TED Conversations

Jeong-Lan Kinser

Executive, Horizon Plus LLC.


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Do you think more money should be spent to explore space or should it be more spent helping people who are struggling on earth? Why?

I wonder how people think about the usage of our resources: should we invest for our future, or should we take care the problems we have on earth first?

  • Apr 5 2011: I think we would be short sighted to abandon the exploration of space. Human progress occurs in waves on many fronts, occasionally leaping ahead in some areas and sometimes moving backwards in others. Innovation in one area sometimes occurs as an overflow from another field, there tends to be a cross pollination between the sciences. There are many discussions available as to how we should proceed and why, but a basic one for me is this: currently all of our 'genetic eggs' are in one basket. We could be one external extinction event away from being an evolutionary anomoly. (I am referring to space objects crashing into the planet, not our own propensity for self destruction)
    We are not hurting for either the resources or ability to develop the technology to solve our problems, what we lack is motivation.
  • Apr 1 2011: If we stopped space exploration, the problems on Earth would not end. The problems on Earth do not result from a lack of money but rather poor management of countries, their natural and human resources. Greed, power and corruption are the vices that limit development. The space program has contributed significantly to technological developments and has been used to benefit mankind in many ways, not least of which is a greater understanding of the world we live in. On a more practical side, there are several programs that monitor vegetation health globally, using satellites for ongoing assessment to anticipate famine and hence food demand in certain areas.
  • Apr 1 2011: Space exploration is relatively inexpensive if you compare it to military spending or most of government spendings. It is very low percentage.

    Space exploration also provides enormous amount of motivation for young people, it gives us numerous technologies that actually cover the cost of exploration itself. Finally, through space exploration we better understand that we have only one planet like Earth (right now).

    Now the space exploration is successfully entering commercialization through companies like SpaceX. Once we run out of resources on Earth (or hopefully before), space companies will start mining in outer space so that our civilization can continue to grow and develop. =)
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  • Apr 5 2011: Jeong-Lan Kinser, These alternatives are not mutually exclusive. Expanding knowledge is often beneficial in spin offs we cannot even imagine while we are involved in some areas of persuit. Do both. Follow common sense to avoid gilding the lily and focus on the real and avoid esoteric "ars gratia artis" when it comes to spending resources that are in short supply. Also, we need good followers! Many focus on leaders but without properly motivated followers we lose. Peace, Bob
  • Apr 4 2011: Aren't they both the same?
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    Apr 1 2011: I think it is only by taking on a goal like the exploration of space— that requires the intellectual and material input from more than one country—that we can re-channel the biological and psychological drives that traditionally lead to international competition and conflict. We need a shared goal with enough scale and enough elegance to self-propel (like a scram jet) once we get up enough speed.
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      Apr 3 2011: Hi Erik,

      You're comment intrigues me. Are you saying that space exploration has an inherently pacifying effect on international relations?
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        Apr 3 2011: No, but I wish it did. :-D What I'm claiming is that continued conflict/competition and optimal advance in space exploration are inversely correlated. Because of the scale of resources (intellectual and material) needed, the loss and inefficiencies created by the traditional us-versus-them paradigms will significantly hinder our progress and handicap our potential. The decreased efficiency means lower returns on investment and a longer time-frame until stakeholders can reach break-even points. In order for the system to become self-propelling, for want of a better term, there must be a profit value at least as large as that traditionally generated by selling and waging war.
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          Apr 4 2011: Oh ok, I think I get where you're coming from. I fully agree that us versus them paradigms hinder space exploration. Even the Russians congratulated us in all sincerity when we landed on the moon.
        • Apr 4 2011: Erik, I concur with some of the points you make. I think one reason that space exploration is a uniting force rather than a divisive one is that scientists, rather than politicians, are involved. The science takes precedence. While there is certainly competition between scientists, it tends to be more civil, generally.
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          Apr 6 2011: Hi Julie,

