...Space needs to be more than just a science project.
Michael Hiltzik has put out a good read on criticizing the terrible Mr. T's call for more manned space exploration. I recommend you give it a look. And I can tell you from the start that it's hard to find any fault with his argument.
In the context of doing science in the most efficient manner possible, he is absolutely correct in maintaining that robot probes are the best way to go. And in this time of competing priorities one does need to be very mindful of priority triage. If it ain't about to bleed out, or stop breathing, in some way, it needs to be set aside for a while until we take care of the more pressing matters. And as pressing matters go, climate change is right up there with an entire eco system about to bleed out, and stop breathing.
I couldn't agree more when you think about space development in general in the narrow context of just extracting science. But you really do need to ask the question: can we afford to be thinking about space only in those terms?
A big part of the problem here is precisely that we have no real, robust, space entry, and space operations infrastructure. And making that, to the degree that it would have real impact, is going to take some serious lead time. So then the question is: When do you make time to do the lead time to get where you can do a lot more manned, or unmanned. And make no mistake, we will need that infrastructure. If for no other reason than we simply cannot allow our species to have all of its eggs (literally) in one basket.
My perspective is all about "how can I leverage things so that I am addressing as many things at the same time as is humanly possible." Hence the call for not only global cooperation, but specifically targeted cooperation. Building Tornado Turbines at sea is an example in point. Working together to make large, liquid hydrogen production streams possible, does exactly that. It puts a proper replacement fuel on a priority production list. It starts the bridge building for more cooperative projects. It starts the terrestrial infrastructure for sea based platforms, platforms made of bio responsible materials that will give the less developed world a new cash crop, even as it also gives the world the ability to quickly assemble floating cities (so the displaced will have somewhere to live when the sea levels rise), and lastly, it also makes it possible to build a space launch system worthy of large throughput operations. The kind of volume handling capacities that would make every day industry out there viable.
I am talking here about building under water, suspended tunnels. Tunnels that start very deep, positioned somewhere along the equator, extending at least two hundred fifty, to three hundred miles in length, rising up at a shallow angle from the sea floor so that, with the last thousand feet or so, you have the exit up, out of the water, and pointing towards the stars. And in this tunnel you put a mass driver system. A system that can put at least a 100 ton payload into near earth orbit, and do it at least once every hour. Twenty four seven. It seems to me that it wouldn't take a huge number of such tunnels, spread around the equator, to have yourself the equivalent of a space launch rail road. At which point a great many options become a great deal more practical.
I emphasize all of this because it is my firm belief that the cosmos needs us out there being, and making, just as much as we need the space to grow in. We need the new sense of frontier, it needs to be perceived, studied, appreciated, and lived in, just as much. It needs this to keep itself from going into that ultimate cold of no further variation. The differential boundaries where all the real change always happens. But sentient beings, as meaning processors, using their hold on meaning space to make good choices, so as to build thoughtful, loving structure, in as many "out there's" as possible. Showing exactly why meaning space, and physical space can work to not only make each other, but to make something worthy of thoughtful, loving people.
On the face of it this may seem like really, way out there, long term thinking, but I assure you it is not. It is simply lining your ducks up now to get, and keep, that leverage thing going in the first place. Once you start in on a more completely integrated path, there is never, really, any one thing you need to finish in order to start receiving benefit. This is so because there is truth to the idea that the right path, the right journey, is the main benefit all on its own. And I can also assure you that, if we can find that right path; that right journey, we will know it, and feel it down to the bone.
By Michael Hiltzik