With the Artemis I rocket hopefully making an unmanned trip to the moon, it is hoped to have astronauts on it within a few years and, within the next couple of decades, a trip to Mars.
But why go to the expense?
Many reasons are given, but I think the most important is for discovery. What we find there and what we’ll create doing so. The original moon landings moved science on massively, as did the later Space Shuttle missions.
For anybody who watches the rather fantastic TV show For All Mankind, it envisages a world in which Russia landed on the moon first and, as a result, the space race continued. It shows electric cars in mass use in the early 80s and massive energy improvements (albeit from a fictional fuel discovery on the moon). But the idea is solid – to be able to achieve such incredible endeavours requires leap forwards that otherwise there isn’t the will to do.
In a world which is suffering from global warming and energy shortages, the idea that we should do something which could propel forward technologies that could help, surely doesn’t like a bad thing?
But, people say, it doesn’t need billions spent on space missions to make these discoveries, right? Let me tell you a story – I promise it’s relevant.
The UK health & beauty company Boots is not only a retailer but also manufacturers many of its own-brand item (unlike, say, the supermarket equivalents). However, it also used to have an R&D division too.
In 1961 one of their research chemists discovered Ibuprofen. Patented, it made the company a lot of money, as I’m sure you can appreciate.
In the early 1990s, it had the next big thing – a drug for people with heart disease. It went on sale and Boots started trials for potential wider use. Its effects on patience were astounding, giving life back to people who had been robbed of it. However, the trials found a higher than expected mortality rate and it was taken off sale in 1993. Like something from an episode of Star Trek, it was giving people back the quality of their life by robbing it of its length. But people on it didn’t want to stop – a longer life wasn’t worth it if you couldn’t live it.
The amount put into the creation of the drug, Manoplax, was massive. With unhappy shareholders, Boots announced it was selling the R&D division, Boots Pharmaceuticals, in 1994 to BASF. Although they’d made huge profits from Ibuprofen, they didn’t want the uncertainty that Manoplax has brought. They’d much rather have neither than take the risk.
And this is the thing. Private companies are risk adverse. Unless it’s a sure thing, they’re unlikely to throw their own money into what could be a risky venture. With the US government providing the capital and the incentives to these companies, that changes. Maybe the system is broken. Maybe we should be in a world in which we shouldn’t have to go to Mars to get businesses to create a new green energy. But we don’t, and changing that is no where near simple.
I heard on the radio today the usual troupe on this subject – “we should fix the problems on Earth before we spend money going into space”. But if we follow that rule, we never would. When would “all the problems” be gone? There will ALWAYS be something to fix, so we’d never leave this planet. If we’d follow this rule in the 1960s, technologically, we’d probably be a lot less advanced than we are now – our reliance on fossil fuel would probably be higher and our current issues worse.
Sometimes, you just can’t wait – we need to boldly go. I’m pretty confident future generations will appreciate it.