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Neil deGrasse Tyson Says Private Business Will Not Open the Space Frontier

samzenpus posted about a year ago | from the what-the-market-will-bear dept.

Space 580

MarkWhittington writes "Neil deGrasse Tyson, the famous astrophysicist and media personality, offered something of a reality check on the potential of commercial enterprises to open the space frontier without the aid of government. Specifically referencing SpaceX's CEO Elon Musk's boast that he would establish a Mars colony, Tyson said on a recent video podcast, 'It's not possible. Space is dangerous. It's expensive. There are unquantified risks. Combine all of those under one umbrella; you cannot establish a free market capitalization of that enterprise.'"

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I suspect he's right. (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44714165)

But I hope he's wrong. Chances of anyone in government coming together for long enough to get something like this done again are slim, especially without a military reason.

I suspect he's wrong. (1, Insightful)

gargleblast (683147) | about a year ago | (#44714291)

And I suspect he should look up the definition of the word Entrepreneur sometime.

Re:I suspect he's wrong. (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44714315)

Yes, because you, a random slashdot poster, are obviously more intelligent and insightful than one of the brightest minds of our time.

Re:I suspect he's wrong. (2)

SealBeater (143912) | about a year ago | (#44714349)

I'm sure the odds of that happening are not impossible.

Not, it is NOT impossible ... (3, Insightful)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | about a year ago | (#44714421)

... but at the current pricing, it is still HIGHLY improbable.

Although entrepreneurship can go very VERY FAR, it still needs to follow what the balance sheet tells it to do.

After all, businesses survive/thrive purely because of profit, and no business can engage in loss-making endeavor for too long.

Re:Not, it is NOT impossible ... (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44714647)

... but at the current pricing, it is still HIGHLY improbable.

Although entrepreneurship can go very VERY FAR, it still needs to follow what the balance sheet tells it to do.

After all, businesses survive/thrive purely because of profit, and no business can engage in loss-making endeavor for too long.

Not quite sure whether to laugh or cry at the amount of irony coming from this when referring to a country that is trillions in debt. Seems "for too long" has been redefined.

Re:I suspect he's wrong. (4, Insightful)

tmosley (996283) | about a year ago | (#44714397)

Actually, that is very likely. Simply being intelligent doesn't make you immune to bias, especially in areas outside of your expertise (here an astrophysicist is playing at being an economist). Liberals tend to look down on industry while believing strongly in government.

Re:I suspect he's wrong. (5, Interesting)

FPhlyer (14433) | about a year ago | (#44714489)

Exactly. Neil deGrasse Tyson is certainly an intelligent and articulate voice for science but we all have bias and he's not immune.
In this case, Tyson has been on the front lines of advocating increasing NASA's budget. When private industry begins talking about doing the things that have traditionally been done within NASA for cheaper, this becomes an argument against increasing government funding for space exploration.

Re:I suspect he's wrong. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44714641)

I happen to agree with you. He is making statements about big business, industry and government that has to many variables to forecast the future. So many times things have been accomplished by private interests, with or without government investment or involvement that have taken the world in a direction that was not planned for. Space travel is no more dangerous today then many other endeavors in the past. If you
consider that technology advances along with each attempt making it more possible and feasible if the first attempt(s) fail making it likely to happen by more people, groups, business, governments, etc......
I am sure that it will be a mixture of many parties to move forward into space. So far government exclusiveness has moved us along at a safe and restrictive pace, they are not normally risk takers in many ways. This where the rich with interest in space will be involved. They will move things along and government will follow getting involved in their own way while hopefully staying out of the way. Its not all about profit only. Is Bill Gates only trying to solve some of the worlds health issue just for profit? There are many million, billionaires that are providing their resources to solve big problem without doing it just for profit without government(s).
Only considering how expensive something is, is short sighted and not productive. Taking chances is one of the ways great things are done and discovered. I respect Mr. Tyson's view, but i don't agree. I know, i should have just said that in the first place.

Re:I suspect he's wrong. (4, Insightful)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year ago | (#44714683)

especially in areas outside of your expertise

An astrophysicist telling a car engineer that space is dangerous and that the space people don't know all the risks? Surely he's way outside his comfort zone here!

Re:I suspect he's wrong. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44714685)

here an astrophysicist is playing at being an economist

I think an astrophysicist is playing someone who knows a bit more about the risks of space exploration than the average Slashdot poster, who I might add is also not immune to bias.

Re:I suspect he's wrong. (5, Funny)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year ago | (#44714673)

And I suspect he should look up the definition of the word Entrepreneur sometime.

A USS Enterprise crew member?

Re:I suspect he's right. (5, Insightful)

Penguinisto (415985) | about a year ago | (#44714347)

He's probably both.

I can prove him wrong with two words: commercial satellites.

I can prove him semi-right with a slightly higher word count: It will likely take some heavy-duty research to help get the costs down to under $100/kg or so, but once it hits that threshold, then you'll likely find a shitload of companies falling all over themselves to strip-mine space for everything from aluminum to methane (assuming a vessel could be made to send the stuff down w/o it burning/boiling off during re-entry.) It'll also open up colonization, albeit on a small scale.

The reasons why? Sure there's unlimited distances, but there's also unlimited potential for wealth, and a lot of folks are going to give it a shot. Most will fail miserably. Many will see death, dismemberment, and spectacular horror. A few however will succeed - some will do so enough to make them wealthier than anyone could imagine.

Not much different from the state of things in 1493 Europe, if you think about it.

Re:I suspect he's right. (5, Informative)

VortexCortex (1117377) | about a year ago | (#44714569)

I can prove him wrong with two words: commercial satellites.

