This Is Why America Is Falling Behind In Space
July 17, 2019 6:31 PM   Subscribe

Kids in America want to be YouTubers. Kids in China want to go to space. With the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing just days away, a post on the NasaWatch blog gave details on a new Harris Poll survey. The survey found that children in the US and the United Kingdom were 3x as likely to want to be YouTubers or vloggers as astronauts when they grow up. 56% of kids in China said they wanted to be an astronaut.

The NasaWatch post cites a Business Insider article with full details on the survey. "Neil Armstrong became a role model in the eyes of kids everywhere 50 years ago when he became the first person to walk on the moon on July 20, 1969. Kids in a recent survey, however, were much more likely to aspire to be the next YouTube star rather than the next person in space."

More info on the survey: the survey asked 3,000 kids ages 8 to 12 to choose from five professions to answer which they wanted to be when they grew up: astronaut, musician, professional athlete, teacher, or vlogger/YouTuber. But, please, let's not get bogged down on the methodology. The general point remains.

NasaWatch founder Keith Cowing summarized this survey in pretty stark terms: "This week we're all being bathed in a 24/7 wave of Apollo nostalgia. NASA's proposed Artemis program is benefiting from the afterglow. But what is going to happen next week when all of the Apollo hoopla is over? Chinese students will be pursuing their dream of becoming an astronaut while U.S. kids will be webcasting from their bedrooms."
posted by zooropa (55 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Being a YouTuber seems more attainable to kids here than being an astronaut. One doesn't need multiple degrees, and years of experience to "make it." Astronauts aren't famous anymore either. Seems reasonable to me.
posted by greatalleycat at 7:20 PM on July 17 [30 favorites]


And really, if you want to do science, trying to become an astronaut is kind of a silly, low-odds way to do it. Every American kid knows that the space race was more about owning the Reds than learning stuff, and the current space race is almost entirely about capitalism and the sociopathy of its masters. Thankfully, the really interesting, useful science doesn't involve flag-festooned space-phalluses, or the really insane up-front costs (and risks) of putting people on other planets, rather than robotic instruments.
posted by klanawa at 7:32 PM on July 17 [12 favorites]


I'd argue that there is sometimes value in having the state drive the sociopolitical narrative, as it does in China. In the United States, corporations have been driving the narrative for such a long time now that I think we've forgotten that it could, or should, be otherwise.
posted by killdevil at 7:34 PM on July 17 [11 favorites]


Yeah, the methodology seems designed to result in this headline to make a point about Kids Today. Mind you, I’m Gen X and am disgusted by the fact YouTubers and Instagram Influencers are a thing, but this is pretty contrived. This same article could well have the truthful headline “More American kids want to be teachers than professional athletes or musicians,” which would make them sound awesome, but no.

Also: Has “astronaut” ever been the top choice of career for American children? I wouldn’t be surprised if back when the space race and going to the Moon were all over the news, kids still would have picked “cowboy” by a similarly wide margin.
posted by ejs at 7:38 PM on July 17 [10 favorites]


Yeah, while differences in kids' attitudes are interesting, I am kind of side-eyeing the framing.

I seriously doubt we're going to run out of qualified people who want to be astronauts. The vast, vast majority of kids who said they wanted to be an astronaut never became one. There are far more people who want to be on a manned space mission than manned space missions.

Plus, wanting to be an astronaut wasn't the same as wanting to be a scientist - at least not for most kids. Astronauts were heros. They were famous. Now the most exciting space exploration is done with robots, and most astronauts are unknown.

I also hate most "influencer" culture but picking these two jobs out of a much bigger poll to make a point about the "youths" says more about the generation writing the article, than the generation the article's about. This makes me more curious about why astronaut is so appealing to Chinese kids. And why vlogger isn't. There is something there, but griping about kids these days doesn't really help you understand what it is.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 7:51 PM on July 17 [10 favorites]


Thankfully, the really interesting, useful science doesn't involve flag-festooned space-phalluses, or the really insane up-front costs (and risks) of putting people on other planets, rather than robotic instruments.

I'm always surprised to be reminded how bizarrely, vehemently anti-manned space exploration a lot of MeFites are.
posted by Sangermaine at 7:56 PM on July 17 [20 favorites]


It's weirdly difficult to get a solid number on what percentage of people trained as astronauts by NASA actually get to go into space, but when NASA opened up 14 slots in 2016, 18,300 people applied. I don't think that they'll run out of candidates.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:03 PM on July 17 [9 favorites]


I am pro-science and pro-space science and anti-crewed space flight.

