To flip things around for a moment, what about all those female-dominated careers? Why is it that we aren't up in arms about the fact that yoga studios, elementary schools, secretarial staff, birthing services, and hospital nursing staffs are overwhelmingly dominated by women? Nobody seems to be losing sleep over the idea that there is some kind of pervasive gender discrimination that discourages men from these careers. Is that because these careers are seen as somehow less worthwhile- and if so, why? Because women do them?
Modern feminism seems consumed with the idea that career success for a woman can only come by pursuing a traditionally male career path. But this seems like an incredibly sexist viewpoint, because it's assuming that the only kind of job that's worthwhile or important for a woman to aspire to is one that a man traditionally has done. If you're not a CEO, a surgeon, a professor, then you're somehow less worthwhile. But taking care of other people- which is something a lot of female-dominated careers have in common- is incredibly important, and probably contributes as much or more to society than coming up with a better way for Amazon to flood my inbox with special offers.
The other issue is that feminism seems obsessed with the idea that women will be happy if they can pursue these career paths. But here's a thought. Maybe women opt out of certain career paths in favor of other career paths because those career paths better fit what they want out of life. Maybe many women- not all of them, but a lot of them- find working with kindergartners or being a midwife more rewarding than firing employees, shooting at insurgents, or writing computer code.
More importantly, you don't build large-scale infrastructure like China's new Silk Road bullet freight operation out of thin air. Large-scale infrastructure of this kind will require large amounts of pure metals. Having large new sources of supply in turn encourages bigger projects. How much copper is it going to take for the Silk Road to go maglev?
These kinds of shortages have a way of sorting themselves out. If the price of a commodity goes up, then people start exploring new sources of the commodity, new modes of production, alternatives to the commodity, and ways to be more efficient with the commodity. This is exactly what happened with oil prices back when people started panicking about "peak oil". New resources and modes of production (deep water oil, tar sands, shale oil) were developed and alternative sources of energy (solar, wind, natural gas, etc.) were pursued, and more efficient cars were developed. The result is that oil prices have fallen dramatically in recent years from around $100 a barrel to around $60 a barrel and the U.S. is set to become a net oil exporter. The same dynamic is likely to play out with copper- as soon as we start seeing shortages of copper, increased prices will increasingly drive people to find more of it, replace it with other materials, and be more efficient in its use.
I remember seeing starving Ethiopian kids on TV when I was a kid, and it left me deeply shaken up. But over the years, I realized that you saw all kinds of things on TV- GI Joe and Transformers and the Enterprise and the Millennium Falcon and exploding coyotes, and the little Ethiopian kid with the distended belly sort of entered that realm. One more image on TV and you can just change the channel.
And then travelling in Africa I saw a starving kid, face to face. Me looking at him, and him looking back. And I realized, that's not fake. That's not TV. I can't just change the channel and make him go away. And he can't just change the channel and make all this stuff go away. This is his reality, and it fucking sucks, and this is the reality of millions and millions of people.
One of the tropes in science fiction is the Bubble City. The residents of the Bubble City live in their cozy, clean, climate controlled little domed city and have wealth and peace and long happy lives. And meanwhile, outside live the savages, with their poor, dirty, and violent little lives, and the people in the Bubble City don't think much about them or worry about them. What I saw for the first time is that this isn't science fiction. This describes the world we live in. The developed world is a bubble, but until you step foot outside, you don't even know it.
On other the other hand, if it were possible to wave a magic wand and make all the world's rich people truly care about lifting poor people out of poverty then poverty could be eradicated from the world in a single generation.
I think that this is probably a bit overly optimistic. The difference between the U.S. and some failed state isn't merely a difference in the level of wealth. It's a whole series of things- an effective security apparatus, infrastructure, a court system, trustworthy, responsive, and effective government administration, education and literacy, a free press, a fair market system with companies and finance, a national identity, tolerance of different people and ideas, and a culture that buys into and believes in these things as realistic and important goals. The wealth and prosperity of the United States are built on a culture, ideals, markets and governments that go back hundreds of years, to the Colonies, to England, to Renaissance Italy, to Rome, to Jesus, to the Greeks.