I watched a speech to the space society where he stated this message a bit more clearly, I think. Tyson means the Frontier will be "opened", as in "trail blazed" by the governments. Once you can get a person to Mars, then private industry has much more data to make the calculated risks. Massive uncalculated risk? That's not a valid business strategy, really. However, a government can allocate more funds as needed, and push forth a frontier for the good of mankind. Money isn't much of issue for governments (look at the size of the US's war budget, for example).

Inspiring the people by pushing the frontier even further has shown beneficial in both economic and social terms in the past. This new generation has no Neil or Buzz. The ISS is hugely valuable, but we're still whipping around in the same near Earth orbit. That's not nearly as captivating, or inspiring to the average Jane or Joe.

Take commercial space satellites. You didn't disprove shit, man. Guess who "opened" that frontier first? Governments. Neil is saying the Governments will blaze the trails and make way for the private space industry for the benefit of all. We all benefit from satellites now, but that private industry remained grounded until governments took the first steps.

Re:I suspect he's right. (4, Interesting)

Rakishi (759894) | about a year ago | (#44714681)

Governments have already done the trail blazing for where it matters. There is nothing of worth on Mars, it's inside a gravity well with barely an atmosphere and no radiation protection. The money isn't in shipping a handful of people to a red rock for millions and burying them under twisty feet of rock.

The money is in all the easier to access and easier to reach natural resources in asteroids and outside the giant gravity wells. There may also be some money in cheaper local tourism. As the cost per person goes up, the total amount of money you can make goes down as your potential market shrinks much faster than the price grows.

These are all things which aren't even being commercially exploited. Blazing a trail into the jungle doesn't benefit anyone that much if you're starting from a dinky little 2 man outpost that the commercial routes won't reach for twenty years. Looks at colonization. The governments brazed a trail to the coasts but it was the commercial fur traders who really explored the inside of the US.

Re:I suspect he's right. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44714573)

Yeah, and who did practically all of the "new continents exploration"? Exactly, the Spanish, English, Portugese, etc. royal governments. None of that would've been possible if the government hadn't funded practically all of the major initial investments, just as with space exploration: SpaceX would have to spend orders of magnitude more in research (=prohibitive) if they hadn't access to all the NASA data.

Sure the private sector is very good at commercialising a field and reaping the benefits, but not so much at building it, just look at history...

captcha: fogging

Re:I suspect he's right. (2)

nospam007 (722110) | about a year ago | (#44714659)

"I can prove him wrong with two words: commercial satellites."

That's not exactly space. Also, those were launched by Russian, American or European state sponsored rockets.

Since it seems to be even impossible to grow corn without government aid I fear he's right.

Re:I suspect he's right. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44714519)

I suspect he is right about *Mars*, I'm not sure there's much to gain from landing people on a hunk of rock and dust at the bottom of a big gravity well. However going out and 'mining' the asteroid belt with robot ships, or even moving asteroids into earth orbit to mine closer to home, could potentially be lucrative for rare earth materials, etc.

Re:I suspect he's right. (2)

Chrisq (894406) | about a year ago | (#44714547)

But I hope he's wrong. Chances of anyone in government coming together for long enough to get something like this done again are slim, especially without a military reason.

.... unless you mean the Chinese government perhaps.

There have always been doubters (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44714167)

Now watch Elon Musk do it anyway.

Re:There have always been doubters (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44714183)

Now watch Elon Musk do it anyway.

Not a chance in hell. C'mon SpaceX can barely put a satellite in LEO let alone a man or a space station.
And you want me to believe that this guys is going to develop an infrastructure to send someone to Mars and back ? Dream on.

Why back? (1)

SuperKendall (25149) | about a year ago | (#44714197)

And you want me to believe that this guys is going to develop an infrastructure to send someone to Mars and back?

When you only have to stat with "there" the problem is much easier to solve. And we know there are hundreds of thousands glad for the opportunity.

And it's not even that hard to be honest. I fully expect him to accomplish that task, and many beyond that.

Re: There have always been doubters (1)

Miguel Castro (3035169) | about a year ago | (#44714237)

Isn't the ISS in LEO? They already delivered supplies there and they were the first private business to do so, if they can get supplies up what's so difficult about getting astronauts up?

Re: There have always been doubters (0)

meglon (1001833) | about a year ago | (#44714253)

...and yet they didn't plan it, engineer it, build it, or pay for it.... you're giving them a lot of credit for being nothing more than a taxi service.

Re: There have always been doubters (4, Insightful)

bruce_the_loon (856617) | about a year ago | (#44714293)

They did plan it, engineer it, build it and pay for it. Falcon and Dragon was their accomplishment.

Unless you're talking about the space station, which is then scraping the slimy mud under the bottom of the barrel. That's like saying the first transatlantic flight was not a massive credit to the builders and aviators because the towns were already there and built by other people.

Re: There have always been doubters (1)

crakbone (860662) | about a year ago | (#44714645)

They did plan to get to the station, They did engineer brand new state of the art rocket engines that run on different fuel, they did build it in a state of the art brand new factility, and they did pay for it with less money than the cost of one nuclear submarine. Now you could argue that the money was from government contracts for transport to ISS, But I would argue right back, that NO ONE does transport for as cheap as they do. One launch is cheaper than a ride on a russian rocket and SpaceX had multiple cargo. And that Tesla fully paid back it's government loan ahead of schedule. So can you really honestly say that NASA could have, rebuilt its rocket program from the bottom up, designed and built a manufacturing center for it, as well as a launch center with testing for the rockets for less than the cost of three shuttle launches?