In fact, my usual metaphor for the push to put bulky, fragile humans out in a realm better suited for robots is that what advocates are really looking for is a reality TV show they'd enjoy. So not really seeing as stark a difference as the shamemongers do.
posted by mark k at 8:11 PM on July 17 [6 favorites]


I'm always surprised to be reminded how bizarrely, vehemently anti-manned space exploration a lot of MeFites are.

To this layperson, putting people in space helps us solve the problem of "how do you keep people alive in space" and not much else. Given that we don't really spend a whole lot on space exploration anyway I'd rather send relatively cheap machines out there until we find something that actually needs humans.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 8:22 PM on July 17 [3 favorites]


Putting a person on Mars would make so much of what people do in the modern economy seem petty and insignificant, which is why I think sometimes you see such oddly aggressive reactions against the very idea. So I'm coming around to the idea that maybe we need that symbol, to show that our societies can aim for something higher than to be an everyone-for-themselves competition for fame and wealth.
posted by Pyry at 8:33 PM on July 17 [9 favorites]


Of course, there's a really big reason why America might be falling behind in space, if you define falling behind as manned space flight. America has a really hard time finding a convincing reason to send people into space, other than to prove how big America's dick is. Expressing concern that "America is falling behind", in itself, indicates that space is about nationalist dick swinging more than anything else. The surest way America gets into space bigly again would be if China shows a stiffy for a moon base or mission to Mars.

I love space science. I grew up in the prime of the space race, among a generation that some lament passing, full of hope and desire to send people into space. Yet as an adult, the reasons got thinner and thinner. That's just the reality. And the sell got less legit, hints at nationalistic, more cynical, relying of the power of symbolism. You want to turn young people off to space exploration en mass? Make it a bait and switch goal that almost nobody can win.

Being a YouTube star, contrary to sensibilities of sophisticates all over, represents a pretty tremendous leap in the democratization of media production and consumption. MF likes the glass half empty version, but frankly, I think it's a pretty amazing future that I couldn't have dreamed of when I was a kid. Such as the youngsters on YT full of such enthusiasm for real space exploration, science, and technology, minus the silly rocketship adventures my generation was sold.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:45 PM on July 17 [6 favorites]


I understand the general sentiment of the article but I feel that's it's not a good comparison since YouTube and many other websites are blocked in China. If I was an artist/creative type, a vlogger career would seem less interesting to me (even 8 to 12 year old me) if the government was more restrictive regarding freedom of speech. Being creative loses a lot of its fun if you're always worried that what you say could land you in jail.
posted by mundo at 8:47 PM on July 17 [8 favorites]


I'm always surprised to be reminded how bizarrely, vehemently anti-manned space exploration a lot of MeFites are.

You have a trillion dollars. You can spend it on decades of instrumented data collection, or you can spend it keeping a man alive on mars for a week and leave his corpse there. Your call.

Scientists are nothing if not practical.
posted by klanawa at 11:12 PM on July 17 [6 favorites]


Man, I don't comment here much but another thing scientists are are people who entertain the grand majesty of the universe - at least usually at the beginning of their consideration of that career - and who the article is about. Practicalities be damned
posted by DeepSeaHaggis at 11:25 PM on July 17


I'd argue that there is sometimes value in having the state drive the sociopolitical narrative, as it does in China.

Being a YouTube star, contrary to sensibilities of sophisticates all over, represents a pretty tremendous leap in the democratization of media production and consumption.

I understand the general sentiment of the article but I feel that's it's not a good comparison since YouTube and many other websites are blocked in China. If I was an artist/creative type, a vlogger career would seem less interesting to me (even 8 to 12 year old me) if the government was more restrictive regarding freedom of speech. Being creative loses a lot of its fun if you're always worried that what you say could land you in jail.
posted by mundo at 12:47 PM on July 18 [2 favorites +] [!]


My current houseguest was a paid livestreamer on TikTok before she realized she would never make any money doing it (hence my couch as she job-hunts). Here is a partial list of things and topics for which your feed can be cut and your pay, which is held in escrow for 3 months before payout, can be docked, and for which you may be subject to further administrative or legal penalties:
- cleavage
- smoking
- drinking alcohol
- discussion of casual sex
- discussion of unhealthy romantic attachment
- discussion of blocked websites and services
- swearing
- inappropriate language
- sexually suggestive language
- discussion of premature sex
- feudal superstition
- cult promotion
- slander (this includes most varieties of satire)
- gambling
- prostitution
- promoting violent behavior
- promoting terrorism
- drug use
- inappropriate attire
- separatism
- revealing state secrets
- soliciting state secrets
- violating the legal rights of any private or public individual or entity
- copyright/trademark violations
- any other topic or behavior which damages the social cohesion, national unity, image, constitutional integrity, harmony, patriotic spirit, and whatever the fuck else is in this long-ass contract of the People's Republic of China.