Wealth isn't just the condition of not being poor, it's about creating a productive and fair society. Like they say, give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach a man to fish and feed him the rest of his life. The issue is that being a good fisherman is *hard*. It takes a work ethic and discipline, piloting, engineering, and navigational skills, management skills, and learning how to actually catch fish. It takes years.
Poverty has a lot of causes. If you cut your potential labor force in half by keeping women unemployed, if government officials steal from the people with bribes, if there's a lack of education so you can't hire skilled workers, if business can't operate because of a corrupt judiciary, if you can't move goods to market because there are no roads, if you're sick with malaria and can't work, if the army is weak and violence flourishes, if you can't get a small business loan... these are problems that make going to the moon look pretty straightforward. I'm not saying we shouldn't try. As Kennedy said about the moon, we're not going there because it's easy, but because it's hard. But we need to be realistic about how hard it's going to be.
Look at the title of the story you are replying in: It is billionaires that are funding it. Nothing about public funds being discussed here.
Yes, Elon Musk's rockets will be funded by all those privately funded space stations, privately funded spy satellites, and privately funded missions to Mars.
There are seven billion people on the earth. I think we can work on more than one endeavour at once.
The cost of the International Space Station was $150 billion, and a crewed Mars mission- sending a crew to Mars, landing them, bringing them back- is an order of magnitude more complicated. I'm guessing it would cost on the order of 500 billion or a trillion dollars. The issue is, that money has to come from somewhere. That's a trillion dollars that's can't be spent on other things. Economic development, medical treatments, flood and famine relief, scientific and medical research, etc. So we have a choice. We can spend hundreds of billions or trillions of dollars on the possibility that the human race will face some crisis in the far future. Or we can spend that money on solving the very real problems that people are facing today, right now, as we discuss this. Unemployment, poverty, starvation, disease, lack of education, lack of opportunities for women. I'm not saying that we cannot do anything else until we solve all those problems. But for all the talk about The Good of the Species and Preserving the Species, space nutters seem remarkably unconcerned by the idea that there are people right here on Earth who could use some help, and last time I checked the species was composed of these people. And if you space nutters are really so goddamn concerned about saving the species, maybe you'd be more interested in helping them out. If half the planet wasn't uneducated and living in poverty, maybe we'd have a lot more economic and intellectual resources at building that Space Ark or Warp Gate or Hyperdrive or whatever it will take to get into space. I'm skeptical about the possibility of setting up space colonies, but if it does happen, I think Bill Gates' work on malaria in Africa will probably end up doing a lot more to help get us there than Elon Musk's rockets.
Hopeless or not, we have to do it. Right now all of humanity is in a single interconnected biosphere, that is one rich crazy dickhead away from becoming uninhabitable. How many people are out there right now claiming that we can do anything we want to the Earth and humanity can never become extinct, because God? We need to get sustainable populations off of this planet and somewhere they can survive for when the inevitable happens and one of those mouth-breathing morons hits the wrong button somewhere and releases super-Ebola into the atmosphere or something.
The "we've got to get off of this rock!!!" argument is nonsensical when you consider that the Earth is currently the most habitable place within several light-years and it's been that way for at least the past 3.5 *billion* years. Just over the past 550 million years we've seen severe ice ages, runaway greenhouse warming, an asteroid impact, several massive volcanic eruptions... these events were severe enough to devastate the biosphere and wipe out most of the species on the planet, but in each case some of them survived (otherwise we wouldn't be here). It's been able to sustain complex life for at least half a billion years. Even after the Chicxulub asteroid impact, it's still got a breathable atmosphere, radiation shielding, normal gravity, liquid water, etc., none of which are the case on Mars (all you'd need to survive would be stocks of food, warm clothes, and fuel to last out the impact winter). And even before 550 million years ago, when there's too little oxygen for complex life, it's still a better option than Mars (you'd need supplemental oxygen like on Everest but otherwise it'd be habitable). You would have to do a lot to the Earth to make it less habitable than space or Mars; even with a full-out nuclear war, you've got the Strangelove option.
