Planetary Radio • May 01, 2020
Space Policy Edition: Our Moral Obligation to Explore Space
On This Episode
Dr. James S.J. Schwartz, assistant teaching professor, philosophy for Wichita State University
Chief of Space Policy for The Planetary Society
Senior Communications Adviser and former Host of Planetary Radio for The Planetary Society
Are we morally obligated to pursue space exploration? What ethical considerations should we consider when creating space policy? Philosopher James Schwartz joins the show to address these questions and talk about his new book, The Value of Science in Space Exploration.
Mat Kaplan: [00:00:00] Welcome everyone. It is time for the monthly Space Policy Edition of Planetary Radio. We are so glad to have you back, and you're going to be glad you're here when you get to hear Casey's philosophical discussion with his special guests today. I am Mat Kaplan, the host Planetary Radio.
Again, very glad to have you back. Casey Dreier is already on the line. He is the, uh, chief advocate for the Planetary society and our senior space policy advisor. Casey, I have just monitored that conversation and it's terrific.
Casey Dreier: Thanks Mat. And not as creepy as that sounds. He's, he's the producer making sure, we all done, [laughing] sound good and, and to be clear, when Mat says a philosophical conversation, this guy is literally a philosopher [00:01:00] on, on space issues and ethics. And so it's not just, uh, opining on all our parts. We go into some really interesting discussions and consequences of our moral obligations to explore space.
Mat Kaplan: And he is a space enthusiast. We might say a member of the Planetary Society. Casey, I know there isn't too much for us to cover up front this time. I guess there haven't been too many developments since the last time we talked there inside the Beltway.
Casey Dreier: Well, everyone's still sheltering in place, uh, in the country for the most part. And that includes Congress, which is still out of session until May 4th. Uh, they had a few proforma sessions just to pass, um, some additional emergency stimulus funding for uh, the United States. Things like NASA authorization appropriations for NASA is 21 budget. All of those are being pushed off perpetually into the future. Uncertain when or if they will get around to those. But no news on those, uh, fronts at all.
Mat Kaplan: You know, we can recommend that folks take a listen to the, [00:02:00] uh, space policy and politics, uh, update, uh, that was provided live. You and I talking with uh, Bill and uh, your associate there in Washington, Brendan Curry, a, a little update that we gave primarily to members of the society, but it's open to pretty much everybody now on YouTube. You can get there from planetary.org. It's a great conversation.
Casey Dreier: Understandably, I think the policy process in this country and other countries around the world are focused on the crisis at hand as they should be, and NASA chugs along in the context at can. So far, the perseverance rovers on schedule still for July, no more NASA centers have shut down since we last spoke. They're working in contributing what they can.
A bunch of engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory just released a new simplified, easily mass produced design for ventilators. So they're turning their capability towards addressing immediate crisis, here on earth using that expertise [00:03:00] capability that we have fostered as a nation and as a culture through the exploration of space to be able to turn over to more immediate needs as the situation demands. Which is actually one of the great longterm benefits of space exploration and science. And actually one of the main issues that we discuss in this upcoming conversation with philosopher James Schwartz.
Mat Kaplan: So, we're going to get to that in a moment. Oh, by the way, if you want to hear more about what NASA is doing to help meet the challenge of the pandemic, chuck out our weekly Planetary Radio episode from a couple of weeks ago with a very proud, uh, administrator Jim, uh, Bridenstein.
Casey Dreier: That was a great interview by the way, Mat.
Mat Kaplan: Thank you.
Casey Dreier: I, I also enjoyed listening to that as a listener of Planetary Radio.
Mat Kaplan: Well that means, that means a lot to me as I hope, you know. Um, we're going to get to that conversation that Casey had, uh, with this week's Jim, Jim Schwartz in just a moment, but a couple of more things first, one, are you a member? Are you part of, uh, helping us to get all this [00:04:00] work done and uh, support the work that Casey and Brendan and Bill and others do in Washington DC, and elsewhere to, uh, further space policy to further the mission of the Planetary Society?
One that, uh, our members all are very supportive of, and they show that support by going, well, they went at one point, unless they've been in there since before we had a website to planetary.org/membership. That's where you can learn about the different levels at which you can become a dues paying member, a card carrying member of the Planetary Society and support this program. Support the entire spectrum of activities that the society has underway at any given time, including right now when we are perhaps looking at not just a time of great promise ahead, if we take advantage of it, but a time of enormous challenge because of the response that the pandemic has required in the United States and elsewhere around the world.
So again, [00:05:00] planetary.org/membership we will, we hope you will consider joining our merry band.
Casey Dreier: I want to just extend my just profound appreciation to the members that we have. For some of you, I know it's not the easiest time economically or, or you know, stress wise or anxiety health-wise. You enable us to keep doing this job and, and we know that, we are grateful for your support. And for all of you who for reasons beyond your control, cannot join us financially, I do want to emphasize and just remind everybody that we have so many great resources on our website for free.
And we actually just put up a new, uh, page in space together that highlights a bunch of things you can do at home to get into space. Watch Cosmos, read a bunch of our great content, celebrate Apollo with us, things that you can do without having to be a member. So if you can, we of course love you to join us and we're grateful for that support because that literally us to exist. But if you can't, we have a lot of great [00:06:00] resources online for you as well.
Mat Kaplan: Well said. Thank you Casey. A, a part of that in space together effort is a brand new weekly live video interaction with, uh, not just our members but anybody who tunes in to, uh, talk with, uh, folks like Casey with me, with Bruce Betts, we've got quite a lineup, uh, in store. By the time this program is heard, by the time you hear this, the first of those, the premiere will already be available. It's a what's up live with Bruce Betts and me. But, uh, Casey, I know that you're, uh, you're in the, uh, schedule to, uh, host one of these as well.
Casey Dreier: Yeah, yeah. As listeners know, I can go on and on about space, [laughs] and space politics. So, I'm more than happy to do that and looking forward to doing that as well.
Mat Kaplan: That you can find at planetary.org/live easy to find. There is one other event, Casey, we probably should mention before we get to your interview. Uh, it's, uh, something we've all [00:07:00] been waiting for, for a very long time. It looks like, uh, we may actually see the very first commercial crew launch with humans on board as soon as May 27th.
Casey Dreier: Yeah. Ideally, by the time we record the next episode of this podcast, we'll have seen astronauts returned to space from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Which, I just want to emphasize how rare this is. I know it's exciting, but just to think about the last time that astronauts flew on a new spacecraft, right? For the first time was April 12th, 1981 right? Almost 40 years ago.
And I was trying to count back and think about this, right Matt, like in terms of NASA, in terms of how many human spacecraft there have been in all of human history, right? We had Mercury, Gemini, Apollo space shuttle. And now we have the Dragon Version 2, the Crew Dragon and eventually the, the Starliner. So of these five spacecraft [00:08:00] that'll be flying within our, in history, four of them happened within, you know, more than 40 years ago.
Mat Kaplan: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Casey Dreier: So this is just a once in a generation event to watch something like this happen. I have never been alive to have the opportunity to see this, [laughs] uh, happened for the first time. I am looking forward to this. This is going to be crazy exciting hoping everything works out. It'll be a real testament to the policy decisions and risks, risks that were taken starting 15 years ago to move towards this public-private partnership model of developing new ways to access space.
Will have a lot more to say about it, but I think certainly, certainly something to keep in mind and watch here coming up. This is going to be a momentous situation and I certainly for one could use something positive to, to enjoy.
