The Practical Values of Space Exploration
by Committee on Science and Astronautics
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The secrets which this research may divulge and their meaning for human health can only be imagined. But they certainly would not be minor.


No enterprise has so stirred human imagination as the reach of man toward the exploration of space. New worlds to explore. New distances to travel—3,680 million miles to Pluto, the outermost planet of our solar system, 8 years journey at 50,000 miles per hour when we attain such a capability. Innumerable problems ahead. New knowledge needed in almost every branch of science and technology from magneto fluid dynamics to cosmology, from materials to biology and psychology.[67]

"New knowledge needed" means better and stronger education is essential. And not only in the physical sciences. In the social sciences and the arts as well.

Certainly man's space adventure can help profoundly to make a finer creature of him, but only if his adventures on Earth can do so as well. Essentially what this means to a social psychologist is that we must somehow raise our level of education to the point where most men most of the time can appreciate and actively absorb the implications of knowledge and developments in all areas sufficiently to let them enrich their personal philosophies. Obviously this kind of education is only in part a scientific one.[68]

Moreover, the technical and management aspects of the space program involve collaboration with nonscientific persons such as businessmen, bankers, and public officials in assessing worthwhile objectives and in judging the technical and economic feasibility of projects designed to accomplish these objectives.[69] Consequently each type must educate the other in his own specialty if an effective, stepped-up space program is to be achieved.

The demand

Apparently the demand for specific formal education in the science of astronautics is increasing faster than it is being supplied. Although many colleges and universities have been setting up courses dealing with astronautics, the state of the art does not seem to have crystallized to the extent that it permits fashioning a career in the field at the educational level. Of course, discontent is created. One publication has editorialized:

We have received a surprising number of letters from young people who actually want to know how and where they can get started in a career in astronautics. These, for the most part, are high school students—and, evidently, they couldn't get the information they wanted from their own school. * * * Isn't the age of space yet important enough for all the high schools to sponsor interest in our space programs and to point out the need for a constant flow of young brains?[70]

The answer undoubtedly is that such grassroots demand will bring about increased academic curricula in astronautics in direct proportion to its magnitude.

Meanwhile, the availability of work for persons with a background in space-related subjects can be gaged to some extent by observing the variety of personnel requirements on major space exploration projects.

A single American firm, for example, uses 49 different professional specialists in its work for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and in its space work for the Department of Defense.[71] Multiplied by the thousands of companies which are doing similar work, the list gives an idea of the astronautic demand confronting the Nation's educational institutions:

Acoustician Aerodynamicist Aeronautical engineer Agricultural engineer Astrodynamicist Astronomer Astrophysicist Biochemist Biophysicist Ceramics specialist Chemist Computer specialist Crystallographer Development engineer Doctor of medicine Electrical engineer Electronic engineer Experimental physicist Flight engineer Gyroscopics specialist Hydraulic engineer Information theory analyst Inorganic chemist Logical designer Magnetic device engineer Mathematician Mechanical applications engineer Mechanical engineer Mechanisms specialist Medical electronic engineer Metallurgical engineer Methods engineer Nuclear physicist Oceanographer Organic chemist Physical chemist Pneumatic engineer Process engineer Production engineer Project engineer Psychologist Reliability engineer Sociologist Solid state physicist Structural engineer System analyst Theoretical physicist Thermodynamicist Transducer engineer


[50] 25 supra. See also address to the American Bankers Association, Oct. 28, 1958.

[51] Space Business Daily, June 17, 1960.

[52] Feldman, George J., cited in a letter to the House Committee on Science and Astronautics, Apr. 29, 1960.

[53] From Michelson, Edward J., "How Missile-Space Spending Enriches the Peacetime Economy," Missiles and Rockets, Sept. 14, 1959, pp. 13-17.

[54] Tischer, R. G., "A Search for the Spaceman's Food," Space Journal, December 1959, p. 46.

[55] Kraar, Louis, Wall Street Journal, May 4, 1960.

[56] 7 supra.

[57] Release No. 38-60, Air Research and Development Command, May 2, 1960.

[58] Lear, John, "Where Does Rain Begin?" New Scientist, Mar. 24, 1960, p. 724.

[59] "Wind and Soil," New Scientist, May 26, 1960, p. 1327.

[60] Wexler, Dr. Harry. Press conference conducted by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Apr. 22, 1960.

[61] Lockheed, Missiles and Space Division, medical research, Sunnyvale, Calif.

