be, if NASA had the budget to plan and fund a couple dozen missions at a time. Going one at a time, with each next mission being uncertain, all they can do is to maximize the amount of science their mission budget buys, and that means building one-off, highly-specialized instruments.


The design they're sticking with is instead Curiosity; the Mars 2020 rover is basically an update of that design with different instruments, better navigation software, upgrades to parts that specifically took a lot of wear on the Curiosity mission, and a cool little helicopter scouting drone.


And rockets too, while firing 30 at the same time for redundancy?

This is not a valid argument at all. You need different designs that will not fall in the same way. We could e.g. send Lockheed, United Space, SpaceX, Russian, ESA and CSA designs for all of the components at the same time, then it is perhaps possible that at least one week make it. The cost will be huge though.


> while firing 30 at the same time for redundancy?

I presume this is a reference to the failed N1 project with it's 30 NK-33 engines? To be fair, the N1 rocket didn't fail because of it's engines, it failed because of numerous organizational failures, including a ruthlessly rushed design process, lack of funding, and most importantly, the death of it's chief engineer, Korolev. The NK-33 rockets were basically the only part of the rocket that actually survived the program-- they're a big part of the current Soyuz stack if I recall.


NASA scientist: I built this space mission up from nothing. When I started, all I had was a martian lake! Other scientists said I was daft to send a rover into a lake, but I sent it all the same, just to show 'em! It sank into the lake, so I built a second one. That sank into the lake. I built a third one. It got stuck, fell over, and then it sank into the lake. But the fourth one floated! And that's what you're going to get, lad--the strongest rover on Mars!


I understand it's a Monty Python reference, but I'd like to point out that it sounds distinctively Kerbal.


Love a good Monty Python reference even if most humor-only posts are discouraged on HN.


My experience has been that Monty Python and Douglas Adams references are the clear exceptions to the no humor rules on HN, though I don't suppose you'll find that written down anywhere.


From what I've seen, a bit of reasonably mature humor seems acceptable, it's just multiple posts devoted to jokes derailing the conversation where it's frowned upon. I quite like this system, as it prevents Reddit-esque threads with the same tired memes being repeated back and forth ad nauseum, but still allows for a bit of levity to lighten the conversation and provide some mental refreshment.

And yes, I realize I just called a Monty Python and the Holy Grail reference mature.


So long as you define 'mature' to mean 'in line with the average HN reader's ego and self-image', you're pretty much on point.


That may be the case, but I appreciate it nonetheless - most posters are pretty good at avoiding jokes at the OP's expense, for example, which contributes to HN's relatively good community.


then send rovers to the middle of a random rocky desert.

Do you seriously believe that scientist working on billion-dollar space missions for decades just throw a dart at the wall to decide where to land their rover?


That's an amusing thought.

Scientist A: "So... where should we send the rover, this marvel of technology?"

Scientist B: "How about a random boring spot?"

Scientist A: "Sounds good!"

(repeat)


That's literally how the famous Hubble Ultra-Deep Field photo came to be. They pointed the Hubble to the most boring spot on the sky they could find, just to see what's there.


You don't understand what "literally", "random", or "boring" mean. The Hubble was pointed at an apparently "empty" area ... that was anything but random:

"Wiliams suspected the billion light-year stare might capture eons of galactic evolution in a single frame and uncover some of the faintest, farthest galaxies ever seen. And to him, the potential observations were so important and so fundamental for understanding how the universe evolved that the experiment was a no-brainer, consequences be damned."


I do understand what those words mean, and was playing off the joke made by the GP. Sorry I forgot to include the "smiley face" emoticon in my previous comment.


I know that you were playing off the joke, AND I stand by my statement.


I mean sure, but they can just re-aim that...


Because it takes ages to plan a new mission and the vehicle we send is related to the goals of each mission. It's not like they have a rover stand-by and then decide where to land it. The equipment of the vehicle and the research it has to carry very much determine the way it will be build. So what we've send so far depends on the data we had years ago.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_Science_Laboratory#Histor...

Curiosity landed 8 years after the call for proposal. If I recall, the landing site (Gale Crater rim) was considered extremely interesting at the time.


Aside from the logistical concerns others have mentioned, I would expect the risks of contaminating this site with terrestrial stowaways would be relatively high.


Wouldn't rock from Earth end up on Mars the same way that Martian rocks fall on Earth? If so, then contamination may have already happened in both directions.


True, but if we transport a modern microbe then we might miss our chance to isolate the relatively "indigenous" version and be unable to prove that such naturally occurring exchanges are possible.


Building a rover that can drill more than a few inches deep is presently a huge technical challenge. If you look at drill rigs used by humans for water wells and such, the rover will need to be 8x larger and heavier than the current Curiosity.


>If you look at drill rigs used by humans for water wells and such, the rover will need to be 8x larger and heavier than the current Curiosity.