Mat Kaplan: Oh, boy. Stay tuned. Uh, keep an eye on planetary.org, and an ear on Planetary Radio because will, uh, be celebrating this prior, during and, uh, after [00:09:00] this, uh, first commercial crew mission. Alright, get us into this conversation with Jim Schwartz.
Casey Dreier: Dr. Schwartz is a faculty member at Wichita State University. He teaches philosophy there. He's also the author of this new book that I really enjoyed it and recommend you check out if you're interested in developing a more thorough intellectual basis for your space advocacy.
And even if you don't agree with his final recommendations or his conclusions, it's worth challenging those in your head at the same time. He makes a very smart kind of approach to what are the moral and ethical obligations we as humans have towards exploring space. And what aspects of space exploration are worth or survive that kind of rigorous philosophical inquiry about their priority and pursuit.
Uh, this book is called 'The value of science in space exploration.' You can get it now on Amazon, uh, on your Kindle. It will [00:10:00] be printed I think relatively soon. As soon as the printing press is reopened after the pandemic, uh, from Oxford University Press just came out. You can also find his website. We'll link to it on our, our show notes, uh, where he has a lot of, uh, papers he's published online. You can, you can read for free.
It's just a really fun conversation about our moral obligations approaching space, how we think through these values and, and should we, what kind of values should we try to impose on our efforts here and longterm consequences and uh, the results that come from them. Thinking about why we do this.
Mat Kaplan: All right, Casey, here is your conversation with professor James Schwartz.
Casey Dreier: Dr. Schwartz, thank you so much for joining us here at the Space Policy Edition.
Dr. James Schwartz: Thank you so much for having me.
Casey Dreier: This is a big topic, but just to get us grounded with the audience and then we'll go to explore more detailed aspects of this. Do you believe that humans have a moral obligation to explore space?
Dr. James Schwartz: I do. Uh, and I think that [00:11:00] obligation can come from many places. Uh, and something that I actively think about in my work relates to, you know, where does that obligation come from, and what sort of specific space activities does it support?
Casey Dreier: Space exploration is a big concept. I don't have a grounding in formal philosophical training, so you can help me if we're stumbling over some technical definitions here, but when we talk about moral obligation as a philosopher, what do you mean by that? Maybe to even go a step further. What does that impel us to do as an individual and as a society?
Dr. James Schwartz: Now, so this is the classic thought relating to this has a, would say something like, if you're obligated to do something, it's right to do and wrong not to do. Uh, if something's merely just permissible, that means you don't have to do it, but you know, it's, it's not wrong if you do. And then we get into the other side of things where activities could be, you know, morally impermissible, which would sort of always be wrong to do. So when we talk about space exploration being a moral obligation, we're meaning that, you know, there is some moral failure on our [00:12:00] part if we don't take action to attempt to satisfy that obligation.
Casey Dreier: Reading your work and I'll just again plug your book right from the beginning here. The new book, 'The value of science and space exploration' which is available on Amazon, something that struck me was that the moral case that you make for space exploration, it's actually not the kind of intuitive one that I had. I think a lot of other people have, which has related to basically a very human centric attitude of self preservation, and a host of other kind of outlined, uh, motivations for exploration, romanticism, frontierism and so forth.
From your kind of perspective, what do you argue, what aspect of space exploration is the moral obligation, and why does that rise to the top compared to some of these other more common intuitive concepts related to space exploration?
Dr. James Schwartz: Now, good. Good. Big question, right? So, the approach I take, uh, what I identify is what [00:13:00] I think is the most compelling reason to engage in space exploration relates to scientific study. The knowledge and understanding of the universe, our solar system and ourselves really, uh, that we could derive from the exploration of space.
And something worth saying there is that, you know, space exploration always tends to provide us with, you know, new situations and new environments, uh, which have the opportunity to bring up things, experiences we've never encountered before. And there's always this fruitful, a way of trying to implement that into our existing understanding of things. And so, space really has a lot of opportunity to present anomalies, uh, that cause us to, to rethink some of our basic principles.
Uh, and it's, uh, you know, colleagues of mine will liken this to when Einstein is asking these, you know, really obscure questions about what would it seem like if I was sitting on a ray of light, and an ultimate product of that is we have laser eye surgery.
Now, if you're sitting in the late 1900s asking yourself, how can I make surgery? [00:14:00] I'm sorry, late 1800s, uh, asking, how can I make surgery better? You know, you're never really going to happen upon the laser as an idea. So, it's this notion that through improvements in science at a basic level, uh, we lead to progress in other areas, even if we can't always predict what that progress is.
And so I think that that provides the strongest basis for, uh, justifying space exploration. You know, right now in terms of the things that we can do in the near future. Uh, but you're right to say that the, the rhetoric surrounding space exploration, uh, brings up a whole host of other sort of competing claims about ensuring longterm human survival. And for that we need space settlements, uh, making sure we don't run out of necessary vital resources.
And so, we need to start exploiting resources from the asteroids, from the moon and elsewhere. It's not as though I don't agree that there's some benefit, there's some good that could be derived from those activities. But when I look at the landscape of space exploration or as you say, there's a lot there, [00:15:00] um, one thing that a philosopher notices is that there are competing objectives and competing principles that couldn't all be satisfied together at the same time or in a certain order.
And so, when I talk about obligations associated with space exploration, I sort of want to ask what is it that we can most effectively do right now? And that's going to enable the sort of strongest obligation to conduct that particular activity. And when I look at say, space science versus space mining versus space settlement, uh, it seems to me that it's the science that really stands to benefit us the most.
Casey Dreier: I, I was fascinated to read that phrase in that argument and, and to be clear, I guess we're talking about the near future being, I think something like the next 200 years roughly, right? Assuming no fundamental transformative physics breaking new technologies, right. If I remember correctly, roughly from your book.
Dr. James Schwartz: Yeah, that's a sort of beyond that I'm not going to be so confident about, you know, [00:16:00] what technical possibilities there are. You know, something could always come up tomorrow that completely changes things. But you know, reflecting on the direction technology has gone, how long it's taken to get where we're at. You know, I don't see burgeoning human societies and space, uh, until at least a century from now if not longer.
Casey Dreier: And so given that constraint, this is what was so interesting to me because like going back to the history, in the history of space flight, at the very earliest days there was this debate about what type of space program did we want? I'd say crassly characterized as the kind of Eisenhower complex of the science focused modest step wise approach that has clear direction from clear returns in terms of scientists as a value in and of itself.
And then versus more of the Kennedy style crash program, political statement, big spending on, on human space flight, which is ultimately what it became. But the one consistent focus, even though the human space flight in the US at least as waxed and waned over the [00:17:00] years, science has been relatively consistent as a core motivation.
So at, at reading this, in some ways I felt like I was seeing some sort of a rigorous grounding in what we already observe of, of this, the role of science within space exploration. And in, in that sense, do you think that the role of philosophy here, the role that you're bringing, your perspective or how do you hope it plays into these larger policy debates?
Dr. James Schwartz: Yeah. Good, good. Yeah, I think you picked up on something important there that, you know, I'm not necessarily offering brand new argument. I'm trying to really clean up some of the rhetoric and arguments that are out there. When I first started thinking professionally about space, which for me would have been as while I was working on my PhD in philosophy of mathematics of all topics. The things I was reading, uh, as a sort of analytic philosopher just seemed very tenuous to me.
