Today, I was reading how India’s mission to Mars has reached half-way stage in its journey. I was happy to see the mission succeeding and reaching a milestone . This mission has a limited objective like searching methane in martian environment. It achieved one other objective that missions can be low cost and still succeed but I was wondering why humans are so obsessed with space while there is so much on earth remains unexplored, unexploited and rather more necessary.
I guess the answer to this lies in number of observations -
1. The sky above is always so visible and since it remains an unconquered territory so it ‘ll continue to pose a challenge until there is something left. On earth barring deep sea or deep earth, man has gone everywhere so there is nowhere it can go. So, humans can not easily build on the tales of Robert Scott. Edmund Hilary etc.
2. The science bodies have also lobbies within most govts and they(planetary science) get most funds allocated for their pet projects. Since the prestige and visibility of space research remains foremost, they get most attention from govt who usually after haggling still allocates the biggest fund to space research see this report .
3. The other research projects are fragmented and too numerous and since not having a big enough voice on one or two prestige projects, so they can not compete with the space research budget.
4. The interlinking of many countries on space projects also mean that certain degree of space spending is guaranteed but the plethora of other science projects are usually competing with each other rather than cooperating . Of course there are exception on nuclear research ( Nuclear Fusion reactors) and fundamental science projects like “Hadron Collider” in France, Switzerland etc.
But this spending on only one area of research does not have to be. There are plentiful impossible challenging missions on planet earth itself e.g. sending a sub or human in a sub into the deep see to mine the expensive minerals. China control the rare earth elements. The world needs more sources for the same than just relying on one country. Can there be minerals picked up from deep sea which can be converted into rare earth elements. Chinese were given the license for deep sea mining last year by International Seabed Authority. The number of licences issued to prospect for minerals now stands at 17 with another seven due to be granted and more are likely to follow. They cover vast areas of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans.Similarly there can be plentiful opportunity to invest money in unusual projects like underwater cities or using plantation ( phytoplankton) for health and food, algae that can be converted into crude oil or bio-fuel, Ocean thermal power plants or basing storage power plant at the sea bed itself. Perhaps, a project can be started in claiming the land near the coast by shifting sand from desert, boulders from mountains etc. Japan, Dubai etc has already done this but as there are low lying lands across the world are plentiful and such land has remained unprotected from not only the rising sea water but also any occasional typhoon, cyclone or Tsunami . It has plentiful sea and not much on land warehousing space built . Perhaps everything from food grain to chemicals can be stored in the sea or even the the marine food (like fishes caught) etc can also be kept in deep sea . Whenever needed they can be lifted etc. Due to less sea temperature, it will be possible to exploit not only temperature but plentiful space in sea. What I wonder however is this – since all countries need employment generation.
No global leader has a clue about employment generation. They do not talk about employment generation through funding of new science projects or new technology or like the projects mentioned above. Space programs may seem necessary but I guess far more necessary is employment opportunities for billions across the world. India itself need 12 million new jobs every year just to stand still. Somebody discusses it here in his blog. Leaders still do not believe in any exceptional funding on science or new technologies to generate new jobs. Without this, the employment generation can just grow marginally with each economic cycle from recession to growth . There is tendencies in countries of stealing the jobs from one other by a new round of protectionism . This parochialism can be most seen at election time. President Obama wanted to stop the jobs outflow from US to other countries in software or manufacturing and was promising to bring jobs back from the other countries. This is nothing but protectionism which is antithesis of globalism and if the world is returning to age gone by when protectionism was rife then it will not be doing itself any favour.