Looking backwards, Earth has been habitable for a very long time, it's likely to remain so for tens of millions of years more- far longer than our species can be expected to last. Looking forwards, there's no realistic scenario in which space colonies make sense:
Let's assume that we do develop the technology to live on hostile environments such as Mars, asteroids, etc. Wouldn't this exact same technology also allow us to cope with whatever hostile environmental conditions might develop on Earth?
Let's assume that we develop the ability to terraform Mars to make it habitable. Wouldn't this exact same technology allow us to terraform Earth to correct whatever hostile conditions might emerge here?
Let's assume that nuclear war or other environmental issues threaten us as a species. Wouldn't it be a lot easier and more realistic to prevent these things from happening in the first place than build some fleet of Space Arks to escape them once they've already happened?
Let's assume again we're so suicidal that we're in danger of wiping ourselves out due to nuclear war or environmental damage. Doesn't this undermine the whole All Your Eggs in One Basket argument? I mean, the idea is that some freak event might wipe out one of your baskets, but not ALL of them. But that assumes these are independent events. If people on Earth are stupid and suicidal enough to wipe themselves out, that's not a problem with the Earth, it's a problem with the *species*. EVERY human population will have those same suicidal tendencies. It's false redundancy because all your backup systems share the exact same fatal flaw.
Exceptions that prove the rule. Out of thousands of cultures, the number of premodern societies that attempted any serious, sustained exploration can be counted on one hand. And really, its doubtful that premodern migrations to the Americas were any kind of deliberate exploration effort. It was probably just nomads following the herds.
Look at this way, modern humans have been around for about a quarter of a million years. The first migrations out of Africa were only about 30,000 years ago. If exploration were really some fundamental human constant, it seems odd that we spent 90% of our time in a relatively small portion of one continent.
Actually, proto-humans migrated repeatedly out of Africa. Homo erectus, Homo antecessor, Homo neanderthalensis, and finally two waves of Homo sapiens moved out of Africa and into Eurasia. North America was colonized repeatedly by Homo sapiens, by the Amerindian, Navajo-Dene, and Inuit peoples. Migration probably is in the genes. Lineages that become widespread are harder to wipe out as a result of drought, famine, climate change, etc. so lineages with some innate tendency to disperse probably tend to survive. But it's kind of a moot point. The places they went to already had atmospheres, normal gravity, ambient temperatures, radiation shielding, abundant game and edible plants. Mars has none of that. It was simple enough to move out of Africa that a cave-man could do it, literally. It doesn't follow that because humans could and did repeatedly move from continent to continent that it's a good idea to try to colonize a cold, barren, airless wasteland millions of miles away.
Yes we can create robots that go out there and study very specific things. They are planned well in advance, do only very limited things, and frequently fail because they're not totally autonomous and adapt poorly to the unexpected.... case and point: Rosetta's Philae lander....or any number of probes that have malfunctioned or been lost. If you put a single human out there, they can fix the problem. A person can conduct hundreds of experiments where a machine is limited to a few. A person can analyze and interpret results onsite, even design new experiments. A person can build things, onsite.
It's a bullshit argument. The problem is that a robotic mission is going to cost on the order of 1% of a human mission to do the same thing. If there's a risk of the lander failing, the cheapest and easiest solution is to create two or three separate robotic probes which minimizes the chance of failure. Obviously a 100 billion dollar manned mission will be more capable than a 1 billion dollar robotic mission. But a 100 billion dollar robotic mission would be vastly more capable than a comparably expensive manned mission.