The, the arguments weren't fleshed out very well, there is so much was left to appeals to emotion, uh, which left me wondering, I mean, you know, what's, [00:18:00] you know, what can I actually prove or what is there genuinely evidence for when it comes to these arguments that are made about why space exploration is so important? Because it just seems like, you know, there are these talking points that people throw out again and again and again, and keep wondering why aren't more people interested in space? You know, why aren't we seeing an increase in the budget?
I mean there's a practical end to this, which isn't, you know, a more rigorous exploration of what kind of advocacy could really work to secure funding increases. And you know, I'm not a sociologist so I'm not going to be the best one to ask about success or failure in terms of that. But you know, this question about getting back to fundamentals. And so, you know, as I was exploring the different rationales out there, I mean science really did seem to me to be a significant issue, but that again, when I was trying to find examples of people that were arguing why science is important, you, you ended up with, you know, a very similar kind of discussion that, you know, it's this noble endeavor, it's inspirational and so on and so forth.
You never kind of get anything there that you can say, yes, that's a clearly true uncontroversially [00:19:00] true premise upon which to base an argument. So a lot of the claims about the sort of value of scientific knowledge and understanding tended to be assumed rather than demonstrated. Uh, and so I felt it really important if I think that the science is the main thing to focus on right now, and focusing on science doesn't mean casting out every other activity, it means something more like, you know, when there's a conflict between the two things, uh, pick the one over the other. But in situations where there's no such conflict, we don't necessarily have to worry.
But nevertheless, you know, can I provide a very substantial basis for claims about why space science is important? I've done my, my best as it were in, in a couple chapters in the book to try to establish both fact scientific knowledge and understanding are sort of valuable in themselves, what, what a lot of philosophers would call intrinsically valuable. But also in a more pragmatic or practical sense that there are good consequences that accrue to those societies that engage in scientific exploration [00:20:00] and that space science is a particularly fruitful avenue for that.
Casey Dreier: Yeah, I was particularly struck by your argument along those lines of the, the means of, of scientific exploration that in terms of kind of framing it within our classic smaller case Liberal Western Democratic societies, increasing the means of access to participate in that, is argument as a net good in and of itself, uh, through the process of, of exploration and scientific inquiry.
And I thought that was kind of a fascinating, like you, you, you tie these arguments for science and space science to these really broad societal benefits in a way that I found quite compelling. And, and I, uh, have to admit I'm quite susceptible, [laughs] to these arguments, you know?
Dr. James Schwartz: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Casey Dreier: [laughs] I want to know I'd like them to be true.
Dr. James Schwartz: I'm true.
Casey Dreier: But at the same, [laughs] but maybe just expand on that a little bit. Like how does science, particularly space science, as you kind of phrase it in your book, how does it become, in a sense this instrumental good to [00:21:00] society beyond just being kind of good for the more abstract? It's good to understand the Cosmos better.
Dr. James Schwartz: Anytime you're attempting to come to understand something you don't previously understand, that's always going to produce, you know, not only an increase in knowledge, but it tends to come, uh, what tends to come along with that are, are other sort of unanticipated consequences.
Uh, and this is kind of sounding like the, the spinoff justification that you hear that, you know, there's all these technologies that get developed out of, uh, the space program. And of course there's a lot of public confusion about what things are actually spinoffs and what things aren't. Uh, you know, Tang, Teflon, Velcro. We're not spinoffs from the appellate program. Uh, however they were, you know, used quite visibly during it.
It's not just the idea that we're sure to get, you know, new technologies, although that, that has to do with it. It's that, again, in attempting to come to understand the unknown and space is unique in that it provides a lot of unknowns. It's, you know, very unexplored [00:22:00] environments. Uh, the, the deep sea would be the sort of, uh, next closest thing when it comes to how little we know about a place. And so how much we can stand to learn from examining it.
You know, when you're trying to incorporate, you know, this new Planetary environment, there's something unique about its atmosphere, there's something unique about the geological processes going on there, uh, what you, what you can tend to find is that your theoretical ideas in that discipline might need some revision. That, you know, you've set things up in a way where you can make really good predictions about terrestrial cases. But now when you're on Mars or Titan or something, the systems are behaving differently.
So you've got to revise your principles. And when you revise your principles, you typically end up with a sort of better theory overall. This is almost kind of like a Kuhnian scientific revolution on a smaller scale. Now that you've got better principles when you start employing them in every other place where scientific ideas get used, things can get better. Uh, and that's how we get things like technology development and [00:23:00] spinoffs and such.
So it's really trying to build up, you know, what is the, the scientific case as it were, you know, what's that process by which these, you know, societal benefits arise?
Casey Dreier: Yeah. I kept thinking about the term, it was like a, it's like applying a stress test to any theory, apply it to some weird edge case. It's kind of rephrasing. I kept thinking in my head as I was reading that same argument, you know we're witnessing that actually happened right now with the cosmological constant. Where we have two separate methods returning two separate non-overlapping answers.
Something about our understanding is incorrect, and that model has to be improved to take into account these two sets of data coming in, whether you're looking at, you know, one type of variable star or one type of background radiation versus some type of type one I supernova distance measure. And we're watching that happen now where they don't know the answer, and that's where the fruitful investigation is happening. I've always felt this as like, space is literally a way to force us to look up and out. Right?
Dr. James Schwartz: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Casey Dreier: Where we have to take [00:24:00] in new information because there's so much new stuff out there by consequence of it's just size. [laughs] Seeing it and I, and I appreciate it though, I have to say I struggled with it 'cause I'm not a philosopher. You have a pretty rigorous philosophical argument that you make again, for the intrinsic value of knowledge-
Dr. James Schwartz: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Casey Dreier: ...for the sake of knowledge, correct me if I'm wrong here, that you're trying to establish these kind of ethical or moral obligations beyond cultural conditions. Is that an accurate way of stating it?
Dr. James Schwartz: Um, close enough, I think. It is ultimately a kind of cultural argument because it's one that sits in the sort of scientific world view and not every culture is going to be a, you know, a, a participant in that worldview. But you know, when I look and see humans doing the things that they enjoy to do, and I see a lot of folks are passionate about science without seemingly economic motivation for doing so. There's just this sort of, you know, passion for knowledge and understanding. I want to say that that's, that's an aspect of human behavior [00:25:00] that cries out for explanation.
And what I'm kind of offering by way of some formal debates in this area of philosophy known as epistemology, the study of knowledge, uh, you know, what knowledge is, what are the conditions for having it. Uh, there's been a conversation in that, uh, of those scholars about what the value of knowledge is, and how that might be tied into a definition of knowledge. We don't need to get into any of that.
Uh, but the thought is there's a lot of people that behave as though, uh, this knowledge is worth acquiring for its own sake. Uh, just as a lot of people behave as though, you know, artworks are valuable, are the experiences of them are worth having for their own sakes and things. And I tend to think, well, that's how we normally attribute this, you know, intrinsic value to most things that we say that have it. Uh, and so, you know, by parity of reasoning, it seems like we, we can say the same things about knowledge and understanding.
Um, and so, you know, in the book I'll try to deal a little bit [00:26:00] with, you know, is there some subjectivity creeping in here? I mean, what are the standards by which we make these judgements? You know, I have some responses there, but the basic outline of the argument is, uh, it seems like this is a value that folks already have. Uh, and so it's part of the data that we need to include when we're devising our theory of, of intrinsic value.
Casey Dreier: Given all of this intrinsic, why do you think the concept of science as the obligor... moral obligation or the prime obligation of space flight right now, why do you think that tends to fall by the wayside, at least within the community of space advocates. And people who are really into space already, right? Like you don't have to convince them that it's a cool thing to do.