Re:There have always been doubters (2)

Gavagai80 (1275204) | about a year ago | (#44714403)

LEO to Mars isn't such a gap -- remember that the first Mars probe (Mars 1, 1962) was launched only 5 years after the first satellite (Sputnik, 1957). Now the manned part, yes, is far more complex.

Re:There have always been doubters (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44714191)

This is what's going to happen. People like Musk and Branson don't do this kind of thing just because it'll turn a profit, they do it because it's awesome and they have money to burn on awesome things. But they are also the type of people who think things through - while they have money to burn, they're not going to burn it killing people because they didn't do the science first.

on a related note (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44714177)

there is no way that you can sail across the ocean, there is no way you can fly, there is no way you can go to space, there is no way you can land on the moon.

Its always great to put people down but what have you done lately mr tyson.

Re:on a related note (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44714219)

there is no way that you can sail across the ocean, there is no way you can fly, there is no way you can go to space, there is no way you can land on the moon.

Its always great to put people down but what have you done lately mr tyson.

And guess what, all those enterprises were founded/financed by governments. Columbus would have never sailed without the Spanish King and Queen giving him the funds. Landing on the moon wouldn't have been possibile without the focus of the entire US space related firms under NASA and government spending over the course of a decade. As for flying you realise yes that flying was always been a losing economic proposition and that if an industry exists today it is because of heavy government intervention during the first 50 or so years (and they had to kill the train to achieve that) of the 20th century ?

Go spout your free market drivel someplace else Mr Anonymous Coward.

Re:on a related note (1)

tmosley (996283) | about a year ago | (#44714445)

This is quite literally the most hypocritical post I have ever read.

You should probably log in if you are going to criticize someone for posting anonymously. Might also want to think for five seconds before you post your own drivel.

Columbus' voyages were the equivalent of SpaceX. He got FUNDING from the crown. The ships were built and equipped privately, and were crewed by private citizens, not members of the Spanish military. Landing on the Moon I will give you, but I guess you forgot that NASA had a government granted monopoly on space flight until Reagan.

And as for flight, you are insane. Where do you come up with this shit? The government created...what, exactly? They had to...kill the train? You mean by nationalizing trains and running them into the ground like all government sponsored enterprises, while air travel remained free, with plenty of competition, until the government started interfering heavily in the industry, leading it to become the government-sponsered molestation industry it is today?

I would suggest that if anyone needs to take their drivel elsewhere, it is you.

Re:on a related note (1)

AK Marc (707885) | about a year ago | (#44714671)

And guess what, all those enterprises were founded/financed by governments. Columbus would have never sailed without the Spanish King and Queen giving him the funds. Landing on the moon wouldn't have been possibile without the focus of the entire US space related firms under NASA and government spending over the course of a decade. As for flying you realise yes that flying was always been a losing economic proposition and that if an industry exists today it is because of heavy government intervention during the first 50 or so years (and they had to kill the train to achieve that) of the 20th century ?

How many active government satellites are up in space? There are few GEO slots available, 180 slots, and every one is claimed, the vast majority populated with active satellites. Iridium, and some others in LEO/MEO, against spy satellites and GPS, sounds like there are more private satellites up than public.

New stuff is usually government because profit-motivated people are risk averse. You are incorrectly assuming risk aversion in the current private space pioneers.

Re:on a related note (2)

Penguinisto (415985) | about a year ago | (#44714355)

Its always great to put people down but what have you done lately mr tyson.

...he whacked Pluto with smug satisfaction.

(yeah, still kinda mad about that one...)

Doesn't matter. Only option. (5, Insightful)

Seumas (6865) | about a year ago | (#44714179)

It doesn't really matter, because private sector is our only option. Adjusted for inflation, we spent more in each year of our last dozen years of military actions than on NASA in 55 years. Doubling NASA's budget seems trivial. Hell, tripling or quadrupling it (especially in consideration for the kinds of returns we get, technologically and economically across all of society) seems insignificant.

But it isn't going to happen.

If we wait for a government and a citizenry that is more compelled by blowing up brown people overseas and pushing authoritarian and corporate agendas, it is never going to happen.

If we wait for a government and a citizenry that doesn't want to spend the money to cure cancer, cure aids, feed starving people -- all things that are entirely reasonable with fractions of the funding we spend on some of the most controversial and possibly unnecessary expenses in this country -- then what fucking hope have we of ever finding the progressive spirit for human advancement within our collective selves for funding space efforts?

Re:Doesn't matter. Only option. (5, Interesting)

meglon (1001833) | about a year ago | (#44714269)

The current lifetime projected budget cost for just the F-35 program is equivalent to about 75 years of NASA funding. The other part of that, of course, is that they recalculate the lifetime cost of the F-35 about every 12-18 months... and it keeps skyrocketing every time they do.

Re:Doesn't matter. Only option. (1)

AHuxley (892839) | about a year ago | (#44714329)

Yes the US private sector is going to have to re invent what Germans taught the USA years ago but long term it will be great.
More real local jobs again, real science, real data and real costs.
Groups, institutions and companies world wide will have more options and see missions they could never afford been launched.
As the tech gets cheaper more companies will be able to enter the market too.
No more slowing a science or an imaging project due to politics, an epic boondoggle or hidden costs :)

Re:Doesn't matter. Only option. (2)

Errol backfiring (1280012) | about a year ago | (#44714483)

More real local jobs again, real science, real data and real costs.