[62] Lewis, Dr. F. J., before the Space Flight Symposium, San Antonio, Tex., May 28, 1960.

[63] Kleitman, Prof. Nathaniel, before the Space Flight Symposium, San Antonio, Tex., May 26, 1960.

[64] Taylor, Lt. Col. Richard R., USA (MC), testimony before the House Committee on Science and Astronautics, June 15, 1960.

[65] Lederberg, Joshua, "Exobiology-Experimental Approaches to Life Beyond Earth," Science in Space, ch. IX, National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C., February 1960.

[66] Ibid.

[67] Dryden, Dr. Hugh L., speech before the Engineering Society of Cincinnati, Feb. 18, 1960.

[68] Michael, Donald N., "Space Exploration and the Values of Man," Space Journal, September 1959, p. 15.

[69] 67 supra.

[70] Space Age, August 1959, p. 3.

[71] Minneapolis-Honeywell, Military Products Group.


In assessing the practical values of space exploration it does not seem logical to limit considerations to those values which are immediate or near-future ones. The worth of a present activity may be doubled or trebled because of its long-range potential.

Such values may not be practical within the context of today's usage, but they may be extremely practical if we are willing to concede that those of us living today have an interest in and a responsibility for what happens on Earth in the decades and centuries to come.


Thinking along these lines it is not difficult to conjure up a picture of some of the difficult physical and social problems which will be facing the Earth in the years which stretch ahead. The foregoing sections of this report, for example, have already indicated extensive difficulties inherent in at least five major categories.

(1) Bursting population. (2) Acute water shortage. (3) Soil erosion and disappearance. (4) Too much leisure. (5) Intensified nationalism.

In each area it is probable that space exploration will ultimately play an important role.


Social scientists have been warning for years of the drastic social upheavals which must inevitably accompany an "exploding" population. It is a problem the complexity of which grows in geometric progression as time goes on. In the United States nearly 300 years were required to produce 90 million people. In the past 60 years this number has doubled. The implications are obvious. They are only too plain to urban and suburban planners who endeavor to cope with the antlike construction and activity of the human race as it burgeons with each succeeding year.

Of course, this is not a domestic matter but a global one. Its seriousness has been described as follows: "Projection of the post-World War II rate of increase gives a population of 50 billions (the highest estimate of the population-carrying capacity of the globe ever calculated by a responsible scholar) in less than 200 years."[72] A European professor of medicine adds that any surge in human longevity at this time is quite undesirable from the standpoint of making elderly persons useful or cared for. "The problems posed by the explosive growth of populations * * * are so great that it is quite reassuring to know that biologists and medical men have so far been unsuccessful in increasing the maximum lifespan of the human species * * * and * * * it would be a calamity for the social and economic structure of a country if the mean lifespan were suddenly to increase from 65 to 85 years."[73]

Some anthropologists pessimistically wonder if man is going to prove like the locust by populating himself into near extinction from time to time.

Without subscribing to this view, one must nevertheless take notice of the difficulties posed by population increase, not merely those of food, shelter, education, and the like but also those resulting from cellular, cramped, close living.

Whichever phase of the problem is studied, it seems not unreasonable to conclude that space research will help find a solution. New ways to produce food, new materials for better shelter, new stimuli for education—all of these are coming from our space program. As for the matter of adequate living room, space research may result in ways to permit an easy and efficient scattering of the population without hurting its mobility. This might result from the development of small subsidiary types of craft, or "gocarts," originally designed for local exploration on other planets. Such craft, whether they operated by air cushion, nuclear energy, gravitational force, power cell, or whatever, conceivably would permit Earth's population to spread out without the need for expensive new roads—which, by the way, take millions of acres of land out of productive use.

A development of this sort, together with new power sources to replace the fossil fuels on which factory, home, and vehicle now depend, might also all but eliminate the growing smog and air-pollution blight.

Water shortage

A direct result of the population increase, multiplied by the many new uses for which water is being used in home appliances, etc., and plus the greatly increased demand for standard uses such as indoor plumbing, irrigation, and factory processing, is the likelihood that water shortage will be high on the list of future problems. Ways to conserve and reuse water, together with economical desalting of sea water, will be essential in the decades ahead. Space research may provide part of the answer here, too. (See New Water Sources and Uses, sec. III.)