          I like what you said about competition between scientists. I was wondering, might there be something that can be learned from scientific dialog that can be applied to dealing with some of the issues effecting us here on Earth?
        • Apr 6 2011: The space program is a direct consequence of war. War as wasteful in human and material assets has always been with us and for the forseeable future will continue to be so.
        • Apr 8 2011: Hi Daniel, I don't want to be depressing about this but I think our greatest downfall as a civilization is greed and corruption. This cuts across the full spectrum of persons and professions. However, greed in politics is particularly damaging. If you look at most (if not all) developing countries today, the question that immediately comes to mind is "why are they still struggling". Many have abundant natural resources. If you look at the politics, the answer becomes more obvious. Granted many can use colonization as a blot on their development. But their new leaders are no less depraved than the colonizers. We see this depravity in businesses in western countries. Politicians gain from this.

          So can the dialogue of science be translated to these issues? Scientists have their vices in greed too, but true scientists are passionate about their work and about the result. Good governance requires a great deal of compassion, selflessness, grit and genuine concern for people, environment and country. Development requires people who are educated and willing to do the work to get there, and who keep their government honest. It is an intricate weave but I think good governance is a good starting point.
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    Apr 8 2011: i iwsh the space program was just one international program, with a few spicific goals being worked on at one time.
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    Apr 7 2011: i think that moneys should be geared towardsprotecting earth from us. All should be educated on ways to stop and preserve the earth from further deteriotation for the future genertion. Industries and companies should spend on on the type of products and packaging they're placed in, in terms of considering consumers health at long and if they fit into the go green society.
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    Apr 5 2011: I don't think we've learnt enough about our own planet to begin to seriously shift our focus and resources towards space exploration/colonisation. Being an oceanography, I'm familiar with the saying "we know more about the surface of the moon, than the bottom of our sea". Only a precious percentage of this particular landscape has fully been explored, and I don't doubt this analogy stands true for many terrestrial systems. So in that regard there's plenty to keep us busy, and productive right here, on Earth.

    Furthermore our civilisation is quite certainly 'focused' on the present. All our social discourse is built around daily events. War, Poverty, Debt!! That's more than enough to deal with right now. Problems of overpopulation, disease, violence and a low quality of life affect the vast majority of the planet. These circumstances have been around for decades if not centuries, addressing them with a full commitment is our best chance of securing a livelihood for everyone. Improving the quality of life (and relationships) of as many people as possible, through a complete education, and engagement in meaningful work is the best way of propelling our civilisation forward.

    From that point on, our species could adopt an outward perspective. It’s likely our improved local and global relationships would foster a collective space agency which could leverage a full body of knowledge and expertise to make wise and worthwhile efforts to expanding our reach in the solar system.
  • Apr 4 2011: Apart from the technical advances that come from the research (and all the normal arguments), I can't think of anything more natural and rewarding than exploring our environment. I think, as humans, we are inherently curious about our environment; from the microorganisms that make up life on earth to exploring the structure of our universe. We should never stop spending money on space exploration -- there will always be something on earth to do first. To stop exploring would be to lose part of our humanity.
  • Apr 2 2011: As individuals, we might be concerned first and foremost about survival. But if we look at ourselves as a civilization, it seems we need to quench our curiosity. Without our creativity, we would have died of diseases or disasters...Let me offer a scenario. Suppose we discovered extraterrestrial intelligent life. This could shift our understanding of our own existence so much that we would be able to see past many of our differences and unite just enough (out of fear of a possible common enemy) to collectively solve earth's problems. In this case, perhaps scientific exploration in space would contribute more to solving global poverty than any direct effort has so far done... I see value in both investments.
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    Apr 1 2011: This is a false dichotomy. By investing in space we can solve problems on Earth. Although space can help us have higher standards of living and offer more energy and material resources, what ultimately creates misery is when there are too many people in a place that cannot support them. Ironically what checks overpopulation is having a high standard of living and a highly specialized industrialized society which requires years of education. Of all of the potential sources of energy, only space power can continuously scale-up to meet global energy demand; and only in space can we continue to acquire more resources far into the future.
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    Apr 1 2011: This may be a false dichotomy: we shouldn't have to choose one or the other.