Dr. James Schwartz: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Casey Dreier: Where does that break occur? And, and maybe even before we address that, you can highlight just a couple of the common advocate tools that are, that you kind of try to dismantle a little bit in terms of argument for space exploration.
Dr. James Schwartz: Yeah. So I think this is attaching a lot to folks that are [00:27:00] justifying space exploration because they think, you know, we need a backup planet to save the species or that we need space resources to sort of solve all of our sort of terrestrial resource depletion problems. Uh, and I think that in some areas the apparent falling by the wayside of space science, or at least it's diminished attention compared to other, uh, spaceflight activities lately.
I mean, there's that sort of Elon Musk effect, right? That this sort of focus on commercial space exploration that's coming, especially from governments these days, wanting to, you know, minimize, uh, federal funding put into space by trying to get more out of the private sector.
Uh, and so we see, you know, we've got some pretty charismatic leaders of some of these space companies that really do a good job with PR getting their message out there. And so I think part of this just comes from the fact that the message that people are hearing more often, uh, has to do with, you know, Elon Musk's plans to, to make Mars a backup planet for humanity. Then, you know, your little science missions that might take place that get in the news for, you know, maybe a few [00:28:00] minutes and, and don't tend to stay there.
Uh, so there is a sort of information effect in terms of just, you know, what the media puts out affects, you know, what people think is actually happening. So, that I think plays a pretty big role. So, what do you say to someone who, who comes into space because they, they heard somebody talk about, you know, the great need for, for a settlement on Mars to save the species or because they've heard that, you know, asteroids will solve all of our energy or resource crisis or something like this.
Casey Dreier: Why do you think those other arguments are so persistent given that science, you know, you've made a very, I think, strong from first principles, a priori argument for the value of science or the priority of science as a driving force for space exploration. Where or why and, and how do these myths that you as you described, like kind of continued to persist given that?
Dr. James Schwartz: Yeah, so I think this relates to, uh, the sort of messaging that was especially given, you know, early on in the [00:29:00] space program, the rhetoric that started to surround Apollo, uh, and people's fond memories of that. Because Apollo is, you know, really remembered as this great success, who got to the moon, and we haven't done that since.
And so there must have been something about what we did back then that really works that we just need to recapture now. Uh, and of course, you know, speaking about spaces, this place where it's a frontier to be conquered, uh, you know, talking about, uh, explorers in very dramatic ways, uh, really harkens back to these grand moments of space exploration.
And I think there's a perception out there that if you can make somebody feel that way, uh, and you can make enough people feel that way, that's going to lead to changes in policies in funding levels. Uh, and the issue with that relates to, well, if you go back, uh, and look at what the public opinion data was saying in the Apollo era. I mean, most people, the majority of people thought that too much money was being spent on Apollo.
And it was only after the program succeeded that people started to have slightly [00:30:00] different opinions of this. Roger Lonnie is, uh, has talked about this a lot in his research on the history of Apollo. There's been that dye that was cast sometime in the 60s or 70s and it's just been using that again and again without much thought to what might be a different and possibly more effective way to, to rally additional public opinion in favor of space.
So, I think it, it just does it, it's sort of a tradition that people fall into without necessarily thinking too much about is this tradition one that is pointing to genuinely effective well-grounded with evidence reasons or not. So when I look at it, I want to ask, all right, well if these things are true, it would be nice to be able to support that with evidence because as a philosopher, I try to want to avoid promulgating ideas and beliefs that I don't think I can justify.
Casey Dreier: As a space advocate, as a professional space advocate. Right? I, I admit that I am guilty of some of these stories, [laughs] provocation that you talk about. And I, I was, as you were talking about this, I was [00:31:00] thinking, you know, there's the context in which sometimes you're making these arguments. And I am thinking more in this case of like if you're in a political office or a, a congressional office, you don't have a lot of time to build a careful case.
It's like a shortcut in some ways that some of these stories, for example, you know the frontier myth, lets say or the great exploration, uh, concepts, these deserted romantic notions, they fit into a pre-existing, at least in this country, it's a cultural framework-
Dr. James Schwartz: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Casey Dreier: ...and so you can communicate so much very quickly by tapping into this infrastructure in a sense, this guy cultural infrastructure and you slot your desire within that. It's harder to step back and say to kind of start from step one and try to build a careful argument merely because of the context in which you share that.
So I wonder if that's part of this and that people are trying to compete for attention. They're trying to compete with a small amount of time. So they kind of default to these [00:32:00] familiar stories in which to spin this narrative. And I think, I mean, you see that so much in what Von Brown understood and Willy Ley back in the early days of space exploration, trying to understand in a sense that, that the cultural ed of the United States of this frontier explorer community.
Dr. James Schwartz: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Casey Dreier: And so I wonder if that's like how this persists regardless of its accuracy.
Dr. James Schwartz: So, I think it would, it'd be interesting to see some, you know, dedicated research from a sociologist or a psychologist on this issue to identify, you know, to what extent is this kind of rhetoric effective, uh, when it comes to, uh, space exploration in particular?
Uh, because I'm willing to admit that even though a lot of these claims might be sort of evidentially deficient rhetoric still, uh, moves people, right? People can be persuaded for all kinds of, you know, less than great reasons. Even if they're motivated to do something good, sometimes it's motivated out of hatred or fear or something. Right.
You know, I'm not necessarily the best person to ask about how do we tell whether this stuff is effective [00:33:00] at shifting public opinion. I'm a bit more interested in the question as to whether is the moral argument a good one. Now there's, there's about here. Uh, and that's that the, the way we frame space exploration also has an impact on what we choose to do in space and how much we think we have to consider what we're doing.
Uh, and so something that historians that have opined about this frontier metaphor are gonna remind us of is that, uh, the frontier, uh, the, the American expansion into the West, uh, there were a lot of really bad lessons that were learned there in terms of, uh, how the people, uh, that were expanding fared, how the folks that were already there that got displaced fared. There's a lot of census in which the, the lessons we ought to learn from that metaphor unwelcome rather than welcome.
And so if, if we stick to this sort of dominant American, uh, sort of mythos here in terms of how we talk about space and think that that's how we're going to be conducting things like space resource exploitation and space [00:34:00] settlements, I think that can cause us to think that we don't have to ask further questions about what we're up to, why we need to do it.
Uh, and that could lead to problems down the line, in terms of, uh, you know, space resources would be a good example of this. Uh, something that I lay out in the book is that when you look at the research about asteroid resources and in particular near-Earth asteroid resources, you've got to factor for all of these practical considerations. Like, you know, on what orbit is the asteroid? How long is it going to take to, to rendezvous and return material back? What are the launch windows? Because you know, going to an asteroid is kind of like an interplanetary mission where you've got to time things properly.
So, even though the, the total resources available might be a pretty significant from all the NDAs, the ones you can get to over the next year with a reasonable amount of fuel are very, very small in number. If you think about spaces, this vast open frontier, right for human conquest, well you're only really getting this little rebel pile for the next year.
Uh, [00:35:00] that's not a vast frontier. That's a, that's a tiny little thing that you're going to use up really quickly. You should maybe think about that a little bit more in terms of what's the best thing I can do with the materials from this, you know, a hundred meter diameter, uh, S-type asteroid that I've recovered.
You know, I, I think the metaphors that a lot of people have put a certain kind of complacency in their thinking about why is space important? What should we be doing up there? Uh, when we're at a point now where it's really, really important to be asking these questions, because some of this major activity looks like it might start to happen in the next few decades.
