Moon, Mars, and Beyond – Science vs. Industry

Throughout history, national goals have been achieved through a variety of different pathways. Whether for national defense, an initiative to glorify power, or through an incentive of economic investment, nations – both historically and in the future – will most certainly be searching for new and innovative ways to support national goals from both a monetary and political standpoint. Recently, President George W. Bush has commissioned and investigation into the feasibility of sending Americans back to the Moon and beyond to Mars. The report of the President’s Commission on Implementation of United States Space Exploration Policy outlined several methods by which the United States can undertake such an ambitious goal as sending humans to Mars. The two most significant underlying concepts presented in the report are arguments for and against the imperative upon scientific premise and economic vitality as a means to inspire the nation to undertake the Moon, Mars, and Beyond Initiative.

We have always been awed and fascinated by space: its beauty, its mystery, its remoteness. For 5,000 years and more, humans have wondered, watched, and learned enormous amounts about Earth, our solar system, and our universe. Throughout that period human civilization has permanently changed and today we live in a world motivated by much different standards than the first stargazers. In the modern world, we see more and more the imperative upon financial prowess is hidden in every nick and cranny. The nations of the Earth today are more dependent upon fiscal means than at any other time in the history of the planet. It is clear that a great deal of science and knowledge will be gained, and must be gained in order to embark humans upon a space exploration initiative. Only through economic viability, however, will new science let alone this voyage ever be achieved.

Our 21st century space explorers will dramatically expand scientific knowledge and promote the development of revolutionary technologies and capabilities to benefit life on Earth. The technology that put astronauts on the Moon 1969 was the product of centuries of scientific theory, military engineering, and backyard tinkering. The rapid progress in spaceflight in the 1960s owes as much to Cold War competition as it did to visions of Martian exploration. Thousands of satellites now circle the Earth, launched by complex, expensive rockets into a web of orbits. And past them, deeper into space, fly missions to the sun, Mars, Saturn, Pluto, and beyond. Evidently, a unique balance has always existed between exploring space for scientific and national reasons.

The world we live in today is very different than forty decades past. Today, as nations undertake more and more global endeavors, economic resources from national interests such as a national space exploration initiative appear to be less and less financially feasible. As the President’s Commission outlined in their report, “sustaining the long-term exploration of the solar system requires a robust space industry that will contribute to national economic growth, produce new products through the creation of new knowledge, and lead the world in invention and innovation.” Science initiatives alone cannot sustain the large price tag of such an endeavor. Moreover, although science is essential to the exploration initiative, the program will only be realistically achievable if industry is a fundamental funding resource.

The initiative to facilitate space exploration through industry has already begun. The first commercial spacecraft made a successful test flight on June 21, 2004, when the White Knight lifted the squid-shaped SpaceShipOne 15.24 kilometers above California. The smaller craft’s pilot then fired a rocket that catapulted SpaceShipOne to a height of 100.12 kilometers, just 120 meters beyond the internationally recognized boundary of space. The technology achieved from the development of SpaceShipOne is irreplaceable. Moreover, this technology, in the future, will enable humans to achieve scientific research in different fields, many of which presumably remain to be determined.

The benefit of SpaceShipOne was the overall investment to cost ratio. The program investment independently cost ten times that which was awarded by the government. This large independent investment gains a new light when considering the perceivable amount of capital to be returned from technological advancements made. In addition, these and other technological advances made by industry in such high risk endeavors may fund a large portion of the research and development needed to sustain the exploration initiative. Most importantly, however, technologies developed by SpaceShipOne and through industry will undoubtedly aid the pursuit of science through consequential use upon satellites and robots that are essential to the space exploration initiative.

It is clear that science is extremely important to such an ambitious endeavor. In fact, there is no doubt that amount of science to be gained through such a program could well remain endless. In any case, the science industry alone cannot support the full financial cost of such an initiative. SpaceShipOne provides evidence that industry is willing to undertake a large financial burden for the future perspective of investment. The investment of industry into the program will not hinder the pursuit of science as the same technological advancements are necessary for both a space faring industry and an inclusive scientific program. Industry offers both financial independence and technological premise to both the nation and science. Therefore, although science will remain an imperative to the Moon, Mars, and Beyond program, industry has both the means and desire to support advances, both monetary and technological, needed to pursue such an ambitious endeavor.

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