Why is that? people from India are at least as smart an those from the USA, but a lot cheaper. And Russians can read their own theory (theory of space travel was largely developed by Russians, the practical problems were largely solved by the Germans) for a fraction of the price it takes for an American to do it. If programming is outsourced, why not rocket science? It's not exactly speculative finance, you know.

No more slowing a science or an imaging project due to politics, an epic boondoggle or hidden costs :)

Like in digital publishing you mean? That is even more boring than rocket science, but to say that "private sector"=="no politics" is simply not true.

And off course there is another thing. If you can launch anything into space, it will be abused before you know it. A satellite launching missile can easily be abused as an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. Or you could orbit GPS jammers, targeted lasers, guided solar mirrors, chaffs of debris to disable other satellites, or any other stuff you know from James Bond villains. Do you really think politicians will stay out of that?

I need to write a subject for this prattle? (1)

Miguel Castro (3035169) | about a year ago | (#44714199)

Well, Musk had to get government aid for Tesla so I assume he'll need it for SpaceX too and won't be able to do it without at least financial aid but with it, I'm sure SpaceX can pull it off. Plus they'll be able to cut costs if they succeed with those Grasshopper experiments.

Really? (1, Insightful)

msmonroe (2511262) | about a year ago | (#44714201)

Yeah just lost some respect for some one that I would normally say is brilliant. Space is risky and people are going to die, that's an unfortunate fact of life. I don't think government changes that for a lot of reasons. Usually exploration of a frontier is done historically by those seeking profit even if a government originally financed the exploration.

Re:Really? (1, Informative)

Spy Handler (822350) | about a year ago | (#44714283)

He's a govt/NASA guy. Not saying that's necessarily a bad thing, there are many very smart people there, but you gotta figure whatever he says represents the gov't/Big Aerospace point of view.

Wrong (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44714209)

Of course you can. All that is needed is to socialize the costs and privatize the profits (US Big Biz 101).

Neil DeGrasse Tyson may be right - now, but... (4, Insightful)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about a year ago | (#44714223)

It's not possible. Space is dangerous.

So was crossing the atlantic in a boat. So was heavier-than-air flight. So was getting into space in the first place. So was going to the toilet in the middle of the night 100 years ago.

It's expensive.

So was... well, you see where I'm going with this.

Re:Neil DeGrasse Tyson may be right - now, but... (3, Insightful)

phantomfive (622387) | about a year ago | (#44714245)

Yeah, he said " Space is dangerous. It's expensive. There are unquantified risks."

And he thinks that will stop private enterprise? If the potential for profit is there, then those have never posed an obstacle. The hard part is preventing business from sacrificing life and limb in pursuit of profit.

Re:Neil DeGrasse Tyson may be right - now, but... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44714337)

And he thinks that will stop private enterprise? If the potential for profit is there, then those have never posed an obstacle. The hard part is preventing business from sacrificing public life and limb in pursuit of private profit

FTFY

Re:Neil DeGrasse Tyson may be right - now, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44714345)

And he thinks that will stop private enterprise? If the potential for profit is there, then those have never posed an obstacle. The hard part is preventing business from sacrificing life and limb in pursuit of profit.

What potential for profit? Ain't no terbinium on Mars.

Re:Neil DeGrasse Tyson may be right - now, but... (4, Insightful)

asmkm22 (1902712) | about a year ago | (#44714407)

Commercial businesses need more than just "potential" profit, especially if they are going to be spending the insane amounts of money that space exploration will demand. There is currently no company that can realistically make something like a moon colony happen, much less a mars colony, because there needs to be some kind of return of investment.

We can't even get a company to successfully trail blaze and revolutionize a source of clean energy to replace fossil fuels, so I don't know how in the world anyone thinks we'll do something even more difficult, expensive, and risky like manned space exploration any time soon.

It's not a lost cause, however. It's just not something that's going to happen until a mars rover unearths a huge diamond deposit, or discovers some martian species capable of picking fruit for cheaper than the Mexicans. THEN, you can bet your ass some company will step up and suddenly have a plan.

Re:Neil DeGrasse Tyson may be right - now, but... (1)

dkf (304284) | about a year ago | (#44714563)

Commercial businesses need more than just "potential" profit, especially if they are going to be spending the insane amounts of money that space exploration will demand.

And yet lots of businesses do things for potential profit, and have done for centuries. It's about balancing risk and costs against what you can gain for it. (Now, if they can avoid sending people that'll keep costs down a lot in the early parts, at least until it is demonstrated that the profit can actually be realised.)

Re:Neil DeGrasse Tyson may be right - now, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44714679)

We can't even get a company to successfully trail blaze and revolutionize a source of clean energy to replace fossil fuels, so I don't know how in the world anyone thinks we'll do something even more difficult, expensive, and risky like manned space exploration any time soon.

The reason why getting rid of fossil fuels is hard is that there is a huge industry that doesn't want us to. There are no entrenched interests that oppose space colonization.

Re:Neil DeGrasse Tyson may be right - now, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44714543)

Yeah, he said " Space is dangerous. It's expensive. There are unquantified risks."

Sail too far and you'll fall off the edge of the earth, y'know, where those maps say "there be dragons"... don't want to go there, too many unquantified risks.

Re:Neil DeGrasse Tyson may be right - now, but... (2)

gutnor (872759) | about a year ago | (#44714653)

Not to rain on your parade, but yes those 3 elements are show stopper for private enterprise, especially the unquantified bit. Getting the government covering your asses for some/all of those aspect is what it takes to kick start a market. Once the unquantifiable has been quantified, that's when the fun begin.