See, she's too short to be an astronaut.
posted by saysthis at 12:31 AM on July 18 [9 favorites]


> "Kids in America want to be YouTubers"

Are they on your lawn, too, NasaWatch? Maybe listening to that hippety-hop music?

Sheesh.
posted by kyrademon at 3:53 AM on July 18 [2 favorites]


My kids love science, but have read Stuart Gibbs’ Moon Base Alpha series and have had exposure to cleaned up versions of The Martian, as well as other narratives that mention how tricky life in space can be. Even Wall-E, with the theme of humanity having a backup plan for global warming, doesn’t give a ringing endorsement, especially with the the mobility and obesity issues and the captain being like the 10th generation of the family profession, which hints that being a captain might be unattainable for others.

My kids enjoy science, however, they know a whole lot more about working and living in space thanks to the last 50 years. Being an astronaut is not unlike wanting to be in the Special Forces of the Scientific Elite. Once you look past fame & glory it’s a whole lot harder than having a webcam and a reliable internet connection. This American generation has access to content like Oversimplified History as tweens, which covers more than Schoolhouse Rock, prompting questions from them like: What was it like during the Cold War? so they have some Space Race context. Geek kids these days may be making an informed decision away from space work, is all.
posted by childofTethys at 4:42 AM on July 18 [2 favorites]


I'm always surprised to be reminded how bizarrely, vehemently anti-manned space exploration a lot of MeFites are.

Yet Star Trek, Star Wars, and fictional space travel in general seem to be extremely popular here. I understand the problem with choosing a wildly expensive, less-than-practical ego trip over funding, say, universal healthcare. I wouldn't make that choice myself, but if we're ever going to see the Starship Enterprise, a whole lot of such choices will have to be made. Unless, of course, certain other elements of the Trek Universe, such as unlimited free power and matter replication become available.


See, she's too short to be an astronaut.

I am pretty sure that being small was never a drawback in astronaut selection.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:55 AM on July 18


I am pretty sure that being small was never a drawback in astronaut selection.

Though being a she was.
posted by Quindar Beep at 5:54 AM on July 18 [3 favorites]


> "I am pretty sure that being small was never a drawback in astronaut selection."

You are incorrect.

There's always been a minimum (and maximum) height requirement, as far as I can tell. The minimum side seems to be pretty short these days (4' 10 1/2"), but that seems to be a relatively recent change; I've seen 5' 2" cited as a minimum in earlier articles.
posted by kyrademon at 5:55 AM on July 18 [3 favorites]


Thankfully, being a she is no longer an impossible obstacle for Chinese astronauts, but there are height requirements, and the houseguest in question is uner 5'2". That is, however, a derail.

The point is that being an astronaut is, from what I've been told, an easier, more lucrative, and less hazardous career than being a social media personality in China, and we should look at the framing of the posted article with that in mind.
posted by saysthis at 6:21 AM on July 18 [3 favorites]


A few years ago, when I was on a trip to Florida, I went on the tour of Kennedy Space Center. The tour bus takes you around the campus, including a stop near (like, within 100 yards) the Vehicle Assembly Building, where the Space Shuttles would have their booster rockets attached.

On the low fence surrounding the VAB there was a series of photos to fill us in on the current and future plans, which were hopeful but super vague about using the Orion Heavy rockets for new missions. One of them was a photo of the "graduating class" of the most recent crop of astronauts, nine(?) in all. I remember looking at them and thinking, "Here are a group of people who are educated scientists, physically top condition, trained to handle emotion under pressure and in all respects ready for space travel... and they may never go." Imagine being so well-prepared and knowing the chances of ever using it are slim at best.

So yeah, I can see the logic of Youth Of Today wanting to be social-media stars rather than astronauts. One is simply aspirational, where the other appears for all practical purposes impossible.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 6:42 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


I'm not really sure why we're surprised that kids aren't excited about being astronauts when we basically don't have a manned space program. We have the vestigial appendage of one, and the idea that maybe someday we'll have another, but right now our astronauts are bumming rides like that dirtbag roommate whose car is always suspiciously broken. (But at least we chip in for gas.)

