Was America's New Horizons worth it's salt?

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Was America's New Horizons worth it's salt?
« on: 26/03/2016 23:47:14 »
What great amazing things has the immensely expensive interplanetary space probe given us?


Offline chiralSPO

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Re: Was America's New Horizons worth it's salt?
« Reply #1 on: 27/03/2016 10:45:37 »
First, a short analysis of the cost of the mission:

According to this article (http://www.forbes.com/sites/alexknapp/2015/07/14/how-do-new-horizons-costs-compare-to-other-space-missions/#bbe634e767b5) the mission cost about $700 million.

This sounds like a lot of money, but let's try to add some perspective:

-The 2002 movie The Adventures of Pluto Nash had a budget of about $150 million, and that movie SUCKED!

-The world's most amazing superyachts cost around $400-$600 million (plus operation expenses!). http://www.forbes.com/sites/aliciaadamczyk/2015/04/08/how-much-does-a-superyacht-really-cost/#5e63ad5f26eb

-Brazil spent about $15 billion ($15000 million) on the World Cup, and while there were a few good games, I'm not sure I would say it offered much benefit to humanity (and certainly didn't do much for Brazil)

-The US mission to liberate Iraq cost at least $1.7 trillion ($1700000 million), and by all accounts has been a dramatic disservice to the region, Europe, and the US...

Most of the expenditures for the New Horizons mission were paid out to people and industries on Earth. It is not like we just loaded up a rocket with of a billion dollars worth of platinum and launched it out of the solar system...

Now some analysis of what we got out of the mission, and what we hope to get.

Firstly, it should noted that the mission is not over yet--we are still receiving data from its encounter with Pluto (which will probably still be analyzed for decades to come), and the probe only zipped by Pluto on its way to the outer solar system, where we really know very little about.

What information has been sent back so far has been very interesting. It was a total surprise to most that Pluto is a geologically active world. The real-world observations have sent many a theorist back to the drawing board about exogeology and exometeorology. The ramifications of this information are still not completely known, but appear to represent the beginning of a significant advance in our understanding of icy bodies.

We cannot know how useful these discoveries will ultimately be, but it would be foolish to claim it to be purely of academic interest. Columbos's expeditions were notoriously expensive, and essentially an abysmal failure in the short term, but within a century or two exploration, colonization, and trade associated wth the Americas were a major part of European economies (Spain, Portugal, France, England and the Netherlands).

Particle accelerators are also extremely expensive, and there were many who questioned the value of investing so heavily in such seemingly academic pursuit of knowledge. And yet, the scientific and technological advances associated with these has facilitated breakthroughs in medical technology (PET scans), communications technology (data compression), countless new drugs (synchrotron radiation has been used to determine the crystal structures of hundreds of proteins, allowing the study and design of drugs that interact with those proteins), and if we can ever get controled fusion energy, it will likely be largely indebted to the studies done with particle accelerators. I should also mention that there will probably be several more revolutionary technological advances made in areas we cant even imagine--remember, it took more than a century for the Americas to be worth anything to Europeans.

Let us also not forget all of the advances society has made due to space exploration, including: gps, cell phones, solar panels, flame retardants, aerogels, UV-protective coatings, etc.