So the argument is that technological advances will eventually reduce poverty. But it seems clear that social structures (tribalism, feudalism, capitalism, socialism) determine the economics of the poor more than technology does. For instance many cheap medical technologies do not get to the poor, much like food doesn’t, because they don’t have enough money.

The fact that he resorts to “The bureaucracy says we can’t” and “I would if I could” is a non-argument against why money should be given to the poor rather than to space research.

The use of satellites / GIS is a strong one, but half a century later, still a billion hungry people. So it would seem the satellite technology didn’t solve the problem. Maybe I’m wrong and yields have increased in the poor areas but only not enough to eliminate human hunger.

Dr Stuhlinger points out that international cooperation increases in response to space travel, but again it’s been insufficient to solve the problem of human hunger.

The bit about “We need more young people to choose science as a career” seems wrong as well. You learn organic chemistry, not how to farm, at university, and the scientists who do get “good jobs” (could be at Lockheed) are making money for themselves, not money that creates remunerative job opportunities for the world’s poorest.

The final point about nations competing with civilian achievemnt rather than military destruction is obvious, but besides the world wars, the greatest destruction of human life and property was in civil wars, police actions, or in some way involved governments or rebels killing intranationally rather than international competition. (Not that internationals were never involved.)

Roger Launius's Blog

Ernst Stuhlinger wrote this letter on May 6, 1970, to Sister Mary Jucunda, a nun who worked among the starving children of Kabwe, Zambia, in Africa, who questioned the value of space exploration. At the time Dr. Stuhlinger was Associate Director for Science at the Marshall Space Flight Center, in Huntsville, Alabama. Touched by Sister Mary’s concern and sincerity, his beliefs about the value of space exploration were expressed in his reply to Sister Mary. It remains, more than four decades later, an eloquent statement of the value of the space exploration endeavor. Born in Germany in 1913, Dr. Stuhlinger received a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Tuebingen in 1936. He was a member of the German rocket development team at Peenemünde, and came to the United States in 1946 to work for the U.S. Army at Fort Bliss, Texas. He moved to Huntsville in 1950 and continued…

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3 Responses to “”

  1. Ellie K Says:

    The obsession with space exploration is somewhat anomalous, I must admit. Many Western Europeans who look down at “barbaric American ways” are oddly enamored with NASA and all activities pertaining to our space-related programs. I don’t understand how they reconcile the two. But anyway, I think that a certain amount of funding must continue for space research, or rather, maintenance of satellites and orbital infrastructure sort of things. There is a great deal on Earth that is now dependent on all those doodads we take for granted up there. I question the need for the SKA (Square Kilometer Array) Telescope multi-billion dollar project when there is not enough money to keep the huge and useful telescope in Puerto Rico (Maracaibo? Or is that in Venezuela? The telescope is definitely in Puerto Rico). The U.S.A. is not one of the nations participating in the SKA Telescope project, which I think is just as well.

    Regarding education: It remains important. There are many varieties of science though. There is veterinary science, and agronomy and food science and the terrestrial-related work done by the NOAA. There are fine programs at the University of Nebraska which get very little attention, but do good work in all aspects of food and crop research. The same is true no doubt for other universities in the mid-West, and in my neck of the woods too, at New Mexico State University. There are farmers in Germany and The Netherlands and Denmark and The British Isles, but we never hear about them. I doubt they get much press locally either.

    Some may that farmers do what they do because they like it and need no praise or media attention. I would wager that if there were a fraction as much adulation, money and media attention on agriculture as there is on pseudo-tech (mobile game apps, for example), there would be change of a positive nature i.e. more resources and intellectual energy brought to bare on problems of adequate world food production.

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