For example, did you see a boom in private space exploration in the 70's ?

Seems to me here that the only disagreement is to know if we have passed the threshold that make commercial colonisation of space viable or not. Tyson thinks more leg work needs to be done by the government (you know killing people, crashing a few billion on a rock). Musk is of the opposite opinion. Both have very good basis to talk as they are.

We will see, there have been many many claim of commercial operation in the space. It is only very recently that a tiny bit of it has actually materialised. I'm still waiting for my Moon resort and my orbit hotel that were promised in the 90's.

Re:Neil DeGrasse Tyson may be right - now, but... (0)

betterprimate (2679747) | about a year ago | (#44714271)

It's not possible. Space is dangerous.

So was crossing the atlantic in a boat. So was heavier-than-air flight. So was getting into space in the first place. So was going to the toilet in the middle of the night 100 years ago.

It's expensive.

So was... well, you see where I'm going with this.

I see where you're going... you're regressing. None of your lousy irrational examples are even comparable to space exploration and colonization. Not to mention of even creating and sustaining a market out of it, which is his point. Besides, we've been crossing the Atlantic for thousands of years.

Re:Neil DeGrasse Tyson may be right - now, but... (1)

tmosley (996283) | about a year ago | (#44714459)

"Besides, we've been crossing the Atlantic for thousands of years."

Yes, you clearly know your stuff. Everyone should pay attention to your ideas, which aren't crazy or stupid in the least.

Re:Neil DeGrasse Tyson may be right - now, but... (3, Insightful)

DerekLyons (302214) | about a year ago | (#44714287)

It's not possible. Space is dangerous.

So was crossing the atlantic in a boat. So was heavier-than-air flight.

But there were riches to be had if you risked that crossing in a boat - there isn't in space. Etc... etc... And, as he notes and you conveniently ignore, the Atlantic wasn't opened by private enterprise. The same goes for heaver-than-air flight. From the NACA to the enormous jumpstart that came from truckloads goverment cash spending on research, training pilots (who later became available for civil employment), aircraft production, etc... etc... (especially in the two world wars)
 
Cheap soundbites only make you look wise to the uneducated and kool-aid swillers.

Re:Neil DeGrasse Tyson may be right - now, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44714373)

But there were riches to be had if you risked that crossing in a boat - there isn't in space.

Wut? No riches in space? If there are no riches in space then there are no riches down here either.

YAAFM

Re:Neil DeGrasse Tyson may be right - now, but... (2)

Jade_Wayfarer (1741180) | about a year ago | (#44714529)

The same goes for heaver-than-air flight.

Oh yes, the famous Smithsonian Institute spent hundreds of thousand of taxpayers dollars over the several years to create the marvel of heavier-than-air unmanned flying machine. It's not that some small bicycle company then took that ideas and made a first controllable manned airplane. Ridiculous notion, truly.

Re:Neil DeGrasse Tyson may be right - now, but... (1)

JaredOfEuropa (526365) | about a year ago | (#44714593)

Heavier-than-air flight got started pretty much because of private enterprise. Government was quick to exploit the new possibilities it afforded (especially around the wars) but the truckloads of government cash did not come in before privately funded R&D paved the way. And even Columbus' idea of a westward route to Asia carried a profit motive. Half of the cost of his voyages was put up by private investors. There is no reason to believe either of those things would not have happened if government hadn't stepped in. The fact that they did step in doesn't change this, even if it did provide a boost.

There are vast riches to be had from space. The problem is that it'll take many years and huge outlays of cash before we can get at them, and even then it will be a seriously risky undertaking; not something investors will jump on eagerly. Tyson argues that you can't find private funding for something that won't pay out for decades, with a good chance it will not pay out at all, and he has a good point there. I wouldn't invest in a privately funded Mars colony (I might sponsor one but that's not the same thing). However, it may well turn out that there are profits to be found on the stepping stones towards the end-goal: a Mars colony. Significantly lowering launch costs (which Musk explicitly mentioned as one of the goals of SpaceX) may bring them enough revenue and investors to finance the next step.

Re:Neil DeGrasse Tyson may be right - now, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44714299)

Yes but crossing the ocean was a lot less risky and expensive than building space ships etc... Right now we're basically building rafts for space when we should be building ships.

Re:Neil DeGrasse Tyson may be right - now, but... (1)

tmosley (996283) | about a year ago | (#44714465)

The Polynesians didn't see much wrong with that.

Also, you are forgetting scurvy. Space travel is a LOT less dangerous than sea travel was during the age of sail.

Re:Neil DeGrasse Tyson may be right - now, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44714331)

The problem is that getting into space requires several tonnes of fuel per kilogram of payload. It takes quite a large amount of energy to escape Earth's gravity, and there's simply no way to make space travel cheap if it takes that much fuel.

Re:Neil DeGrasse Tyson may be right - now, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44714425)

I didn't realize that crossing the Atlantic involved traversing millions of miles through a freezing vacuum, while being bombarded with high intensity radiation.

Re:Neil DeGrasse Tyson may be right - now, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44714535)

So was crossing the atlantic in a boat.

That's why it was exclusive to government-funded expeditions for decades.

So was heavier-than-air flight.

That's why is was largely exclusive to enthusiasts until the governments had a sudden need for hundreds of aircraft and trained pilots (in WW1). Civil airliners were spun off later (and until way after WW2 either spin-offs of bomber aircraft or related developments).

So was... well, you see where I'm going with this.

Re:Neil DeGrasse Tyson may be right - now, but... (1)

Farmer Tim (530755) | about a year ago | (#44714567)

So was... well, you see where I'm going with this.