And you know, this is our chance to prove that we have learned from the past and I'd love to be able to say 50 years from now that we did so. But it seems to me that the current momentum is, is one that says no, what past, clearly this is just the right thing to do now, and we don't need to think any further about uh, how to do it.
Mat Kaplan: Much more of Casey's conversation with Prof. James Schwartz, is just to have stick with us.
Kate: Hi, this is Kate from the Planetary Society. How does space [00:36:00] spark your creativity? We want to hear from you whether you make cosmic art, take photos through a telescope, write haikus about the planets or invent space games for your family. Really any creative activity that's space related. We invite you to share it with us. You can add your work to our collection by emailing it to us at [email protected] that's [email protected]. Thanks.
Mat Kaplan: Back now with Casey Dreier, very philosophical discussion with philosopher and Prof. James Schwartz here on the May Planetary Radio, Space Policy Edition.
Casey Dreier: I have so many questions. If I want to follow this up, but let's, let's pursue this a little more. 'Cause you make an argument in your book that looking back to the frontier, at least in the US as the example, the significantly negative consequences to the environment but also to the native peoples who lived there first-
Dr. James Schwartz: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Casey Dreier: ...before the European settlers came through. But then you would say with space, oh well it made, it's just space. They're just a [00:37:00] bunch of ugly brown rocks there, there's no life particularly in these asteroids. Go for it. Right. Go at it. But you make an argument in your book that there is a intrinsic value to these natural spaces regardless if they have life. Expand on that first before we, we continue on. What are these intrinsic values that we need to consider from an ethical standpoint?
Dr. James Schwartz: I don't know if I officially endorsed the arguments that, that try to uncover intrinsic value in space environments. I don't know that the wrong, uh, some of the criticism that's been, uh, lobbied against them in the literature, I don't think quite pans out. Uh, so that's an issue where I just discussed that for the sake of, you know, in meshing the book a bit more and in what other philosophers have said, but-
Casey Dreier: Well, they have a scientific, there's a scientific value, right?
Dr. James Schwartz: So, yeah, I mean I think the knowledge and understanding that can be derived from the exploration of Pristine Environments has intrinsic value. And that's something I think we need to sort of compute alongside the potential value of other activities in [00:38:00] these environments.
And of course, most of the space environment is completely unexplored. It's, it's in its relatively Pristine state and that's the best situation in which to study it because you know that there haven't been any human perturbations to affect, uh, the development of the environment. And so, you know, everything that's there was there for natural reasons as it were.
Uh, and so when you have humans that get on the scene, be they explorers there, be they commercial miners or settlers, they're not going to be keeping track of the changes they make in ways that will be helpful to, you know, later planetary scientists that come on the scene to try to figure out, all right, you know, is this rock here because of some crater impact, objection, or is it because, you know, somebody threw out some mining tailings.
Uh, so the ambiguity can really creep up once you start disrupting these environments. You know, that's not necessarily a permanent prohibition on, you know, commercial activities in space. It's more of an argument that says, can we at least get the science done, [00:39:00] uh, to the satisfaction of a scientific community before some of these other things come up?
Even if there aren't, you know, people there, even if there's nothing of scientific value there, how you do things affects the lives of the people that are going to be doing the work.
Casey Dreier: I found it just really interesting again, that this so naturally came out of once you established science, you know, is intrinsically valuable and, and space science, you know, having both just it's valuable to do it. Then suddenly and everything is of interest to us.
Dr. James Schwartz: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Casey Dreier: Then by default at least your, your kind of default mode that you engage with these or what decisions should we make to preserve the scientific feasibility of exploration of these areas first? That should be the primary concern almost.
Dr. James Schwartz: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Casey Dreier: I never quite seen it phrased that way, and I can see and, and probably hear people already arguing with this to say, well that just means we'll never go anywhere. Right? So if we make everything this Pristine Environment to understand first and science budgets are low, you know, it'll take thousands of years to explore all these [00:40:00] areas.
Therefore, if we really want to have space exploration, we should relax that constraint and just prioritize whatever works in order to get us out there faster and more people out there. And then there'll be more science as a consequence. So overall the net will be positive.
Dr. James Schwartz: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Casey Dreier: So I mean, and this obviously touched on that this, [laughs] big basic ethical question, uh, that you probably deal with in, in your one-on-one classes of, of philosophy and ethics, which is how do motivations impact the ultimate outcome?
So if let's say space resources, commercial space, mining asteroids in the moon, well say if there's greed involved and individuals will put up their own money, and then somehow they enable more exploration, exploration, even if they ruin, let's say to some of these areas to scientific exploration in the future. Is that a price worth paying to get to this point?
Like you know, we live, I live in the West Coast, the natural exploitation that happened a hundred years ago is a catastrophe. But at the same time, Seattle [00:41:00] wouldn't exist here now to lead the environmental movement as it stands now. How do you phrase or how does an individual, let's say, think about the ethical responsibility of why we go out into space and what compromises, if any, do we have to make in order to get to the outcomes we want?
Dr. James Schwartz: I'm taking what a lot of folks might describe as an extreme position that I'm trying to develop in the book. I'm, I'm really trying to build the case for space science as strongly as I can and to, you know, uh, identify that there do seem to be some pretty significant values that speak up in its favor. And that, you know, these other activities maybe when we look at some of the authority or details involved don't seem to hold up on some of their promises.
Ultimately, the goal is to try to, you know, increase the size, uh, uh, the share of the attention that that space science gets in sort of stakeholder conversations and policy discussions and developments. Uh, because one thing that's been kind of depressing to notice is that a lot of these new laws on the national level or these documents and conversations that are coming out tend to leave scientific [00:42:00] concerns almost completely by the wayside.
That it's just, you know, let's enable this industry to start mining asteroids and, you know, not be concerned about any downrange consequences to any other sector there. I, I think there's an important role to play in the first place. You know, getting science, a bigger seat at the table and it's got right now. It's a little disheartening to see what's happening in the case of Mars in terms of planetary protection and concessions being made to enable increased human activities. Even though there are still a lot to do in terms of robotically investigating that environment, searching for, you know, signs of possible past life or, or maybe even signatures of, of existing life on Mars.
The, the scientific question about life on Mars is one that you could render permanently unanswerable if you, uh, engage in extensive human activities too soon. There might be some kinds of research that are still able to be conducted, uh, after humans get on the scene and, and exploit things or build their societies. [00:43:00] There could be a lot additional science just because you've got, you know, more investigators on the scene. But there are important questions that end up being unanswerable.
Uh, and so I, I think it's an important thing to do to identify what are the questions we really want answers to that we don't think we can answer very well, uh, after commercial or settlement activities take place. And can we prioritize those? And you know, to the person that says, well, you know, if we've got science budget's so low and that's going to make it take so long to get my Mars colony. I would say, well, why don't you try to lobby for, for more science funding right now? Because then we can get some of this stuff out of the way, and open up that environment to other uses. Because we've learned what we need to for the time being.
And of course I, I can maybe envision some, you know, geologists saying, well no, I need to go back to that site for a long time. You know, different areas of science are going to require different lengths of time to study environments. They're going to petition for different [00:44:00] moratoria on other activities. Uh, I'd love to see these conversations increase, uh, tremendously.