    The money spent on space exploration flows through the economy and creates jobs. It is also a source of innovation and technological development, and it can be a driver of science and math education that will maintain or improve our global competitiveness. The commercialization of space exploration changes the equation somewhat, but many of the same principles apply.

    Social problems will be with us, in one form or another, no matter how much money we commit to such causes. The reason is that many of the problems are not solvable, in the true sense. We can mitigate, reduce human suffering, respond to disasters; but we can't prevent recurrence. Issues like energy supplies and global warming will come under control when economic incentives drive the needed innovations.
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    Apr 1 2011: I firmly believe we, our civilization, should keep investing in space exploration (and all of science). The technological advances we get from all the related research will, ultimately, improve our lives.
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    Apr 8 2011: I think it depends on the intention and the purpose. If, at the end of the day, it will help our quality of life on earth, then great. If it's just to prove a selfish belief or just to conquer a challenge, then thumbs down. It has it's place but I'm so against meaninglessness and so for significance.

    EDIT: For the record, I believe in GOD, and I believe the universe displays the works of His hands. There are a lot of atheists in the space exploration field and many of them come to believe in God through their fascinating discoveries. As for me, I am to go into all of the EARTH. We can do above and beyond for the world with the people and the resources we have who focus on where we live.

    I believe, our trouble is not in quantity of things that we aren't utilizing. Our everyday struggle is deriving from a lack of our efficiency to succeed with what we have. We must "till our land".
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    Apr 7 2011: I think a lot more money should be spend for exploring space. In space is our future, we have to invest a lot so we can build colonies on other planets fast. And I would say take the money from all the warfare that's built not from the people needing help.
  • Apr 7 2011: I think it's no need to do that , cause every generation of human being , there will not be co-wealthy ! there will be poor , middle , rich people , you can't change that ! even the richest country the US , have lot of people out of job ! it just the nature . and it is the most naturest thing .
  • Apr 5 2011: This is easy. Spent on people on earth who are broken, hurting, and in need of help and relationship. Space is dumb anyways.
  • Apr 5 2011: It's a difficult question, however it is more worthwhile helping people on Earth first.

    The economy and health-care systems are failing, education is not widespread and poverty is still at large. If these aren't sorted out first, is it really worth it to be in further debt by exploring space?

    The future generations will end up with increasing tax rates, poverty, poor health care and education. We need to be able to secure their future first and then think about exploring other planets as an alternative.

    But doing both would be ideal as space exploration has helped a great deal in the medical field amongst others. It has also helped achieve technological advances.
    We also have to remember lack of funding is not the only problem facing humans. Corruption and greed also play a major role.

    Funds need to be reassessed because loosing funding for either would be a great loss for mankind.
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    Apr 5 2011: I think it would be best spent here educating and supporting individuals on how to get out of struggle and adverse situations, because if that struggle exists here, what is the point of potentially taking it to another planet? Might as well learn to nip that issue in the bud before planting ourselves elsewhere.

    I do support some measure of space exploration if it helps us understand our current abode's interactions with all the other external influences, and how they affect us. Brian Gonsalves' reply does have some good points in how these two concepts overlap.
  • Apr 5 2011: This is a difficult subject. While bolstering education would prove to be very beneficial in the long run, interplanetary colonization could prove to be beneficial in securing the species (albeit uncertain security). My vote goes towards education, which in turn helps cultivate safer and healthier living for all.
  • Apr 5 2011: I personally believe that more money should be spent on space exploration. This is mainly because we tend to make changes on a minor scale within a society at a small and incremental rate. Exploration into space allows our entire race to make breakthroughs, including the breakthrough we would make here on Earth as far as improvements to transportation. Finding a way to quickly travel through the masses of space could be a technology we could port over to improve subways and trains, or even cars.
  • Apr 5 2011: To explore outer space is always a fancy idea to everyone of us. But the reason to explore it should not be we human being cannot survive on the earth, then we need another place out there to live on.