Soil erosion

The Russian steppes of Kazakhstan are providing the world with a great contemporary dust bowl, reminiscent of the middle 1930's when dust from the Great Plains stretched from Texas to Saskatchewan. Questionable agriculture policies, drought, and strong easterly winds are among the forces blamed for the trials of southern Russia.[74] So great is the extent of this disturbance that the dust cloud has been identified in photographs taken by American weather satellites.

Of course, "wind erosion is only one of the processes whereby the Earth's arable land is diminishing and the deserts increasing; erosion by water can also sweep away the soil."[75] But insofar as the current dust bowl of the Soviet steppes has "diminished food resources at a time when the number of mouths to feed is increasing so rapidly, the world is the poorer."[76]

What can space research do about this vital trend, which again seems destined to accelerate in the future?

While we cannot be sure, we can conjecture that improved soil conservation might turn out to be the greatest benefit of weather understanding and modification. Agriculture policies might be adapted to the long-range patterns uncovered by weather satellites and, eventually, through better understanding of the making of weather, it may be possible to modify weather forces in a manner which will preserve the soil.

In a more remote vein, it may be that knowledge gained from a first-hand study of the Moon or other planets in the solar system will eventually contribute to the conservation of soil on Earth in ways as yet unimagined.

Added leisure

Acquiring more time for leisure sounds good. Very much more leisure than most people now have, however, is apt to present trouble in itself. Since it appears that the time is not far away when those living in the highly developed countries will no longer have to concentrate their prime energies on the traditional quest for food, clothing, and shelter, a potentially dangerous vacuum may be the result. At least the psychologists seem agreed that people must feel a useful purpose in their lives and have ways to pursue it.

Above all, leisure makes a challenge to the human spirit. Athens, in her Golden Age, displayed a genius for the creative use of leisure which can be seen as complementary, and indeed superior, to her genius for military and commercial ventures. There have also been such periods of all-pervasive inspiration in the history of other peoples * * *. The doubling of our standard of living will present a growing challenge to the human spirit and produce graver consequences, should we fail to meet it. We neglect the proper use of leisure at our peril.[77]

In other words, the answer to the problem does not lie solely with the golf course, the yacht club, the theater, or the lengthened vacation. Much more will be required.

The intellectual stimulus of space exploration and research, which undoubtedly will divide into numerous branches like capillary streaks from a bolt of lightning, should be markedly useful in helping to fill this vacuum. Space research would seem particularly applicable in this role since it deals with fundamental knowledge and concepts which are satisfying in terms of psychological needs and sense of purpose.

Intensified nationalism

Ever since World War II the era of colonialism has been on the wane. Many nations have proclaimed, won, or wrested their independence during that period. Others appear to be on the verge of doing so. At any rate, it is clear that in the decades ahead the world is going to see the rise of even more independent nations with strong nationalistic feelings.

History implies that developments of this sort are often accompanied by international unrest—because of the normal ebullience of national adolescence and the desire to be accepted by the world community, as well as a variety of concomitant political and economical upheavals.

For whatever trials may lie ahead on this score, space exploration may prove to be much needed oil on rough water.

Ambitious, advanced, sophisticated space exploration in the future is almost certain to require a high degree of international cooperation and perhaps even a pooling of resources and funds to some degree. Already America has found it expedient, in some cases mandatory, to depend on facilities in other countries for her ventures into space. A good example is the close cooperation between the United States and tracking bases located in Canada, Australia, South Africa, and elsewhere. An even better one is the important part played in U.S. efforts by England's giant radio telescope at Jodrell Bank. Most of our launches are followed by this equipment and much of the best scientific information gained from it. In the case of Pioneer V, Jodrell Bank was essential to keep in touch with the satellite at the longer distances and, moreover, was actually required to separate the fourth stage of the launch vehicle and direct the payload toward its Venus orbit.

Mutual need and cooperation thus fostered by space exploration can be expected to siphon off some of the political tensions of the future, especially as more and more nations become interested in space and inaugurate complex programs of their own.


There are some who are convinced that the exploration of space is rigidly limited and that the landing of men on extraterrestrial bodies other than the Moon is quite improbable. They are sure that extensive travel outside the solar system is impossible.

Admittedly, the problems of such travel are enormous. But are they incapable of solution?

