Sending humans into space is an admirable civilisational goal, but is the expense of nation-state funded projects justifiable? Britain’s Astronomer Royal Martin Rees would argue that it’s not:
“The moon landings were an important impetus to technology but you have to ask the question, what is the case for sending people back into space?” said Rees. “I think that the practical case gets weaker and weaker with every advance in robotics and miniaturisation. It’s hard to see any particular reason or purpose in going back to the moon or indeed sending people into space at all.”
Speaking to Cambridge Ideas, Rees remained enthusiastic about manned space travel, but thought it would be rather different in style from what we have seen before.
“I hope indeed that some people now living will walk on Mars, but I think they will do this with the same motive as those who climb Everest or the pioneer explorers,” he said.
“I think the future for manned space exploration will be a cut-price, high-risk programme – perhaps even partly privately funded – which would be an adventure, more than anything practical,” he said.
Not everyone agrees, of course – including the Obama administration, China, India and the European Space Agency. But I think Rees has a point, in that nation-states aren’t going to provide the main thrust of such projects in the long run, at least not in the West; they’re too risk-averse to pull it off within budget. Commerce will be the driving force, if there is one… as suggested in Jason Stoddard’s Winning Mars, perhaps.