Space, the expensive frontier
The Washington Post reports that in today’s budget request, Pres. Obama has left out NASA’s “Constellation” program, which called for a return to the moon by 2020. This is another case of “the prioritization problem,” which is the difficulty we often have in justifying why one valuable aim is worth more or less than another. Though, it’s more of an “issue” than a “problem” here, as it’s pretty easy to explain why high unemployment and a rising deficit are more worthy concerns than space exploration at the given moment. More generally: When making such comparisons, how should the government value “intrinsic” goods like space exploration and, say, art, which we think are valuable apart from the tangible benefits they offer to society? While space exploration has led to a few practical benefits, and offers the possibility of fantastic gifts in the very distant future (i.e. inter-galactic space travel, colonizing other planets, etc.), it’s mostly in the science-for-science’s sake category. And, secondly, how should a government evaluate such goods in the context of a suffering economy? At what GDP level can we spend on space aggressively? What does Jean-Luc think?