Showing posts with label science of space travel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label science of space travel. Show all posts

Space Exploration, Curiosity, and Human Psychology.




Emotions and actions are involved in genetic and anthropological considerations of exploration and migration, it is worth outlining briefly a psychological notion of curiosity. 



Despite the fact that psychology has numerous ideas on human curiosity25, one key discovery is that it is extremely idiosyncratic. 


While it is true that all people are inquisitive in some way, this curiosity manifests itself in a variety of ways. 

The difference between cognitive or epistemic curiosity and sensory or perceptual curiosity is worth noting. 

“The need for new information” is referred to as cognitive curiosity, while “the desire for new experiences and thrills” is referred to as sensory curiosity. 



The difference between particular and diversive curiosity is another important distinction. 


Diverse curiosity refers to a broad need for perceptual or cognitive stimulation, while specific curiosity refers to a desire for a specific piece of knowledge (Kidd and Hayden 2015, 450). 

As a result, knowing that someone is inquisitive tells you very little about them since they may exhibit specific cognitive curiosity, diversive cognitive curiosity, specific sensory curiosity, or diversive sensory curiosity. 



Furthermore, knowing that someone is inquisitive in one of these ways tells us nothing about what kinds of knowledge or experiences would help them fulfill their curiosity. 


The details differ greatly from person to person, and there is no evidence that knowledge and feelings linked to any one subject or area, including space travel, serve as common or universal objects of interest. 

Nonetheless, there is a significant link between curiosity and exploration— but only in a psychological and biological sense: 

Exploration includes finding new information to address a problem through observation, consultation, and focused thought (specific exploration), as well as new sensory experiences and thrills to broaden one's knowledge into the unknown (diversive exploration). 



Curiosity, according to a definition that connects the two categories, is the need for new knowledge and sensory experiences that drives environmental exploration. 


Curiosity motivates exploration, but it is usually much more mundane acts of information or sensation seeking, such as tinkering with a new toy, surveying one's local environment (be it one's neighborhood, office, or refrigerator), or experimenting with hallucinogens, rather than something as lofty as sending humans to explore the Moon. 

It would be an equivocation to conclude from the facts that we are all inquisitive in some way and that we are all explorers in some way that humans in general are interested about and want to explore space in particular. 



Individuals may be interested about and want to explore space, but this does not define the species; to argue differently risks the composition fallacy.


~ Jai Krishna Ponnappan 


You may also want to read more about Space Exploration, Space Missions and Systems here.




SPACE AND THE DESIRE TO EXPLORE





An argument for a duty to explore space is that humans can only fulfill some inherent human impulses via space exploration, such as the drive to explore or move. 



The main activities involved by such a duty would be human space exploration and space colonization. 


Robert Zubrin, the founder of the Mars Society, is one of the proponents of this logic: 

One of our primary adaptations is the human desire to explore. 

Because our forefathers did, and because we are alive because they did, we have a fundamental desire to see what is on the other side of the hill. 

As a result, I am confident that mankind will go into space. 

If we didn't, we'd be less than human. 


Carl Sagan and Ian Crawford are two other proponents. 



In Cosmos, Sagan says, 


"We began on our cosmic journey with a question first posed in the infancy of our species and asked again with undiminished amazement in each generation: 

What are the stars?" Exploration is ingrained in our DNA. 

We started out as wanderers, and we still are. 

We've spent much too much time on the cosmic ocean's beaches. 

Finally, we're ready to set sail for the stars. 



Meanwhile, Crawford makes an even stronger case for space travel as a need for humanity's survival: 


There are grounds to believe that as a species, Homo sapiens is genetically inclined to exploration and colonization of an open frontier. 

Access to such a frontier, at least vicariously, may be psychologically essential for human civilizations' long-term well-being. 

It's essential to highlight that this is a human trait, not just a Western one, since it led to our colonization of the whole globe after our development as a species in a geographically limited area of Africa. 



Regardless of how seriously these arguments are taken, it must be true that if we participate in cosmic research, our perspectives will be wider and our culture will be richer than if we do not. 


Despite its cult following, claiming that human nature is characterized by exploratory and migratory tendencies is problematic. 

For starters, such statements are ambiguous since they may be construed in one of three ways: Such statements may be referring to the notion that mankind has a fate or "destiny" in space. 

Such statements may be referring to the notion that inquisitive and migratory habits are fundamental to human civilizations. 



On an individual, biological level, such statements may relate to the notion that inquisitive and migratory tendencies are fundamental characteristics of humans. 


These are the spiritual, cultural, and biological manifestations of the notion that mankind is characterized by adventurous and migratory inclinations. 

If at least one version of the assertion that exploratory and migratory inclinations define humankind is true, then such a claim may be used as a premise in an argument supporting a duty to support those spaceflight activities that fulfill these desires. 


To begin, even if it is undisputed that at least one formulation of the claim is true, we would risk the naturalistic fallacy, as Rayna Slobodian (2015) acknowledges, if we conclude directly from one of these formulations that it would be desirable for humans to act on these urges. 


At the very least, it might be argued that acting on these impulses does more good than not acting on them, whether via the fulfillment of wants or the realization of positive outcomes. 

As a result, it would be easy to dismiss this argument by claiming that funding kinds of spaceflight that fulfill desires to explore or migrate would be insufficiently beneficial. 