Twenty-six million miles to Venus, 49 million miles to Mars, 3,680 million miles from the Sun to Pluto at the outer edge of the solar system. The nearest of the stars is 25 million, million miles away, and travel to it at 10 miles per second would require 80,000 years. Is the travel of man to the stars a futile dream? Each generation of man builds on the shoulders of the past. The exploration of space has begun; who now can set limits to its future accomplishments?[78]

That is the thought of one of the Nation's most expert space scientists.

"Who now can set limits * * * ?"

It seems to mesh curiously well with one of the most interesting phenomena of our day—the emergence of a breed of engineers, technicians, teachers, and scientists who do not recognize limits and who refuse to concede that something cannot be so because it fails to fit conventional patterns or conform to the physical laws of the universe as we now know them. Of this there is growing evidence.

For many years it has been an accepted "fact," for instance, that the Moon is a dead world with no life upon it. The suggestion made by the great 16th century mathematician, Johannes Kepler, that some life might exist on the Moon was debunked into silence long since. Yet today a fellow of the British Royal Astronomical Society writes that the first men to arrive on the Moon may find not only plant life but possibly animal life. "The fact that terrestrial organisms may be unable to survive in the surroundings of another planet is by itself no more significant than that fishes and other marine animals die when exposed to the air. From their point of view air is uninhabitable because they have failed to equip themselves with lungs."[79] And he adds that his surmise "leaves out of account the possibilities of the Moon's underground world, which are incalculable, for there water, the vital gases, congenial temperatures, and increased pressures will all be present. Only sunlight is absent."

Then there is Project Ozma, the search for life on other planets or in other star systems, which began in April 1960 at Green Bank, W. Va. It is being undertaken by the National Radio-Astronomy Observatory and consists of carefully directed listening by radio-telescope for signs of intelligent broadcasts originating outside Earth.

At Stanford University another astronomer is concentrating the efforts of part of his laboratory on behalf of a similar idea. The chances are, he believes, "that the superior races of other planets in other galaxies have already developed a communications network among themselves, and have entered a joint program to scan all the other solar systems looking for signs of awakening civilization among the backward planets. Each of the advanced communities might pick as its probe assignment a single other solar system—and one such probe may well be circling our Sun right now on a routine check for life."[80] Unexplained delayed echoes of earthly radio transmissions received in the past, it is thought, could be evidence of such a scheme.

Are goings-on such as these nonsense?

Here is the answer given by one hard-headed science writer:

Centuries may pass before there is any sign of intelligence outside the Earth. But the advantages of communication with another civilization that has survived our present dilemmas are far too great to permit the experiment to be abandoned.[81]

The results of recent and more orthodox experiments have already done much to shake the complacency of scientists in regard to their concepts of space. Investigations have disclosed that, far from being a complete vacuum, space is relatively full of matter and energy. Hydrogen gas, radiation belts, cosmic particles, solar disturbances of unknown nature, micrometeorites—and, from Pioneer V, proof of a 5-million ampere electromagnetic ring centered about 40,000 miles away.[82] The director of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Laboratory in Cambridge, Mass.,[83] has said that more and more startling astrophysical information was gathered during the first few weeks of the space age than had been accumulated in the preceding century.

In brief, it is becoming the vogue in science to refuse to say "impossible" to anything. On the contrary, the watchword for tomorrow is shaping up as "take nothing for granted."


Everything learned from space exploration thus far indicates that the knowledge lying in wait for those who manage to observe the universe from outside Earth's atmosphere will be far grander than anything uncovered to date.

We may finally learn the origin of our universe and the method of its functioning. A good part of this knowledge may be no farther away than the next 3 to 5 years. Satellite telescopes now under construction are expected to elicit far more information than even the 200-inch giant at Mount Palomar. One such observatory satellite, to be launched in 1963 or before, "will permit a telescope of about 10 feet in length to point at heavenly bodies within a tenth of a second of arc for periods up to an hour. Present plans call for an orbit between 400 and 500 miles, as a lifetime of at least 6 months is required to observe the entire celestial field."[84]

Perhaps, and sooner than we think, we shall find a clue to the destiny of all intelligent life.

Perhaps the theory advanced by a noted eastern astronomer will turn out to be true—that biological evolution on the habitable planets of the universe may be the result of contamination left by space travelers arriving from (and leaving for) other worlds. In other words, the fruition of life on the various planets of the millions of solar systems might be the product of a wandering group of astronautic Johnny Appleseeds who leave the grains of life behind them. "Space travel between galaxies has to be possible for this, but of course this needs to be only quite a rare event. In a time of about 3.3 billion years, the most advanced form of life occurring in a galaxy must be able to reach a neighboring one."[85]

The notion seems fantastic.

