The cost of inspiration

The mission was a failure! What a waste of money! These are a few dissenting views of the Rosetta / Philae space mission, especially now since the lander’s battery has been depleted. People are debating if the planning was done right, did it accomplish all of the science experiments. All of this for just three days on a comet!

The huge focus on pure economic value and return is such a limited view. The space mission provides so much more by inspiring minds and imagination. It pushes humankind beyond the boundaries of earth and into a vast unknown. Curiosity, exploration and attempting something never done before. The price of ambition and inspiration is worth so much more than what was spent.

At the same time, we’re struggling to get students interested in science and mathematics, only 16% of high school seniors in US are interested in STEM career #. Space projects like Rosetta is a great way to generate that interest.

I’m been talking with my daughter, who is 3 yrs old, about the comet and the mission. About how it is far away in space, and how fast it is traveling. She asks to see photos of it and how its doing. She’s a bit young and is pretty interested and curious about everything, but fueling that imagination with science and exploration is great. Here’s her drawing of the comet.

Angelica drawing of Comet
Angelica’s drawing of Comet 67P

I’m still amazed about the accomplishment, we sent a space craft which took 10 years to travel four billion miles to reach a comet traveling 34,000 mph. The Rosetta satellite got in orbit of the comet and launched a lander which successfully landed on it. This is an astounding accomplishment!

If it is, millennia from now, humankind may look back on the Rosetta
mission as perhaps one of the most important space missions in
history.
#

About the cost, the total cost from 1996-2015 worked out to about € 0.20 per EU citizen per year. This doesn’t seem like such a high cost, considering what tax dollars get spent on, I’d rather our governments have audacious goals and attempt more space missions than build more tanks and bombers. See Is comet landing mission worth the cost?.

The crazy amount of dollars spent in Silicon Valley for startups which allow picture sharing or text messaging and other new ways to watch advertisements dwarf the cost of this mission. Total budget for Rosetta is around $1.75b USD, WhatsApp acquisition price $19b. Facebook could’ve funded 10 missions instead of yet another messaging client.

Also, putting into historical context: on May 25, 1961, President Kennedy stood before Congress asking for $7 to $9 billion dollars over the next five years for the space program. In 2014 dollars, this would be asking for $54-$70 billion, and Congress was bold and delivered it. #

“Well, space is there, and we’re going to climb it, and the moon and
the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are
there.” Kennedy, Sept 12, 1962, Rice Stadium

Technology Advancement from Moon Shot

For those who insist on economic value on the money spent, research is always hard to justify when you don’t know exactly what you’ll get. It is why its called research. However, using the Space Race of the 60’s as an example of how this research and development spend can benefit.

The scientists educated through these efforts helped develop technologies that have been adapted for use in the kitchen, in transportation systems, in athletics, and in many other areas of modern life. Dried fruits and ready-to-eat foods, stay-dry clothing, and even no-fog ski goggles have their roots in space science.

Today thousands of communication satellites orbit Earth, used for telecommunications, GPS and weather to name a few uses. These satellites were launched using rockets and technologies developed during the Space Race.

Genuine triumph

In conclusion I think astronaut and Nasa’s Science Mission Directorate John Grunsfeld says it best:

“This achievement represents a breakthrough moment in the exploration
of our solar system and a milestone for international cooperation. We
are proud to be a part of this historic day and look forward to
receiving valuable data from the three Nasa instruments on board
Rosetta that will map the comet’s nucleus and examine it for signs of
water.

“Small bodies in our solar system like comets and asteroids help us
understand how the solar system formed, and provide opportunities to
advance exploration.

“It’s a great day for space exploration.”

Comet 67P
Comet 67P as taken by Rosetta Satellite