If some kid told me they wanted to be an astronaut, and I felt compelled to be honest rather than nice, it would start off with: "well Timmy, first, you gotta climb over a hill of corpses to make fuck-you money in Silicon Valley..."

I'd probably change my ambitions to just be a YouTube fauxlebrity too.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:45 AM on July 18 [4 favorites]


Look, I was a child of the space age. I seriously thought when I was a kid that I would be in space by now, because it would be a real, viable thing. I wanted to be an astronaut because being an astronaut was a thing someone might aspire to be.

Now, when I grow up, I want to be the new Itchy and Scratchy game because that's closer to being an actual thing.

Note: As kyrademon points out, the situation in China is almost the exact polar opposite.
posted by Naberius at 6:51 AM on July 18


if we're ever going to see the Starship Enterprise, a whole lot of such choices will have to be made. Unless, of course, certain other elements of the Trek Universe, such as unlimited free power and matter replication become available.

One of the things that the (otherwise deeply flawed) spin-off series Enterprise makes clear is that, even after humanity gets warp drive--right after the conclusion of World War III, and just before something referred to as the "post-atomic horror"--it had to get its collective shit together, not only healing the wounds of war but coming up with something that sounds an awful lot like socialism, before they could begin their interstellar space exploration program in earnest. (Replicators were still a couple of centuries away, but no one was going hungry by the 22nd century.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:54 AM on July 18


I'm always surprised to be reminded how bizarrely, vehemently anti-manned space exploration a lot of MeFites are.

People keep incorrectly assuming that there is some real constraint that prevents us from doing the things they want us to do, whether that's feeding our citizens our sending more robotic probes or having more functional transportation, and that reducing or eliminating manned spaceflight would allow us to do more of those things. When the truth is that we don't feed our citizens or have functional health care or send more robotic probes because we've collectively decided that we don't give a shit about doing that; we could easily afford to do all those things and substantially expand manned space exploration at the same time.

Having a programmatic villain to point to certainly feels better than knowing that the core problem is the moral character of the American people.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 7:07 AM on July 18 [15 favorites]


Man, I don't comment here much but another thing scientists are are people who entertain the grand majesty of the universe - at least usually at the beginning of their consideration of that career - and who the article is about. Practicalities be damned

One trait of many scientists is however to see the grand majesty of the universe in understanding and hypothesis and puzzle and equation and discovery, as opposed to necessarily requiring a physical experience. I mean most fields of science don't even offer the roller-coaster-ride travel option so you better be able to get excited about a good instrument readout.

This thread is really highlighting how big the intuitive gap between the two sides is in how they even see the endeavor, and this may be part of it--just very different ideas of what the majesty of the universe and the soaring of the human spirit and all that even are.
posted by mark k at 7:50 AM on July 18 [2 favorites]


My American 6-year-old desperately wants to be an astronaut. He’s currently obsessed with a book series called “Ordinary People Change the World,” and he read I am Neil Armstrong at school and immediately requested it by name from the library. It’s been a big hit (“Did you know he grew up on a farm in Ohio without electricity? Did you know he flew experimental planes? Did you know he died in heart surgery when he was 82? 82 is old, right?”).

Maybe it helped that a couple years ago I came home from work and told my kid that I met a real astronaut. He did his medical residency at the hospital I worked at, and he came back during his post-space flight educational speaking tour to give a presentation at the hospital about what it’s like to be a doctor doing experiments in space. It was so great and made space exploration so real - definitely one of the coolest work experiences I’ve ever had.

Bill Nye the Science Guy was streaming on Netflix from ages 3-5 for my kid and made a HUGE IMPRESSION, whereas You Tube at our house is merely is a portal to marble run videos and German cartoons (Sendung mit der Maus!). That said, my son has seen every episode of the Great British Baking Show (and some episodes many, many times), and he’s never said he wants to be a baker when he grows up...
posted by Maarika at 7:52 AM on July 18 [3 favorites]


I'm not Chinese, but as a South Asian, and a scientist, I wonder whether there might be cultural differences that might cause a Chinese child to select the answer that they perceive might make their parents the most proud? (I notice that "doctor" was not listed as an option.)