Another thing to say here is that if you don't do a good science before you go to space, how do you know that you can actually survive there? So the case of Mars is an interesting one. Uh, Mars is the third most explored body in the solar system right after the earth and the moon, it's the, the thing we know most about. But do we know enough to ensure the longterm sustainability of drilling into the subsurface and melting the ground ice for water? What's that going to do to the local geology of where your settlement is? Can that be conducted sustainably, effectively?
I, I just don't think we have the overall understanding of, of Mars as a geological system to know for sure that we can support permanent self-sustaining settlements. Is it okay to go throw people into that situation without that knowledge? I'd really worry about that. So, science can enable other activities, can sort [00:45:00] of be the initial investigator that you know, lets us know when it's okay to establish a settlement. What's a good site, uh, what asteroids are more likely to be ones that, uh, are promising for commercial exploitation.
Uh, there was a paper that came out criticizing an older version of some of my arguments and the person said, well, you know, if, if we visit asteroids at the same rate, uh, as we do now, it might take 10 billion years to see all of the near-Earth asteroids and, and commercial exploitation is going to get us there so much faster. And yeah, if you've got a big business that's, you know, harvesting a lot of material, I mean, I wonder who's purchasing that. I mean, what, can you even economically create a company that makes profit to do this? That's, that's a big question mark. But what guarantee is there that there would be scientific access to these places?
It's not something that's just magically going to happen unless people fight for it along the lines of, of these regulatory discussions. So, even if it's politically unfeasible to [00:46:00] have some sort of moratorium on commercial exploitation, it's not as though, uh, the commercial exploiters are out of the goodness of their heart, uh, with no, uh, advanced notice just simply going to deliver a sample materials to scientists.
That's something that's going to have to be built into the system that, uh, commercial operators would have to be compelled to do if there are going to be, uh, substantive benefits to the scientific community from these commercial activities. And so I think there's that avenue to have some productive conversations about policies that get designed that are compromised policies, but you know, still don't preclude any interesting scientific investigations from ever taking place on an asteroid or on Mars.
Casey Dreier: Yeah. That's why I think this, your book is so timely. I, I've been stewing this in my head for the last couple of years. I feel like there's been this quiet shift in emphasis in space exploration, at least in the United States towards that natural resource exploitation commercial motivation. We've [00:47:00] moved away less so from even the grand exploration romantic frontierism to hey, we can make money here. And is that really why we have a National Space Program is to create mining colonies like work colonies on the moon.
But it's happened so quietly and it's definitely rides with these broad social interests and, and kind of uh, cultural moments that we're in of the kind of savior complex of, of billionaires. I think where people can cut through red tape or make a collapse of support of public institutions. But regardless, I feel like we need to decide what we want.
And this is what I think really resonated with me out of your book is that building this into our policies, even if we do go and support primary kind of exploitation, commercialization policy, you can still decide how you want to do that.
Dr. James Schwartz: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Casey Dreier: And, and I think that's what's so important for us to consider in these kinds of democracies where we have the [00:48:00] ability to, to guide these going forward. That having some ethical consideration of how we pursue what we want to do, even if it's imperfect, seems to be a high priority for us to consider.
Dr. James Schwartz: And, and I think the reason why folks have been able to successfully not be aware of this for so long, it, it has to do with when they think about space and its resources, they just tend to think of everything that's there in total. And you know, those numbers are just absolutely staggering. I want to say John Lewis, uh, one of the sort of, uh, first folks to start discovering, uh, near-Earth asteroids, right? He'll talk about how, uh, the resource base on the solar system, uh, is enough to, uh, uh, support, you know, quadrillions of human lives.
Uh, maybe that was just the figure for the near-Earth asteroids. I forget if that was the total system resources or just the NDA resources. But when this is what you're sort of taught, uh, and this is how space advocated to you, of course you think that, you know, space is practically infinite and [00:49:00] why should we ever have to care about limits to growth? Why should we be concerned about, um, you know, how we distribute these resources, 'cause there's more than enough for everyone.
And I think the sort of answer to that is recognizing that if you care about doing this anytime over the next 50 years, you're not going to be able to access limitless resources, right? The stuff you're going to get is only going to come in a slow, staggered trickle. And just think about the, the ice in the, uh, permanently shadowed regions in the North and South poles of the moon. That is a very limited non-renewable or at least non-renewable over, you know, scales of millions of years resource.
Uh, so once you use it up, it's gone. Uh, and there's not a whole lot there in the first place. Uh, we're talking about just a handful of cubic kilometers of, of water ice based on the estimates we've seen so far. And there's a lot of error in those estimates. So maybe what's there is a lot less than, than we think right now. Maybe it's a lot more.
Nevertheless, it's not this inexhaustible pool. And so if we only have that much to [00:50:00] work with for the next few decades, how we use it, what we do with it really matters. Because you know, you hear the bootstrapping argument all the time that, you know, we just need to get out and get our first mining operation and that'll make resources that we can then use to go out further and so on and so forth.
Well that's not an inevitable future. You actually have to make sure that you're making decisions in ways that enable the bootstrapping, that you're being careful with how you use the resources that you're exploiting to make sure that you're producing equipment that can go further afield. So, I mean, I really worry that if we're stupid with lunar resources and near-Earth asteroid resources, we just won't ever develop the ability to send humans any further than that to, to establish, you know, main belt asteroid mining operations.
So, you know, even if you think that commercial exploitation is the main thing to be doing, you still have to think very carefully about how to implement it in the first place. And then of course, we have to ask who benefits from it, right? I mean [00:51:00] there's this profit that solely accrues to the companies that are running these operations. That doesn't sound to me like a situation where humanity has gotten a whole lot of benefit from this.
It's just a few folks, even if we're doing this for the exploitation of the resources, because we think that those will somehow benefit the world. Uh, we need to think about, you know, is there a way where that benefit could actually be felt by people other than the already wealthy folks who are launching the rockets?
We can disagree about what to do once we're up there. Uh, but even if we decide this is what we're doing, we need to think all kinds of ways about how to implement and, and best achieve, uh, that activity. And so I think this points to a real important value for ethics for philosophy, which is, ethics it doesn't end once you launch a mission, right? Uh, ethics is not a, a sort of check box that you just tick off said, okay, now you're good to go do whatever.
It, it has to do with providing active consideration to your [00:52:00] activities asking, you know, what have I assumed that might not be true? Um, what are the impacts of these decisions I'm making now? Instead of like bioethics doesn't end once you build the hospital, right? The need for ethical decision making doesn't end once the hospitals up and running. There are all kinds of situations that you run into. You know, once you start practicing medicine, that call for ethical consideration. And space exploration, it's the same thing. Once we're up in space, we're going to be encountering all kinds of new situations that are going to require ethical analysis.
Casey Dreier: It anticipates a question I was going to bring up which was how contingent are these ethics based on who's paying for it or who's doing it. You know, some people may be thinking, well, you know, public investment in space, sure I can understand they should have a thing for investment in science and priorities. But if you're some, if you're Jeff Bezos, it doesn't matter because it's your own money.
But what you seem to be saying here is that because of the larger longterm consequences to anybody based on the usage of limited [00:53:00] resources or altering of the pristine scientific environment of these places, this is a broadly applicable set of ethics regardless of who's doing it or who's paying for it.
Dr. James Schwartz: Exactly. I mean, you know, in practical terms we're dealing with some pretty finite and, and limited resources to, to treat this as though it's a something where scarcity is not a concern on anyone's mind. And so people can just be free to do whatever they want, just really mistakes. The, that, the physical facts of the situation that we're in. And that does mean we have to ask these difficult questions about conflicts, right? About competing interests.
