...a blog by Richard Flowers

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Day 2201: Moonraker



There is going to be a British space rocket called a MOONRAKER!

And doesn't SIR MARTIN SWEETING sound like he should be in a JAMES BOND film!!!

Mr Tom Papworth does not think that this is such a good idea because it will cost a lot of public money. But I think that I disagree. I hope that is all right!

Here is MY Liberal thought: we should aim to maximise people's potential and minimise how much the government imposes on them!

I think this is maximising potential but I think Mr Tom thinks it is imposing too much!

This is a question that deserves a GOOD DEBATE. And it is fair enough that people ought to have much more of a SAY in whether we do this or not. It should not just be because Mr Wicks decides that he wants to be blasted into space!

Mind you, when Mr Tom says if it were good for business then business would invest in it, I do have to disagree.

There are lots of things that are good for business that business does not invest in. Schools. Roads. Oxygen. I wonder when business would have gotten around to investing in Christopher Columbus's trip to America if Mr Ferdinand and Mrs Isabella had not spent public money funding it?

The problem with just relying on business is that you get caught in a PRISONER’S DILEMMA.

You remember how that works?

Two men are slung into GAOL. The Chief of Police goes in to see one of them and says: "I can keep you here for six months, but if you implicate the other fellow, he'll get ten years and I'll see you go free tonight!"

Now, Mr Prisoner thinks logically about this. If the Police Chief has given him this offer, then he's probably given it to the other prisoner too. So, what's the best strategy? If the other man has turned him in, Mr Prisoner will be doing ten years whatever he does, so LOGICALLY that shouldn't influence the choice he makes; BUT if the other man keeps silent, then Mr Prisoner's choice is to do six months or none at all. So the chance of freedom tonight means that the logical thing to do is turn in the other guy.

Of course, if the other guy makes the same logical choice then you end up with the WORST outcome which is BOTH OF THEM doing ten years, when they could both have been out in six months if they'd done the ILLOGICAL thing.

But what's THAT got to do with anything, you might very well ask.

Well, the UP FRONT cost of investing in the development of commercial spaceflight is very high and very risky. In the SHORT TERM, if you invest in space, then your competitors will have a BIG advantage over you and you may go BUST.

The bosses of Prisoner PLC think about this: if their rivals, Other Fellow Ltd, decide to invest in space then Prisoner PLC can either invest too – so neither side has an advantage – or they can choose NOT to invest and steal a march on the competition. The logical choice is to avoid the risky investment.

Suppose Other Fellow Ltd has decided NOT to invest in space research then if Prisoner PLC invests they will put themselves at a big DISADVANTAGE! Again, the logical choice is to avoid the space investment.

EVERYONE would be better off if businesses DID invest in space. But the logical (but short-sighted) approach is to avoid the investment in the first place.

This is why business is actually REALLY BAD at inventing and discovering (unlike, for example, rich Victorian eccentrics with loads of money and too much time on their hands!).

Obviously, not EVERYONE is bound up by this GAME-THEORY logic; some people take more risks than others. But the bigger the risk, the fewer investors you are likely to find willing to make a gamble, and the less money they are likely to be willing to put up.

SPACE is a VERY big risk AND costs a VERY big amount of money. The only people daft enough to take THAT sort of wager are GOVERNMENTS!

But Science and discovery are GOOD in and of themselves. We do not know what we might discover – that is why we are looking! The last space programme gave us satellite telephones and non-stick pans! The next one might give us the ever-lasting sticky bun!

And sooner or later we are going to run out of room or resources here on the Earth and we are going to want to EXPAND. Or, as Professor Stephen Hawking warns, some disaster or our own daftness may well overwhelm us and we are going to NEED to get out!

We had better be ready!

The whole of human history has been about exploring and expanding into new places. Now is no time to stop the habit of a (species) lifetime!

Exploring the moon is a good place to start – we can find a place for a moonbase and work out how best to explore further, towards the resources of Mars and the asteroids and eventually out into space!

Also: MOONRAKER – how COOL is that!

1 comment:

Andy said...