It’s often debated that spending money on spaceflight is silly when there are people back on our own planet that need help. And it’s certainly a topic that can be debated. In the past, when spaceflight was the domain only of governments, the money being spent was directly acquired by taxation, and so there’s a legitimate interest in making sure that the spending can be justified and that it produces results (however you want to quantify that).
The Apollo program is a case in point. It is often said that for every $1 spent on the missions $7 was generated for the American economy. These kind of studies can be difficult to do properly, however, and some people question the methodology used for this analysis. Of course, money isn’t the measure most people would use when talking about space missions. Scientific return on investment is important too, and universities and governments need to figure how how much of our money to give over to this work.
Of course these days we have private money involved in spaceflight, making a lot of these discussions take a slightly different direction. Will investors let projects fail on the way to success? Depends how deep the pockets go... Hear more on these topics discussed tonight at Skeptics on the Fringe with Matjaz Vidmar from the Royal Observatory of Edinburgh, 7:20pm, Banshee Labyrinth Chamber Room (part of PBH’s Free Fringe).