Not necessarily. The hole will be stationary relative to Mars so you could just send a little base station with radio and power that drops a paper towel roll sized module with an unspooling data/power link cable and your science stuff into the ice. It can either bore its way through like a TBM (hard but good scientific value since you can measure environment on the way down) or just have it heat itself and let gravity drop it through (no moving parts but less scientific value since you're altering the environment around the probe). When you hit water stop unspooling the cable and just hang it there by the cable.

I'm sure college students in Maine or Montana would be able to pool their ice fishing expertise and come up with some working prototypes if given a sufficient quantity of beer.

It's fun to play armchair engineer.


Huh, that's a good point - a large enough RTG on a data uplink cable would make its own way down through the ice, given time. There would be a lot of crosscontamination between the various ice layers and the lake though, so that's unlikely to fly (or sink, as the case may be).


See: Armageddon, the movie.

Maybe we just need to go full Bruce Willis. Somebody get Ben Affleck to sing Leaving on a Jet Plane.

In seriousness, it sounds like a fascinating problem. If anyone has seen the drills they use to make holes for piles for new condo/office towers—they're probably wider than needed in this case (not actually sure of that)— the drill (bit?) is extendable, but the rig itself is enormous. Those are mobile units.

Otherwise something like a semi-permanent or permanent unfolding oil-rig type machine would be needed?

None of this helps with the weight problem. I wonder if there's a more clever option.


Use a digging rig combined with multiple explosive charges perhaps. Essentially a small shape charge version of solid boosters will work.

It would be similar to preparing a shallow mine.

After the hole is made you get to clean it up to obtain decent samples though.

Whether this would save size or mass is to be seen, a digging drone would preferably be small though very sturdy and dense to survive landslides.


Right— I now remember some conversation surrounding a similar problem on Titan(?).

I think a drilling drone was proposed, but communications posed complicated. That is, communicating to a base rover to route to Earth. I could picture some kind of high-tensile wire on a spool connected to the digging drone. It might not be the highest speed communication, but if it at least proved reliable, that could work, no?


> Building a rover that can drill more than a few inches deep is presently a huge technical challenge. You need a rover of 8x mass.

1- make a rover of standard weight and size an put it in the desired place, as before. Deploy a light but strong flat platform around.

2-Look around. What do you see? Probably a lot of heavy rocks.

3-Pick some rocks of the appropriate mass, or a bag of sand

4-Load stuff of your choice over rover or put it in the flatform or in a special area designed to be filled until reaching the desired weight. Yes, like a truck.

5- Now that your rover is 8x heavier, start drilling

6- Finished?. Now remove the bags of sand or the rocks one to one.


Sure, but you now have all kinds of extra mass to lift to orbit (not the sand, but a beefier rover). You could launch more payloads and assemble in orbit.

It starts to become complicated...


I can't see why. After you remove the load again. Rover weight would be the practically the same as before. Maybe a little heavier, but not much.


Not contesting the point, but shouldn't Martian rock be significantly less dense due to less gravitational compression?


I wonder if it might make sense to have a kind of satellite around Mars with a series of probes that can be deployed wherever interesting things are suggested to be but aren’t necessarily expected to be mobile, beyond perhaps drilling downwards.

That way as more interesting discoveries are made via rovers or other technologies, we can deploy a probe right away instead of having to plan and build and hurl a rover through space for a year and a half.


They only look like random rocky deserts. Gale was carefully selected as a site with lots of exposed layer geology.

And none of the current rovers could drill a mile into ice, or get there in the first place. First drill will be InSight real soon now.

OP, I think, suffers from Earthbound preconceptions of development in a field that has physics laughing back.


Have a little more faith in the people running these missions than that. The landing spots for any missions we send over are chosn very carefully and with a lot of thought. There are specific goals for any mission and the landing sites are chosen based on those in mind.


If I understand the Science article¹ right, this lake is 1.5 km beneath the surface. That's a lot of digging when you can't go buy a new shovel.

Besides the fact it was only discovered right now, that is.

¹ The two-way pulse travel time between the surface and basal echoes can be used to estimate the depth of the subsurface reflector and map the basal topography. Assuming an average signal velocity of 170 m/μs within the SPLD, close to that of water ice (20), the depth of the basal reflector is about 1.5 km below the surface


From the BBC article it suggested that getting a rover there might be difficult.

Since they were talking about flying rovers, I would assume this means that it is not a nice flat plain like the current wheeled-rovers are used to driving around on. I am guessing that it means that it probably looks a lot like this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brei%C3%B0amerkurj%C3%B6kull#/...

Kinda fascinating though. I would assume that instead of drilling they could just use some sort of heated "drill" that just sinks through the ice slowly but surely. Probably less to go wrong mechanically?


Yeah but you’re in a polar region that by definition receives less solar energy... how are we going to power it? Radioisotopes near the only local location of extraterrestrial life?


for starters this lake is 2km beneath the surface of the ice cap...


[flagged]


Personal attacks are not OK on this site.

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mozumder 82 days ago [flagged]

This is hilarious. "Why don't we just send the rovers to the cities and historic sites and other more interesting places of Mars?"


"Please respond to the strongest plausible interpretation of what someone says, not a weaker one that's easier to criticize."

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