Also, yeah, fewer US kids want to be astronauts. Well, to them Neil Armstrong is a not-super-relatable old man ( I wish more people recognized Mae Jemison, but let's be realistic, and she's also not that young.) Maybe try asking them if they want to build robots that drive on Mars like this guy? Or see a black hole? Or make rockets like Elon Musk? Or teleport to anywhere in the galaxy? Or be the first person to meet an alien? Hell, ask them if they want to figure out how to talk to animals. Or invent a time machine. There are so many ways to take a moonshot without sitting on a ship to the moon.
posted by BlueBlueElectricBlue at 9:01 AM on July 18 [2 favorites]


I'm always surprised to be reminded how bizarrely, vehemently anti-manned space exploration a lot of MeFites are.

People keep incorrectly assuming that there is some real constraint that prevents us from doing the things they want us to do, whether that's feeding our citizens our sending more robotic probes or having more functional transportation, and that reducing or eliminating manned spaceflight would allow us to do more of those things.


Uh, that's not my assumption at all. My assumption is that for the most part, space is super fucking lethal and sending people into that should probably be a thing we do when we are SUPER prepared to do so with the least risk to them.

We have other, extremely practical and affordable ways to learn many of the things we need to know about space, without killing anybody. If there were no such thing as robots and probes, and literally the only way ever to explore anything about space were to send fragile human bodies there, then I might feel differently, because I do consider the growth of this knowledge important.

But then again, I grew up in the Challenger generation, so that probably colors my perception.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:46 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


I understand the problem with choosing a wildly expensive, less-than-practical ego trip over funding, say, universal healthcare.

It's always funny when this sentiment gets trotted out, as it inevitably does in these threads. There are many obstacles to the implementation of universal healthcare in America, or whatever your favored policy is, but the relative pittance spent on space travel by the government is way, way, way, way down the list. The actual monsters that swallow up the money that should be used to help people are things like the military budget, even if somehow the political will and ability were there.

President Trump isn't sitting in the Oval Office desperately trying to enact universal healthcare but just can't make the numbers work with that pesky space program.

This thread is really highlighting how big the intuitive gap between the two sides is in how they even see the endeavor, and this may be part of it--just very different ideas of what the majesty of the universe and the soaring of the human spirit and all that even are.

Yes, I've realized this over a number of these threads. There's just a fundamental difference in how people see these things that not only can't be bridged but is mutually incomprehensible. All these posts about how space science can be better accomplished remotely, for example, are literal nonsense to me.

The purpose of manned space travel isn't to support space science. The purpose of space science is to support manned space travel.
posted by Sangermaine at 9:58 AM on July 18 [4 favorites]


Judging by a recent kindergarten graduation that I attended where every kid listed what they wanted to be when they grow up, astronaut and youtuber are tied, but soccer player, ninja, and teacher lead the way.
posted by The_Vegetables at 10:14 AM on July 18


All these posts about how space science can be better accomplished remotely, for example, are literal nonsense to me. The purpose of manned space travel isn't to support space science. The purpose of space science is to support manned space travel.

The remote space science IS THE SUPPORTING SCIENCE, that will make it possible to do effective and productive manned space travel.

What you're saying is like, all of these cancer trials are literal nonsense to me, the purpose of cancer science isn't to study cancer, it's to cure cancer!
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:16 AM on July 18 [2 favorites]


What you're saying is like, all of these cancer trials are literal nonsense to me, the purpose of cancer science isn't to study cancer, it's to cure cancer!

Its more like wanting human trials for cancer treatments. It has inherent risks, yes, but is necessary if you want to treat cancer in humans.
posted by Behemoth, in no. 302-bis, with the Browning at 10:42 AM on July 18


But then again, I grew up in the Challenger generation, so that probably colors my perception.

Me too; I watched it explode live on tv because I was home sick that day.

I'm okay with whatever risks space travelers freely accept. It's not like we're condemning notional-criminals to spaceflight against their will*, drafting people into NASA, or recruiting people whose risk-acceptance flows from legitimate mental illness.

*[archer]Do you want Belters? Because this is how you get Belters.[/archer]
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 10:54 AM on July 18


I'm okay with whatever risks space travelers freely accept.

Literally the article is about how people in the US (well, kids anyway) aren't into accepting them, and this is apparently a problem.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:56 AM on July 18


And those of us who are like, "cool, I get that, we should probably use things that can't die to help us figure out how we could make space travel a more winning proposition" are being derided as fundamentally unable to wonder or some fucking bullshit.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:00 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


The remote space science IS THE SUPPORTING SCIENCE, that will make it possible to do effective and productive manned space travel.
We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese

I think we're talking past each other here, because you're saying what I'm saying. I'm responding to comments like these:

Thankfully, the really interesting, useful science doesn't involve flag-festooned space-phalluses, or the really insane up-front costs (and risks) of putting people on other planets, rather than robotic instruments.

or

In fact, my usual metaphor for the push to put bulky, fragile humans out in a realm better suited for robots is that what advocates are really looking for is a reality TV show they'd enjoy.