I'm pretty sure going to the toilet in the middle of the night costs as much as it ever did (unless you count accidentally dropping your phone in).

Re:Neil DeGrasse Tyson may be right - now, but... (1)

poena.dare (306891) | about a year ago | (#44714609)

"So was crossing the atlantic in a boat."

'Tis true, Until we find natives on another planet foolishly hoarding natural resources, that are ripe for exploitation and conquest, then commercial space programs are doomed.

Until then our only hope (stop, please stop, thinking about making a joke there) is some crazy idiot backed by a second-rate global player who thinks he can find a quicker route from San Jose to San Francisco via Mars.

Re:Neil DeGrasse Tyson may be right - now, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44714651)

So was crossing the atlantic in a boat. So was heavier-than-air flight. So was getting into space in the first place. So was going to the toilet in the middle of the night 100 years ago.

The first and third of those were government funded in the beginning, which was his argument.

Actually not the first time he made that argument... he's been saying it for years.

Oil Discovered On Mars (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44714225)

Federal Funding For Mars Mission Approved

Re:Oil Discovered On Mars (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44714235)

Federal Funding For Mars Mission Approved

Stop waging wars and giving tens of billions of dollars to corrupt spy agencies.
Presto, you've got more money than you shake a stick at, give some of it to NASA.

Re:Oil Discovered On Mars (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44714243)

Declare war on Mars............because those native Martians hate teh freedoms.

Re:Oil Discovered On Mars (0)

tmosley (996283) | about a year ago | (#44714475)

The US doesn't declare wars, and hasn't since Korea.

Well, except on concepts. But it loses all of those.

Re:Oil Discovered On Mars (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about a year ago | (#44714267)

Already used up that excuse on asteroids [planetaryresources.com] , alas. Maybe if China says they're gonna do it?

SpaceX is impressive, but... (4, Insightful)

jfruh (300774) | about a year ago | (#44714255)

...to say that it's an example of free enterprise in space is laughable. The company's most high-profile missions -- the Dragon capsules to and from the ISS -- are fully paid for by NASA. SpaceX is essentially a government contractor. It's "profitable" because the government is paying it do things (and because it can do those things more efficiently than the government could itself, for a variety of structural reasons). So, yeah, I have no doubt that Elon Musk could set up a Mars colony if the U.S. government paid him to do it. I'm just not sure that really constitutes "private business" doing the job.

Re:SpaceX is impressive, but... (1)

c0lo (1497653) | about a year ago | (#44714393)

...to say that it's an example of free enterprise in space is laughable. The company's most high-profile missions -- the Dragon capsules to and from the ISS -- are fully paid for by NASA. SpaceX is essentially a government contractor. It's "profitable" because the government is paying it do things (and because it can do those things more efficiently than the government could itself, for a variety of structural reasons). So, yeah, I have no doubt that Elon Musk could set up a Mars colony if the U.S. government paid him to do it. I'm just not sure that really constitutes "private business" doing the job.

Hang on.... before NASA paying SpaceX to do things... wasn't it a period of time when SpaceX took the risk of developing its capabilities without being funded by the govt?

Re:SpaceX is impressive, but... (5, Insightful)

shia84 (1985626) | about a year ago | (#44714669)

If by "developing its capabilities" you mean "analysing, understanding and applying NASA knowledge from the last 5 decades" to which they have full access then yes, they did that at some point and are still doing it. However, I'd be very surprised if their own research added even close to 1% to the heap. Just look at the outright silly disparity in amount, scale and scope of experiments, the size of the funding and R&D staff, etc. between the two.

They are basically a private extension of NASA with a significantly less risk averse decision making process, but also much less accountability. Not that I have anything against that, I think SpaceX is awesome, but I also do think that Tyson is mostly right.

Re: SpaceX is impressive, but... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44714409)

Look at their launch manifest and you will see that ISS launches are a small minority. SpaceX has LOTS of commercial launches lined up.

Besides: NASA is just another customer, their money is as good as anyone else's.

Re:SpaceX is impressive, but... (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44714423)

SpaceX's launch manifest is right here: http://www.spacex.com/missions

Of the remaining four launches this year, only one is for NASA. Indeed, only one is for a US-based customer.
Of the twelve launches next year, three are for NASA and one is for the US Air Force. One is a launch demo so that obviously doesn't count, but that's still seven out of eleven launches going somewhere other than the US Government.

I don't really see SpaceX as being just a government contractor. It has plenty of customers, some of which are governments, and it actively seeks more by bringing launch costs down lower than any government agency has done in the past.

The real questions are:

1) Is there any profit to be made in colonizing space with human presence? If yes, then as someone else said, the hard part will be stopping them from doing so.
2) If there isn't, since Elon Musk is a bit of a space colonization nut, can he make enough profit off of his other business to finance a colony out of sspare change?

CARL SAGAN ROLLING IN GRAVE !! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44714257)

A billllion times already with this Tyson guy making a mockery of space !! The final frontier !! Notice how man has gone NOWHERE since Sagan was killed off !!

Re:CARL SAGAN ROLLING IN GRAVE !! (1)

FPhlyer (14433) | about a year ago | (#44714501)

Not a billion times. Rather "billions and billions" of times.

Years late to the party (2)

DerekLyons (302214) | about a year ago | (#44714259)

I've known this for... well, the better part of two decades now. It's blindingly obvious to anyone who has actually studied the history of exploration. And he doesn't go far enough at that - most of the voyages and expeditions were indeed backed by governments, but for commercial, political, and military advantages. The big problem, is that there really isn't much of that in space that we aren't exploiting already.

