Profits, not scientific curiosity,  may drive future space exploration

Hard as it is to imagine, the real Capt. James Tiberius Kirk, when he does come to be, might not be a captain at all.

Sure, he’ll be in charge of a starship and most certainly he’ll flit from asteroid to comet to far-off planet, but the similarity might well end there.

The difference between the yet-to-be honed reality of a space program that goes to the stars, or at least to Mars (named for the god of war, interestingly enough) and the idea of space exploration that has been implanted in the collective conscience is as significant as the difference between Mercury and Mars.

Mars being, in this case, the idea of space exploration by a big government agency, the kind that puts recruits through basic training (Starfleet Academy, if you’re up on your Star Trek) and then sends them off to earn their stripes, stars or the like in a military organization that looks a lot like a navy or army or air force or some amalgamation of all.

The reality, though, might well look more like Mercury.

Fast-moving, nimble, accustomed to dealing with, and profiting from rapidly changing conditions, the future of space exploration might be better patterned after the swift Roman god of travel and trade. They’ll be in private service, not public.

Our future James T. Kirk could be ably assisted by a science officer from Vulcan, home to a species able to calculate the expectation of success, i.e. profit, down to a millionth of a penny, in nanoseconds.

And Kirk, Spock, the multilingual Uhura, Chechkov, McCoy and Scotty might very well go boldly, where man has not gone before.

Or perhaps it’s more likely that an entrepreneurial space program will follow exactly where we have been before.

A free-market space effort, which seems to be the direction in which currently policy is lurching, might giggle at the stated goal of going to Mars (for one thing, that whole god of war thing again) because the prospect of profit is so thin. Ask the Vulcan.

On the other hand, going where Neil Armstrong and friends have gone before is a more likely possibility, no matter how much the current wisdom scoffs upon the idea.

One thing the moon doesn’t need is water, something with significant commercial value back on old Terra Firma.

The Mars model of space exploration doesn’t give a rat’s keester about water; the Mercury model just might.

The presence of water makes the moon a more attractive base from which to explore the stars.

Turns out that the moon, desolate as it might appear, isn’t quite the atmosphere-free equivalent of the Stinking Desert in mid-July.

Somewhere in the moon, not on it, there is water, it now appears, according to researchers at the University of Tennessee writing in Nature, the scientific journal.

There is “robust evidence for the presence of water in the interior of the moon from where some lunar rocks were derived,” the scientists wrote.

If there’s water on the moon, then it’s valuable and where there is value, there could very well be profit.

It might not have the cachet of traveling to other planets because they are there, but there is good reason to go back to the moon.

Not only might there be water, but there’s a reasonably good chance that much-needed minerals might exist there in quantities and concentrations that would make them worth mining.

It might be cheaper from a bureaucratic and regulatory perspective, to mine the moon than the Earth. At least for a few years, until the Kennedys complain that the sight of mining equipment in the Sea of Tranquility viewed through telescopes at Hyannis Port unreasonably impinges on their viewshed.

That might force exploration to farther and farther reaches of space, of course, but that’s in the natural course of things.

The reality may be that Executive V.P. Kirk will be at the helm of an Enterprise intended explicitly for that purpose.


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