These sentiments seem to me to be against the very idea of manned space travel and advocating for remote exploration only. As you said, robots/etc are fine if it's ultimately to prepare for manned space travel.
posted by Sangermaine at 11:06 AM on July 18


Right now it seems like there's two buckets expanding American manned spaceflight falls into:
1. Nationalism (subcategory: white), where there's campaign promises to fulfill and military ambitions to expand
2. Billionaire lifeboats/escape hatch ambitions (See: Musk, Bezos)

So there's no noble goal visible. Combine that with much greater awareness of conditions & what it might take to get into a cohort which makes the NBA/NFL look like they take on all applicants (as described above)...

Is it really any surprise that kids-these-days aren't super hyped to help further the collapse of human civilization?
posted by CrystalDave at 12:09 PM on July 18 [1 favorite]


Literally the article is about how people in the US (well, kids anyway) aren't into accepting them, and this is apparently a problem.

Uh, I don't think that's the gist of the article at all. The article is about kids not saying they want to grow up to be astronauts, which has very little to do with perceived risk and I think a lot to do about the perceived viability of it as a career / life path, and the cultural place of astronauts generally.

I don't think people are getting to the "hmm what are the risks" part, because astronauts aren't really a thing in the way they were, say, 30 years ago. Back then, it seemed at least possible that little Timmy Fifth Grader could become an astronaut if s/he tried hard enough, because there were a whole bunch of Shuttle-era astronauts and the number had been going up year after year (at least in the early Shuttle era).

I'm sure lots of kids are interested in being wilderness firefighters or Air Force test pilots or lots of other dangerous jobs; the danger is outweighed by the coolness of the job. The difference is that there's a pretty clear, if challenging, viable path to becoming a fighter pilot (or a smoke jumper or professional SCUBA diver or whatever). There really isn't one to becoming an astronaut right now, at least in the US. The numbers are so small, and they're picked from such an insanely small pool to begin with, that even if you are, already, a fighter pilot, your odds of joining the astronaut corps are, no pun intended, astronomical.

When they've asked for volunteers, even hypothetically, for one-way suicide squads to colonize Mars, there's no shortage of takers. (Sadly, the company promising even that questionable path to the stars went bankrupt.) NASA's rather extreme safety culture is part of the reason why we don't have a viable human-launch platform. Personally, I think they constantly underrate the public's acceptance of casualties in the name of exploration. I'm pretty sure we could be using surplus ICBMs as launch vehicles and blowing the occasional one up like a bad day in Kerbal Space Program and we'd still have a line of volunteers millions long.

Hell, give me a couple of years and I'd be on that list. Beats drowning in your own fluids while staring at the ceiling of a cut-rate Medicare nursing home, anyway.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:17 PM on July 18 [2 favorites]


I understand the problem with choosing a wildly expensive, less-than-practical ego trip over funding, say, universal healthcare.

It's always funny when this sentiment gets trotted out, as it inevitably does in these threads.


It's not really amusing when arguments are belittled by characterizing them as sentiments. I notice repeated instances in this thread. It doesn't strike me as the most honest tack.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:41 PM on July 18 [1 favorite]


Space: The Final Fund Tear
posted by filtergik at 3:49 PM on July 18 [1 favorite]


It's not really amusing when arguments are belittled by characterizing them as sentiments. I notice repeated instances in this thread. It doesn't strike me as the most honest tack.

It's also less than honest to characterize the alternative to manned spaceflight, in the United States of the early 21st century, as being universal healthcare. The only honest choice in the world we actually live in is between spending that money on manned spaceflight and just giving it to rich people for nothing.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 4:39 PM on July 18 [1 favorite]


It's also less than honest to characterize the alternative to manned spaceflight, in the United States of the early 21st century, as being universal healthcare.