Re:Years late to the party (1)

FPhlyer (14433) | about a year ago | (#44714541)

Right. The unspoken implication of Sputnik was that if the Russians could put something in orbit then they could just as easily drop a nuclear payload on any spot on the planet. The early space race was sold as being about scientific exploration it was just as much about demonstrating to allies and enemies the heavy lifting capability of ICBMs.

The race for the moon became an extension of cold war propaganda. Once the goals were reached... well, space exploration became a hobby. If we look at how much was accomplished from Sputnik to Apollo 11... we've mostly been spinning our wheels... at least when it comes to manned spaceflight.

The ironing is delicious (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44714261)

Gotta love the sweet sweet irony of the fact that some of the biggest proponents of a space exploration being a purely private affair live(and in some cases govern) a country that was colonized largely by people representing companies that had state backing [wikipedia.org]

counterargument: (5, Informative)

circletimessquare (444983) | about a year ago | (#44714273)

Re:counterargument: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44714463)

But all of those companies enjoyed massive support from their governments (e.g. military support and escort, diplomatic help, tax breaks, etc.) .

Re:counterargument: (5, Insightful)

oDDmON oUT (231200) | about a year ago | (#44714469)

Of your three examples, it seems to me the only real contender for a purely corporate endeavor is the Massachusetts Bay Company.

The Hudson's Bay Company, and the East India Company in particular, appear to be more quasi-governmental concerns, birthed by royal fiat, benefiting those in government who invested, allowing ample plausible deniability for inhumane actions against indigenous people and whose assets were eventually folded back into government.

Re:counterargument: (5, Insightful)

Alef (605149) | about a year ago | (#44714511)

And obviously you didn't watch TFV. Quote from it: "The first Europeans to the New World were not the Dutch East India Trading Company. It was governments funding government missions. Columbus drew the maps, established where the trade winds were. Where are the hostiles? Where are the friendlies? Is there food there? Can you breathe the air? They come back with this information. Then you can establish a capital market evaluation. 'Cause now you know there are riches here but not there; you can go here by this route but not that one. Then you can turn it into a profitable enterprise."

He thinks private companies should do more of the work in space, he just thinks there are too many unknowns for it to make business sense for anyone to push the frontiers.

Liability (1)

blavallee (729704) | about a year ago | (#44714305)

Commercial space exploration will end once the first lawsuit is filed.
Only governments can enforce the applicability of a liability waiver.

The real reason (4, Insightful)

sir-gold (949031) | about a year ago | (#44714335)

Tyson hit the REAL reason why serious private space flight will never happen, even if he didn't realize it:

"...There are unquantified risks..."

If the risks can't be quantified down to a concrete set of numbers, no insurance company will offer coverage. Without insurance coverage, no corporation has the balls to actually take the risk.

Re:The real reason (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44714411)

This article is disappointing because nobody talking here has the resources to make a meaningful impact one way or the other. It has more to do with popular culture and Neil DeGrasse Tyson's career as a science celebrity than anything else. For what it's worth I make my anonymous vote to have this removed for lack of relevance to the tagline "News... Stuff That Matters". It fails to meet any of those criteria.

Re:The real reason (1)

jbeaupre (752124) | about a year ago | (#44714481)

Tyson is the REAL reason why serious private space flight will never happen, even if he didn't realize it:

FTFY

By insisting it's too risky and too expensive and can't be quantified, he's just perpetuating false reasons not to go into space ... by anyone.

The alternative is to assume that they are not true under some conditions, learn those conditions, create those conditions, then make money.

If getting government contracts (existing demand) is a step along the way to create those conditions, so be it. If creating demand is a step, so be it. But making an a priori assumption that "it's impossible" is poor science and poor business.

Zeoform - revolutionary new material (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44714339)

Just waiting for Slashdot to catch up with Gizmag (which seems to be where they get half of their news articles from), and post up about Zeoform.

http://www.zeoform.com/ [zeoform.com]

Historically speaking (4, Insightful)

oDDmON oUT (231200) | about a year ago | (#44714375)

Many major exploratory endeavors were subsidized:

Columbus, subsidized by Queen Isabella.

Louis and Clark, commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson and subsidized by the US government

The transcontinental railroad, subsidized by the US government via the Pacific Railroad Acts of 1862 and 1864.

The interstate highway system, which enabled US citizens to truly explore their own country was brought about through the US taxpayer at the behest of Dwight D. Eisenhower.

NASA was subsidized.

The initial ventures into "cyberspace" came about through the direction of DARPA, an arm of government.

In fact, looking back, private industry hasn't really gotten involved until a clear profit potential was identified. So yeah, I'm going to have to side with Neil on this one.

Ignore it (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44714385)

Neil degrasse Tyson is consider something of a boso in astrophysics. Moving on.

Re:Ignore it (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44714441)

Mod parent up.

Tyson is clearly intelligent and knowledgable, but he's actually quite a bit of an egotistical twat as well. And at the risk of stating the obvious: the only reason he's famous is because he's black. Phil Plait is a much better scientist and skeptic, but not nearly as well known, again for the obvious reason.

Such a shame that we've traded in the brilliant Sagan for the lemon Tyson. Hopefully the next generation will get someone better.

Without a worthy enemy to focus government efforts (1)

korbulon (2792438) | about a year ago | (#44714389)

Private enterprise is the only way. Which is not to say that it will succeed, since this would essentially redefine the meaning of long-term business goals. However, under the current business zeitgeist in which the health of companies is gauged on a quarterly basis, in which "shareholder value" and "fiduciary responsibility" are code words for huge profits NOW or clearly something is fundamentally wrong with the business model - and it's time to send in the management consultants and equity fund boys for a healthy restructuring - I don't see it happening.