    We Chinese people developed a civilization with an idea to be in harmony with nature, and we lived with the world for more than 5000 years. Once the modern society so called took over the world for the past 200 years, it comes to an end.
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    Apr 5 2011: Firstly, I think in examining this question the temptation is to think in line with allocating resources as outlined in the production possibility frontier model of allocation of resources (guns and butter).


    In my opinion, we need a paradigm shift when examining this question. Instead of looking at where resources should be allocated, one would examine at what would improve space exploration or the quality of life of people on earth. To answer this question efficiently, we would need to examine [1] economic impact, [2] social impact and [3] political impact of investing more in one rather than the other. I don't think there is one correct answer to this...

    For instance, by investing in such people as Maggie Aderin-Pocock we would be able to do both (you can read about her work here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/4985076/Lets-inspire-the-next-generation-of-scientists.html)
  • Apr 5 2011: Well,i think the emphasis should be on the latter rather than the former.Despite the fact that the world is turning in to a global village and gloabalization is getting everyone close,there are always a certain set of people who will be denied the basic aspects of living,and they should be the one who must be concentrated upon..Governments and finance ministry must ensure that the focus is more on the latter part,but still enought money and resources are equally given to the space exploration and research areas.
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    Apr 5 2011: Doing one implicitly helps the other. Space exploration has been a net positive for mankind and has affected us all in very dramatic ways. The very way that we are communicating here on the internet is a result of the US space and military programs. NASA and the space program has had an incredible impact on Electronics, Energy, Medicine and other Technologies. And then there are the intangibles like inspiring man to think and reason beyond the confines of our own planet and solar system. The images from the Hubble space telescope have been incredible to see but even more than that are the insights it has offered of our very origin and past. Mans foray into space has done much to lessen our earthly struggles through technological breakthroughs and inspired images and ideas.

    BMG - http://brians-say.blogspot.com/
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    Apr 4 2011: In an ideal scenario, we could do both things. however, in the current situation, I believe the focus should be in our own planet, considering that the problems to be fized here would destroy our civilization before we could even take a person to Mars, for example. The speed of destruction of our planet is greater than the speed of space technology. In addition, if we ever get to other planets before our planet is destructed, a possible "move" would probably only be available for rich people - has anyone seen "2012"? - and wouldn't have a positive outcome to the entire population.
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    Apr 4 2011: Best scenario for space exploration to flourish: world peace (achievable), ending poverty and hunger (with future technology which will allow third world countries to step into the 21st or perhaprs 22nd century as prosperous countries)
    Although still far out of reach, I think that humans are heading more and more towards international cooperation and world organizations will become very important. Once earth will be recognize as one interlinked system, we will have the courage to take the leap to space and venture into space mining and much more!
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    Apr 4 2011: I don't think it's either/or. The race to the moon between the US and USSR was primarily a demonstration of technological and military prowess. But satellites in Earth orbit have a great many practical uses including communication and Earth monitoring. Observing Earth will become an even more critical factor for everyone on Earth as climate changes over decades, centuries and millennia. Telescopes (a long-standing way of exploring space) are essential to getting the physics of the universe correct. So space exploration is a part of doing things for everyone on the planet.

    Going to the moon and Mars are a part of expanding our knowledge, but Big Science is no longer an effort just for one nation, even the US. We don't want to pay for it anymore. We could have done the supercollider a couple of decades ago but it was too expensive. So now there's the international LHC in Switzerland. That's for the best. Science and its benefits should be open-source so everyone on the planet can benefit. Science is improved and protected from political interference by internationalizing it.

    "Helping people struggling on earth" is, to me, too BIG for an answer. It's too wrapped in politics and sociology to answer in terms of just investing money. I'm afraid that struggle is here to stay.