Good thing I didn't do that. I did not postulate that health care was THE alternative to manned space flight. I offered it as one thing that money could be spent on, not as the thing that isn't happening because of MSF.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:41 PM on July 18


It would not be spent on anything other than giving it to rich people for nothing or, possibly, blowing up people we're angry at irrespective of any wrong they did us. Pretending otherwise about Americans just seems foolish. You could cut spaceflight to zero and cut military spending to zero and cut prisons to zero and Americans would still look around at their neighbors dying and suffering for no real reason and, collectively, keep right on not giving a shit.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 7:04 PM on July 18 [3 favorites]



I was Insta-famous and it was one of the worst things to happen in my 20s
:
But it’s also a particularly vicious type of fame because it’s so insecure. Insta-fame is right at the bottom of the glitter hierarchy, widely acknowledged by the genuinely famous as the most fickle and unearned glory – even more than Love Island. You can see where they’re coming from. Most real world famous people earn fame by doing their job really well. But for influencers, your butt shots are your business. So we’re are constantly aware of the tenuousness of our fame, which makes us even more desperate to hold on to it.

It’s also the most numbly exhausting job I’ve ever done. Normally it takes at least five hours to do a professional photo shoot. When you’re an influencer, you need this level of quality but don’t have a team behind you so it becomes incredibly time consuming.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 1:39 AM on July 19


The only honest choice in the world we actually live in is between spending that money on manned spaceflight and just giving it to rich people for nothing.

No, the honest choice is between flushing money down the manned spaceflight toilet, and spending it on actually effective robot probes. For the $30 billion dollars you want to spend to give another white guy a week's vacation on the Moon, we could fund 113 Pathfinder missions to do REAL science.

You know why people aren't enthusiastic about manned space travel? Its because all the real discoveries have been coming from robots. Any future of space travel that isn't basically robots is nostalgic fantasy.

And the thing is, all this verbiage about "The Dream", or "Man's Destiny" is just covering smoke for when the new NASA administrator says "Welp, in order to get the funds to put man on the Moon, we're going to have to shut down the Earth-observing satellite programs." You know, the ones observing anthropic climate change.

Yeah, that's right- I'll put it flatly: the "Put man on the Moon/Mars " crowd are basically dupes for the climate change denial conspiracy.
posted by happyroach at 11:12 AM on July 19


No, the honest choice is between flushing money down the manned spaceflight toilet, and spending it on actually effective robot probes.

What I am saying is that if you cut manned spaceflight, the number of robotic probes wouldn't change, because Americans together don't give a shit.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 12:01 PM on July 19


What I am saying is that if you cut manned spaceflight, the number of robotic probes wouldn't change

This is false. Money and project focus absolutely gets transferred from NASA's uncrewed missions to expensive "evaluate a moon base" type projects when politicians tell them that getting to Mars is a priority. The short term opportunity cost of crewed space missions is quite literally space science.

I had a professor in the late '80s who had worked on the space program pretty much since day one, including the Apollo missions where he did key analysis of lunar samples. (Hopefully that immunizes him from charges of not appreciating the majesty of the universe, and all that, because he was an awesome guy.) He came to class depressed one day because the ISS had been confirming meaning the project he'd worked on for five years--a sensor on a Mars probe--was pretty much guaranteed to dry up.

I don't follow the current funding closely--it's not my field--but even just browsing the front of the book in Science magazine is enough to confirm it's still how this works. Politicians who ask why you aren't doing more to go to Mars also ask why you need yet another climate satellite.

because Americans together don't give a shit.

You have a (admittedly questionable, propaganda-driven) poll saying Americans don't give a shit about sending people into space and a lot of frustration on your part with how Americans aren't as excited as you by the whole idea, but your argument is if we sent people we'd get a blank check for the extra money? This is the equivalent of arguing it makes sense to work for exposure.
posted by mark k at 8:20 PM on July 19 [1 favorite]


if we sent people we'd get a blank check for the extra money? This is the equivalent of arguing it makes sense to work for exposure.

That's pretty much literally how Apollo worked. The American public, via President Kennedy, wanted a person on the Moon, and NASA got something like 3% of the Federal budget to make it happen. There is zero chance they would have gotten funding like that for robotic missions, however scientifically laudable. And I think NASA's funding for years, possibly decades, afterwards was largely because of public goodwill built up during the Apollo era.

Whether there is the same public interest today in, say, a Mars mission that there was for the Moon fifty years ago, is an arguable point. There's certainly not the same Cold War clash-of-civilizations competition aspect going on, but maybe we could get it going with the Chinese or something.

Without manned missions, NASA would be a jobs program. Which isn't to say that it wouldn't exist, because Congress loves jobs programs. But science qua science doesn't get funded, at least not above a paltry amount—space exploration does. You can justify robotic missions as "exploration", but only if they're eventually in some way leading to a manned mission, even if that's decades away.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:30 PM on July 19


This is false. Money and project focus absolutely gets transferred from NASA's uncrewed missions to expensive "evaluate a moon base" type projects when politicians tell them that getting to Mars is a priority.