Private space tech can work if we get behind it (4, Insightful)

physicsphairy (720718) | about a year ago | (#44714427)

Space is dangerous.

Which doesn't matter as long as people are willing [mars-one.com] and the government doesn't step in to protect us from ourselves. I think the fact that it's dangerous has been much more of an impediment to NASA than it would be for private companies. When national pride rides on the mission success you have to attenuate risk to a degree that impedes the rate of progress. In any case, the progress of techology is constantly making all aspects of space travel safer, cheaper, and more feasible, which is why we are finally starting to see private space tech taking off. It could be that designing a robust space vehicle soon becomes as trivial as designing a luxury car.

It's expensive.

And potentially very profitable. Huge chunks of valuable metals floating around waiting to be mined. Potential for improved synthesis of high-value products in zero-G, or exploitable power which can be beamed back down to earth. Opportunity and adventure for which rich persons who would otherwise be building $1 billion yachts can pony up the ticket price. Entertainment value for the billions of earthlings watching the space colony reality TV shows. And then all the capitalizable charity and investment from people who just want it to happen.

There are unquantified risks.

Present in every undertaking, and the confrontation of which is what is known in economics as "entrepreurship."

I do completely agree that more government funding would be nice. But I think it's a mistake to downplay the promise of private space technology in order to make that case. Especially because doing so is going to chase away investment money, which, unlike the congressional budget, Neil Degrassie can definitely influence. In some ways, I don't think it's good to discuss feasibility at all. Space tech has been all about taking what is not feasible and making it feasible. It was never a given the Apollo missions would make it to the moon. And it's not a given that you and I are going to see someone land on Mars. But I'm willing to support Elon Musk, or NASA, or anyone else who is going to try, and I'm not going suggest they can't do it, because I have to hope they can.

As it's been said some time ago (4, Insightful)

Jade_Wayfarer (1741180) | about a year ago | (#44714453)

Relevant quotes from Arthur C. Clarke:

"Every revolutionary idea seems to evoke three stages of reaction. They may be summed up by the phrases: 1- It's completely impossible. 2- It's possible, but it's not worth doing. 3- I said it was a good idea all along."

"The limits of the possible can only be defined by going beyond them into the impossible."

And my personal favorite:

"If an elderly but distinguished scientist says that something is possible, he is almost certainly right; but if he says that it is impossible, he is very probably wrong."

With all the respect to Neil, my bets are on Musk and his likes in this one.

Sounds like mining (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44714495)

Dangerous.... tick.
Expensive ... tick.
Unquantfied risks... tick!

At least your robotic workforce won;t have unions.

NDGT Fanbois? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44714499)

Seriously, way too many of the comments here are taking what he says on face value because, in the words of his radio show host, he's the Shaft of Astrophysics.

There will be commercial space exploration and exploitation if there's sufficient economic incentive. Here's a few industries that could benefit

1) Power generation (Hydrogen-3, always-on solar collection)
2) Astroid mining
3) Highly sensitive production facilities e.g. for semiconductors operating way more efficiently in the low/no friction environment of a vacuum (right now semiconductor manufacturers have such sensitivity they need giant slabs weighing many many tons just to provide enough stability to operate at the nm scales they currently do)
4) Seriously offsite backups
5) Farming when we find a more fertile, hospitable planet
6) War. Capture a meteor, toss it at a city. All the damage, none of the radiation
7) Biomedical production
8) Tourism - we go because we can, its pretty, and so we can instagram it to our jealous friends

The problem isn't really commercializing space itself, but bringing down transport costs. The problem is the expense of getting up there. If we can reduce that expense to a reasonable level, all kinds of new business models will appear. That trend is already happening.
http://www.futron.com/upload/wysiwyg/Resources/Whitepapers/Space_Transportation_Costs_Trends_0902.pdf
The cost to send up a kilo of material now is a lot cheaper than the first missions during the space race.

Its just a question of when transport becomes cheap enough to utilize the resources of a body in space

The answer: (5, Funny)

FPhlyer (14433) | about a year ago | (#44714565)

Forget Govt. subsidizing of space exploration or private industry.
We. Need. KERBALS!
In less than 10 years my Kerbals have colonized two worlds and visited countless moons. How? Because Kerbals take the risks!

Remember Clarke's laws (1)

cyberthanasis12 (926691) | about a year ago | (#44714575)

Remember Clarke's Laws (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clarke's_three_laws):
1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

OK, DeGrasse is not elderly (just 55 years old), but still...

He's right (2)

Alioth (221270) | about a year ago | (#44714617)

He's right, you won't have businesses trying to establish a colony on Mars.

However, that doesn't necessarily mean there is a probability of zero that Elon Musk can't talk a bunch of his very rich buddies to helping bankroll a mission to Mars, in other words, private but not commercial. (The probability is probably close to zero, but it is non-zero). In reality you'd probably find that NASA also provides something (and probably quite a lot of something) towards a Mars mission that had its origins outside of government.

You can have private travel to somewhere without it being commercial.

I understand his point---But: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44714635)

Taken as a statement by a well-known scientist, he is correct on the individual points he makes--But:

    Neil DeGrasse Tyson is a Scientist. Theoretically his points stand on their own, But, leave it to Engineers to create the technologies that get us there.

Nothing works better to motivate humans than to tell them, " You Can't Do That". Next thing you know, they do just that.

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