Karthik went to school with my son Stephen in elementary and middle school. They have stayed in touch. Karthik at the time of this interview was finishing up his last year at Rice University, the same place that JFK gave the famous “We choose to go to the moon” speech. It is also the school of the current NASA administrator, Jim Bridenstine. Jim had come and visited the school a couple of times in 2019. And it was under Jim’s leadership that the 2024 date was announced.
Karthik had not heard about NASA plans to send people back to the moon. He wishes that there was more talks and presentations about it at the university. And I know there have been a few, but it is interesting that the information did not make it out to the wider student audience. Even in a place like Rice University there are information bubbles. Mainly because there is so much going on that students and faculty have to choose what to keep track of just to remain sane. But there needs to be better mechanisms to have broader explorations of topics.
Karthik wonders “What kind of mission is this?” which is another way to ask “What do we plan to get out of it?” This is a fair question. One we really should do some thinking about. I like to think of our trips into space being like the voyages in the age of discovery. But I am not sure they can compare.
This week I’m reading “The Worldly Philosophers” by Robert L. Heilbroner. I came across this passage (p.35)
Be it noted, in passing, that the treasures of the East were truly fabulous. With the share received as a stockholder in Sir Francis Drake’s voyage of the Golden Hund, Queen Elizabeth paid off all England’s foreign debts, balanced its budget, and invested abroad a sum large enough, at compound interest, to account for Britain’s entire overseas wealth in 1930!“The Worldly Philosophers” by Robert L. Heilbroner p.35
The voyages in the age of discovery MADE MONEY. People directly benefited from them. Will our voyages to the moon do the same? What do we hope to get out of it.
We need to make space exploration economically viable. Lowering the cost is just one part of that equation. The other part is finding a source of value in going. Tourism is a natural thing. Getting moon rocks might be too. But if we had something of value on the moon, the other pieces will fall into place.
For many of us, going to space is an end to itself. Like some people going to a sports contest. Or eating breakfast. But for the vast majority of it, either we get them directly involved in that vision, or we have to show how it is worth it in direct and concrete ways.