That's a fair cop. I will admit I was thinking of larger-scale and longer-term things.

In that larger picture, cutting manned spaceflight doesn't help fund robotic science missions (or health care or...). When we axed the remaining Apollo missions, that didn't result in that money or even a nontrivial portion of that money going into robotic science missions. Instead, the NASA budget just shrank, and programs that had begun planning while Apollo was active got reduced or eliminated. Viking reduced, Voyager as a half-assed alternative to the Grand Tour, etc.

your argument is if we sent people we'd get a blank check for the extra money?

That's a shorthand version of how federal budgeting functionally works at the larger programmatic-goal level. When we express our interest in something through elections, we just do that and worry about the money later. We are nowhere near any kind of budgetary frontier where it is remotely necessary to weigh one program against another, and talk that we are is just another product of the right-wing noise machine.

Whatever program you'd like to spend more money on, manned spaceflight or even military spending is not the enemy that's keeping it from happening except in the short term. The problem is never we-can't-afford-to, the problem is always we-don't-actually-want-to.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 7:27 AM on July 20


If you'd rather: there's already a pot of entirely untapped resources of taxation, borrowing, and money-creation that's at minimum a few trillion dollars per year that we choose not to devote to whatever program you're interested in. Reducing, eliminating, or doubling spending on manned spaceflight (or agriculture subsidies or many, many other things) will not materially alter that pot of resources.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 8:23 AM on July 20 [1 favorite]


Things have an opportunity cost*. If you aren't talking hypotheticals, then as I said in the real exist world the money is coming from other science programs which I think are more valuable.

If you assert that you can get us $10 billion or $100 billion more for the budget, the question is still where do you want to put it? Saying it should go to crewed missions instead of robotic missions, basic science research, NIH funding, infrastructure upgrades, student debt relief, appropriately staffed & supervised immigration courts, or indeed the cliche "universal healthcare" is a valid question. It doesn't actually take that many $20 billion dollar programs to eat up another trillion.

In that sense you are right that I "don't actually want to" fund space flight, as there are just a lot of other things I'd want to fund more and I'd have to cross something I like more off my list.


*And yes, this is true even under MMT, which I'm willing to dive into if you really want to.
posted by mark k at 7:32 PM on July 20


I am following this discussion with interest and just want to say thank you to mark k for using the more inclusive term "crewed" rather than "manned".
posted by cynical pinnacle at 12:52 PM on July 21


I will shut up after this as I expect we are at axiomatic levels of disagreement but:

Take "Americans' preferences" as a shorthand for those collective preferences implied by who we actually elect and what those people do, as mediated by how we elect people.

Of course there is an opportunity cost. If Americans had different preferences, rich people would see the numbers describing their bank accounts increase more slowly and perhaps even might have to purchase somewhat less dumb shit.

I think our disagreement is about where the problem lies.

If you think that government and politics in the early 21st century US is at base a broadly rational exercise in policymaking and that the budget is more or less fixed for real phsyical-or-technical reasons, then of course it makes sense to view programs as competing with each other. Then we are all crabs in the same pot, and the only way to get more for a program you think is worthwhile is to take it from one you think is less worthwhile. Then, the problem with robotic science missions is that other programs get in the way.

I do not think that is the problem, and I don't think the GOP cares about policy one whit any more. They're an id-driven, purely electoral beast and have been repeatedly rewarded for moves in that direction. I think the problem with robotic science missions is that (too many) Americans don't care about them, just like we don't care about crewed spaceflight, just like we don't care about NIH funding, just like we don't care about infrastructure or health care. What we seem to actually care about is being horrible to everyone who isn't a straight anglo man, blowing up peasants, and handing sacks of money to rich people. And, lo, we get those things with zero concern about what it costs. Not two years ago, we handed trillions of dollars to rich people in exchange for absolutely nothing, and we haven't had any real concerns about the costs of our eternal wars for 18 years now.

If you somehow got Americans to care more about space science than blowing people up, then we'd just do that and the budgetarily-inconsequential sum spent on crewed spaceflight would be an irrelevance more than a competitor. If you don't get Americans to care more about space science than making war or handing money to rich people and we keep electing the nihilistic fuckups in the GOP, it doesn't matter how much you cut crewed programs, because that money won't transfer in any significant way to robotic science missions. It will just get handed to rich people or used to make bombs, because robotic science missions don't own the libs.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 1:47 PM on July 21


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