And of course, that's one thing that ethics, ethicists really specialize in is, you know, looking at situations where there are competing interests and asking questions about, okay, who's proposing to do what with this, who's providing, uh, an opportunity for more overall benefit to humanity or something. I mean these are questions. I am currently teaching an ethics of space exploration class.
Uh, and you know, this is [00:54:00] an issue that that keeps coming up. That, you know, we have these competing camps and you know, what are the reasons that people on different sides are offering for more commercial activity or, or for more restrained commercial activity. And these are difficult questions.
What I would resist is people just presuming that there's no conversation to be had here at all because there's a very important one and if we don't have it, we could well end up with a human future in space that doesn't do the things that most of us were hoping it would have done.
Casey Dreier: I want to pivot here slightly to touch on the human aspect in, in, in two ways. We alluded to this earlier on and some of our listeners may be reacting to that. So I want to make sure we talk about this a little bit more. The role of longterm benefit offsite backup for humanity, space settlement and for the success of human life or the of human life and for the longterm survival of the species.
You acknowledged in your book, obviously the sun is eventually going to turn red giant and earth is screwed. We have, [laughs] if we want to [00:55:00] live, you know, humans would have lived multi-billion years [crosstalk 00:55:02].
Dr. James Schwartz: He's not, he's not quoting directly there.
Casey Dreier: [laughs] I'm, I'm summarizing. Uh, however, what was interesting to me is that you within the near term, just like the you, you talked about the conditions and qualities of life on unlikely near term settlements as a way of basically deprioritizing their moral obligation to pursue those into compared to science. What are some of the problems with space settlement now as a moral obligation for the survival of the species? Why shouldn't that be the top priority of space flight?
Dr. James Schwartz: So I agree that the obligation that, that underlies this is a pretty strong and compelling obligation that you know, we, we have a duty to survive as a species. As a philosopher, I'm going to have all kinds of questions about space aside. What does that mean? What does it entail? But I do agree that over the long term, uh, which to me [00:56:00] means, you know, at least a couple centuries down the line, uh, that it's a necessary outlet for satisfying that obligation. Right?
So, so, so, you know, just to be clear, uh, as you've mentioned already, but just to say, you know, from the horse's mouth here, uh, yes, I do think over the longterm we have an obligation to seek out, uh, you know, self-sustaining settlements in space. The problem with this, uh, thinking about it as an activity to start right now relates to what the people that would live in those settlements would have to endure.
Um, and I think this, uh, push to do this as soon as possible with, you know, as few resources as possible this bare bones, uh, kind of, you know, depend completely on institute or resource utilization right from the start approach is either going to just kill a lot of people very quickly, or force them to live, uh, very, very difficult tonal in lives.
So I think insufficient thought is being given to how the societies in space will be arranged, situated [00:57:00] governed, uh, what kind of liberties, uh, folks might have. And because we're thinking about human settlements where we want them to be self sustaining and, uh, growing, the initial folks that go up there are going to have to start, you know, making babies.
And so even if we can find some, you know, acceptable contract, uh, that the initial settlers can sign that, you know, says I can, I understand what I'm signing up for, I consent to it, that next generation, the first generation born on Mars, presuming that's a physiological possibility, which we don't know yet, right? They never had a choice and they're probably biologically adapted to Mars too much to ever come to earth. So they're stuck there.
Uh, so is it permissible to rear the next generation of, of people in a situation where you're probably existing permanently in a small confined habitat, uh, where to go outside, uh, you're going to have to depressurize suit. Where if you open the wrong door at the wrong time, you [00:58:00] depressurize the entire habitat and kill everyone.
I mean, think about the kinds of surveillance and social systems that are gonna need to be in place to ensure that the colony survives on a second to second basis. Some colleagues of mine will say that this is a situation right for tyranny. Uh, you know, right for, you know, dictatorial, authoritarian control, uh, you know, of the kind that you might've seen in total recall where they sort of vent the atmosphere, uh, to one of the habitats.
To say that, you know, let's just do this as soon as we can and it'll be this experiment, I think is a very reckless idea because we know about some very likely problems. And what we need to figure out before we really go is, you know, how can we give these people the best start to avoid these problems?
I, I worry even more when it's a private organization doing this because you know, if you're setting up your moon colony or your Mars colony for, for the point of, you know, making a profit, then human wellbeing is not going to be a priority of, uh, the way [00:59:00] decisions are made. When people say, well if it's their money they can do what they want, you know, I worry more in those situations than if it's a place run by a terrestrial government that's still accountable to its citizens.
Casey Dreier: This is a small part of your whole book here, but I just found this fascinating because again, it touches on thoughts that I've had that I haven't formalized personally yet. But it does seem to me that in terms of these space settlements on a place where you, you, the concept of individual liberty is almost anathema to what the conditions on the ground will be.
Dr. James Schwartz: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Casey Dreier: And from what you were just saying, like you even with family planning, let's say, or childlike family size in the frontier on earth, you had air to breathe and you could go somewhere and live off the land with 'cause there's animals and you could plant vegetables, on Mars you have to build an expensive and highly complex additional habitat to grow another family into. Or the same thing you could, one person could easily kill everybody on purpose or by accident and [01:00:00] the consequences to what type of society you will have there don't seem to be very positive from all the reasons you were just saying.
I see pathway, but how do you think, how does science as a priority first help and ultimately enable something that is necessary for the longterm flourishing of humanity even if now is not the right time? Like how do we balance those two things cause it has to be done eventually.
Dr. James Schwartz: Yeah, I mean, so there's the sort of precursor science where you're investigating the environment to ensure that it's got, you know, the right things to support, uh, your, your human society. Uh, as it grows in the future. And then there's the sort of more psychological sociological stuff you've got to do in terms of can humans successfully exist in these places? What modes of government are going to be most successful here?
This is a really tricky, uh, in part because if you really want to do a good test, you're going to have to throw people in that situation. Good luck running that by an institutional review board. Right? I mean, [laughs] there's going to be all kinds of of reasons to worry about, you know, running that [01:01:00] study in the first place.
One of the things that, that folks were thinking about this I've done have been reaching out to smaller communities, I attended a conference, uh, in London would have been a year and a half ago, uh, that was attended by a few academics like myself, but also some people from plan communities. You know, eco-villages throughout Europe, uh, talking about their experiences, uh, living in these, you know, smaller societies.
I'll be at ones where they still have the ability to leave to, to go out into the sort of general public and, uh, and, and lead a life with a much larger society if they choose. What can these things teach us about how people get on with one another, how leaders are selected, how decisions that affect all of the, the villagers are made. Those are areas that, that we need to look to. But it really is just, you know, kind of ramping up, especially, uh, sociological research on this issue about, you know, how can you successfully govern isolated, uh, small environments. And you know, if you're coming at this from a Western angle, you care about individual liberties.
So how [01:02:00] can these folks be minimally surveilled? And so Charles Cockell, uh, is an astrobiologist that also is the sort of spearhead of these discussions about Liberty and the space environment. He'll talk a lot about how there are some engineering principles you can employ to do this, that as far as environmental monitoring, uh, can you make sure that, you know, your sensors that are tracking the movement of seals don't also listen in on conversations, right?
So can you just have a dedicated sensor for this one thing that can't be re-appropriated as a way to spy on people's conversations. Can you design space suits to be a bit more modular so people have a greater access to the ability to go take a walk outside the habitat? Uh, can you multiply your food and oxygen production systems so that, you know, if one machine doesn't go down, uh, people can still survive and people aren't fully under the control of the folks that operate that one machine.