But when we look clear to the end of Earth's road (and assuming the astrophysicists are right in their theories about the evolution and ultimate death of our solar system) we know that Earth will one day become uninhabitable. Life on Earth must then perish or move elsewhere. If we further assume that mankind will not want to die with his planet and if we acknowledge that other worlds may have been through this entire cycle in eons past—perhaps the notion is not so unreasonable after all.

Whatever the truth is on this score, space exploration will certainly be of "practical" value to our descendants when that dim, far-off day arrives.


Long before the arrival of that millennium, however, the knowledge and understanding awaiting us through the medium of space exploration is certain to have profound effects on the human race psychologically and spiritually.

It already has had effects on humans of all ages.

Adults, who are paying the taxes to support the space exploration program and reaping its practical values, are also thinking of themselves, their country, and their world in broader, more knowledgeable terms.

In a sense, children may be even more deeply involved.

There is a special group which may play a useful role in spreading the new values growing from the exploration of space, and this is the children who play at spaceman today. Whether or not they take this interest with them beyond childhood remains to be seen. However, the unique fact in the present situation is that never before have children rehearsed a role that really will not exist until they are adults. To be sure all of them will not fulfill this childhood role, but the fact that the reality lies ahead rather than in the past (as with cowboys and Indians) may stimulate them to retain a sensitivity for the various meanings man in space can have for our future.[86]

Put it another way—if it is true, as a modern Chinese philosopher has said, that the search for knowledge is a form of play, "then the spaceship, when it comes, will be the ultimate toy that may lead mankind from its cloistered nursery out into the playground of the stars."[87]


The psychological and spiritual changes necessitated by this evolution may be at a cost far beyond dollars—because many of us will be hard put to negotiate them, especially if they come too rapidly.

Nevertheless, negotiating them must also be placed in the category of "practical" values—for in the long run it seems to be an essential part of the maturing of mankind.

The years ahead will face us with many sputniks and thereby will require of our citizens stern, costly, and imaginative participation in programs to meet and surmount the many complex challenges with which our growing technology confronts us. To succeed in space and to succeed on Earth, we must somehow learn to make the larger world of ideas, so brilliantly exemplified by the satellites, the immediate environment of the individual. There is a race we must run—the race for an enlightened and involved public.[88]

So if we can accept the wrenches which space exploration is apt to apply to our time, pocketbook, energy, and thinking, the values and rewards as outlined in this report should gather headway and grow continuously greater.

Space technology is probably the fastest moving, typically free-enterprise and democratic industry yet created. It puts a premium not on salesmanship, but on what it needs most—intellectual production, the research payoff. Unlike any other existing industry, space functions on hope and future possibilities, conquest of real estate unseen, of near vacuum unexplored. At once it obliterates the economic reason for war, the threat of overpopulation, or cultural stagnation; it offers to replace guesswork with the scientific method for archeological, philosophical, and religious themes.[89]

Such conclusions seem a bit rosy. But sober study indicates that they may not be too "far out" after all.


[72] Hauser, Philip M., "Demographic Dimensions of World Politics," Science, June 3, 1960, p. 1642.

[73] Bacq, Prof. Z. M., "Medicine in the 1960's," New Scientist, Jan. 21, 1960, p. 130.

[74] 59 supra.

[75] Ibid.

[76] Ibid.

[77] "The Challenge of Leisure," M. G. Scott, Ltd., London, August 1959, p. 20.

[78] 27 supra.

[79] Firsoff, Dr. V. A., "The Strange World of the Moon," Basic Books, London, 1959.

[80] Reported by David Perlman, San Francisco Chronicle, June 7, 1960.

[81] Lear, John, "Is Anybody There?," New Scientist, Apr. 14, 1960, p. 933.

[82] Aviation Week, May 9, 1960, p 32.

[83] Whipple, Dr. Fred L.

[84] Western Aviation, June 1960, p. 16.

[85] Gold, Dr. Thomas, "Cosmic Garbage," address to the Space Scientists Symposium, Los Angeles, December 1959.

[86] 68 supra, pp. 12, 13.

[87] 6 supra, pp. 3, 4.

[88] Michael, D. N., "Sputniks & Public Opinion," Air Force, June 1960, p. 75.

[89] Industrial Research, December 1959, pp. 8, 9.


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