Um, so there are a lot of things to be working on and I'd hate for the only experiment we [01:03:00] really do to be the first time that, that we, we, we put people on Mars. I mean, I think there's a lot we can work on and try to figure out, uh, with less controversial experiments, uh, here. And including also on the ISS. There's a lot to learn.
Casey Dreier: It's one of those things, so I think it's important. This is where the value of sitting and thinking through the ethical consequences of what we're doing now is going to be highly sensitive to these initial conditions wherever we end up going. And so I, I think that's a, a rich area for listeners to consider about how we proceed. What are these longterm consequences?
I mean, ultimately it comes down to, again, I, I assume it's another very basic philosophical quandary, which is what are our obligations to the future? What do we sacrifice for the untold number of people who live ahead of us? I know there's some balance to strike there, but it's also important that we do some of this work so that we set things up to succeed in these longterm ways beyond, uh, even the kind of timeline that we're looking at as individuals or [01:04:00] even our direct ancestors.
Dr. James Schwartz: Exactly. Because the attitude that says I want to do this as soon as possible, as soon as the, the, the most basic technology to enable it arises, that's a prescription for a really awful situation. Uh, you know, that's the beginning of every really, uh, awful science fiction TV series.
Casey Dreier: [laughs]
Dr. James Schwartz: When you try to do things in the quickest way. And you know, when, when you look at discussions about, you know, the genetic variation you would need to have for a successful space settlement, you can find folks that, that winnow the number of folks, uh, down to like 40s and 50s. Uh, much more common to you'll hear numbers in the hundreds. But, but some people think that, you know, if you engage in the right selection process and, and people pair off in the right way, you could have a healthy genetic variety with a population as low as 50.
I really worry about that because, uh, reproducing is the kind of thing you should only ever do if it's what you want to do with the person you want to do it with. Uh, and if you're in a situation where the governor says, [01:05:00] no, you have to meet with this person, uh, on this occasion and how do they be with them, whether you want to or not, I think that would be an unacceptable situation to put someone in. And we have to remember that it's not as though this is some already existing society with its own traditions that we have some obligation to respect out of cultural tolerance.
This is a society we're creating. And if there are going to be hardships that people living in it experience, they will be because we made decisions that led to those hardships. So I think our obligation here is very much centered around, uh, not just doing the bare minimum, but trying to provide the best life we can for the people that are going to be living into space. Because that's the only way we're really going to make progress as a species.
And if you think space is supposed to be something that's going to really help us out, uh, why are you saying it's okay to take this huge step backwards, when it comes to treatment of individuals? Just to have a space settlement. Because if it's a really awful place to live, it's probably going to fail in the first place and now we don't have the backup planet [01:06:00] anymore.
Casey Dreier: Let's come back to where we started and, and ground ourselves now kind of in the here and now. We've talked about again the obligations for exploration broadly. You've made your arguments for science as the top priority for why we should go into space and how to consider and think about decisions we're making now. For people listening, can we bring it down to the individual to summarize kind of these broad arguments you're making, what are our individual obligations to support space exploration?
Dr. James Schwartz: Well, one way you can help is by donating to the Planetary Society.
Casey Dreier: [laughs] I did not tell them to do that.
Dr. James Schwartz: [laughing] It's true, but you know, it seems like a really a good thing to mention there. But yeah, no, I was still participating in advocacy organizations that are dedicated to advancing space science courses is one way. And, and it's helpful because you know, a lot of people might want to see something happen but don't like to call their, their congressperson. You know, one way to do that is to join up in, in different kinds [01:07:00] of organizations that have these purposes.
But you know, when the occasion arises, when the topic comes up, you know, to have some clearly outlined ideas about, oh, you're talking about space mining, but did you know this and that, you know, there's this cost to it, uh, or you're talking about space settlement. But did you know there might be a reason to, to, to investigate Mars further before we get humans right there.
You know, at an individual level, I think it's just coming to appreciate, uh, more and more about how science operates. Uh, what the process is from, you know, at least in terms of NASA missions from mission proposal to launch, what are all the different things that have to go right to, to ensure that that happens. Where does someone need to jump in to offer different kinds of political support? Uh, what's the role of public opinion?
And it does seem like there's some evidence that suggests that that space policy is kind of responsive to public opinion. So, uh, making sure one participates in relevant public opinion polls to, to demonstrate their interest in space. Lots of things.
Casey Dreier: The takeaway for me is [01:08:00] that everyone has a moral obligation to join the Planetary Society. [laughing] Uh, Dr. Schwartz, thank you so much for-
Dr. James Schwartz: Uh, when I joined it, it was out of a sense of obligation that this seemed like a group. Uh, I felt, uh, I needed to support given my position, so.
Casey Dreier: Oh, that's a, there you go. As a perfect example of that and I had the same, I was a member before I, I worked here for many of the same reasons. Uh, but Dr. Schwartz, I want to thank you again for taking the time to join us today. A fascinating conversation. Uh, Dr. Schwartz faculty member at Wichita State University, author of 'The value of science and space exploration.' Out now, you can buy it on Amazon Kindle and soon to be in print from Oxford University Press. Thanks again.
Dr. James Schwartz: Thank you so much.
Mat Kaplan: Planetary Society chief advocate, Casey Dreier, talking with his guest, James Schwartz. Uh, it's terrific conversation, Casey. Thank you very much.
Casey Dreier: Oh, I enjoyed it. This is why I love doing the show as an excuse to talk to interesting people who think about these issues deeply. As a space advocate myself, as a person who loves space, I think it's just a [01:09:00] great exercise, again, to just sit down and talk to people or engage with their work that really tries to seriously work through these fundamental approaches we have toward it. I always feel enriched from that process. You could tell I, I had a great time and, and look forward to read more of his work in the future.
Mat Kaplan: And I had a good time listening as I told you and Jim, when you finish the interview early in the conversation, talking about the why of space exploration, which is could as well be applied to the why of science itself. I immediately thought of that, that great T. S. Eliot quote, we shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time.
Uh, Casey, good to know you. Uh, we'll do this again on the first Friday in the month of June if you can believe it with a year at that point, almost halfway over. And by the way, happy anniversary, uh, Casey of the Space Policy Edition.
Casey Dreier: Is this the one [01:10:00] or is it next month?
Mat Kaplan: Is this the one or is it next month? I think it is next month.
Casey Dreier: I think it might be this one.
Mat Kaplan: [laughing] I think it's next month. [laughs] Just the same pre-anniversary.
Casey Dreier: [laughs] Four years Mat. Can you believe it?
Mat Kaplan: It has flown by.
Casey Dreier: Yeah. Well we will not cease our exploration of the space policy-
Mat Kaplan: [laughs]
Casey Dreier: ...of the Cosmos.
Mat Kaplan: And we will not cease to invite you to join that exploration by going to planetary.org/membership and learning about the benefits of joining the society. One of them being, making it possible for us to bring programs like this to you. Again, we'll be back on the first Friday in June. Uh, I will be with you, uh, every Wednesday for the weekly Planetary Radio and hope you will join us for that. Casey, uh, have a great month, I will be talking to you soon.
Casey Dreier: Can't wait.
Mat Kaplan: Casey Dreier, chief advocate for the Planetary Society. Also our senior space policy advisor. I'm Mat Kaplan wishing you all very well. Stay safe everyone and ad [01:11:00] astra.