I will argue that the scientific exploration of space produces enough good, therefore I do not want to go down this path of rejecting a duty to fulfill our claimed desire to explore. 


Instead, I will argue against the first assumption, namely, that any articulation of the assertion that mankind is characterized by exploratory and migratory inclinations contains little meaningful reality. 

However, space constraints prevent a comprehensive examination of all three versions. 

As a result, I'll just address my problems with the third, biological formulation; for further information on the mystical and cultural formulations.



So, for the time being, I'd want to concentrate on the argument that inquisitive and migratory behaviors are necessary human characteristics in a biological or genetic sense. 

We'll need to look at psychology, anthropology, and genetics for some answers.



~ Jai Krishna Ponnappan 


You may also want to read more about Space Exploration, Space Missions and Systems here.




Views on Astrobiology and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life.



Given that educational level and scientific literacy positively correlate both with belief in evolution by natural selection and with willingness to increase space funding, and that religiosity negatively correlates with belief in evolution by natural selection and with willingness to increase space funding, it could be that astrobiology and the search for extraterrestrial life are subject to acute levels of disapprobation, at least among those with less education or those with higher religiosity. 



It is not safe to assume that astrobiology and the search for extraterrestrial life inherit the same degree of popularity as space exploration more generally. 



What of the data that bear directly on astrobiology? 


To the best of my knowledge there have only been four surveys that have attempted to measure the public’s interest in, and willingness to support, astrobiology and the search for life; and only one of these surveyed the American public.

This telephone survey, which took place in 2005, used a random sample of 1,000 U.S. adults, making it the largest survey of its kind. 

It is also noteworthy in being the only survey that attempts to discriminate between belief in extraterrestrial life of various types (e.g., microbial extraterrestrial life, versus plant-​or animal-​like extraterrestrial life, versus intelligent extraterrestrial life). 



In response to the question “do you believe that there is life on other planets in the universe besides Earth?,” 60 percent of the sample said yes, 32 percent said no, and 8 percent were not sure.(Pettinico 2011). 


Belief in extraterrestrial life correlated negatively with frequency of religious service attendance: Only 45 percent of those attending services weekly believed in life on other planets, whereas 70 percent of those rarely or never attending services believed there was life on other planets.

Pettinico also reports a positive correlation with belief in life on other planets and household income.

Of the 32 percent not open to extraterrestrial life, 56 percent cited religion as a major reason.



Among this group (about 18 percent of the total sample), frequency of attending religious services correlated positively with the identification of religion as a major reason for rejecting the possibility of extraterrestrial life, with 72 percent of those attending services weekly giving this reason compared to only 31 percent of those attending rarely or never.


This information might lend credence to the analogy between evolution and astrobiology, since religiosity is negatively correlated with belief in evolution by natural selection and with belief in the possibility of extraterrestrial life. 

Nevertheless, these results do not provide definitive insight into the public’s interest in and support for astrobiology, if only because of a curious spread of beliefs about the likely nature of extraterrestrial life. 

Of the 68 percent open to the possibility of extraterrestrial life, 45 percent think that there very likely is extraterrestrial microbial life; 25 percent think that there very likely is extraterrestrial life similar to plants; and 21 percent think that there very likely is extraterrestrial life similar to animals.

Meanwhile, 30 percent believe that there very likely is alien life similar to humans; and 39 percent percent think that there very likely exist superior extraterrestrial intelligences.



Pettinico offers an explanation as to why these beliefs do not correspond with scientifically informed expectations (that the probability of alien life diminishes as the complexity of such life increases):

It seems logical that the public thinks extremely basic life forms such as bacteria are the most likely alien life forms, because most space experts would usually agree—​at least that extraterrestrial microbes would probably be more frequent than more sophisticated life forms. 



However, the public is more inclined to believe in the likelihood of sophisticated life forms than they are to believe in the probability of plant-​like or animal-​like life forms. 


This may be, in part, owing to the influence of the media, which tends to highlight human-​like or sophisticated alien life forms. 

When ordinary Americans think of aliens, they may more readily picture Star Trek’s Klingons than they do any kind of lower-​level animal. 

Of course, it is essential to question why it is that, e.g., media representations of alien life tend to be extraterrestrial intelligences (ETI), and very frequently human-​like ETI. 



Clearly, human-​like ETI are simpler to conceive and to depict in movies. 


But it also may be that ETI, especially human-​like ETI, are just more intriguing to most people than other kinds of alien life. 

Thus, it may be that what motivates the answers in the instances of human-​ like and better ETI are not scientifically founded views but instead preferences based on what the respondents hope is the case or what they would find most interesting. 

For this reason, it is essential when polling the public to try to account for this possible variation in excitement regarding alien life. 



It is conceivable that people who are excited about the hunt for life are mainly thrilled about the prospective finding of human-​like or better ETI, and less so about “simpler” forms of alien life. 


It must be acknowledged, however, that little is known with any certainty regarding the public’s opinions particularly about the scientific hunt for alien life as it is presently being done, e.g., through robotic exploration of Mars or by exoplanet biosignature detection. 

There are, in my opinion, five problems that must be addressed in future research before we can make solid conclusions regarding the public’s views on astrobiology and the scientific quest for alien life. 



The first issue is that interests in extraterrestrial life are diverse, and could come from interest in the possibility of microbial life in the Solar System, from interest in the possibility of intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe, or from interest in the paranormal (e.g., UFOs and alien visitation) (e.g., UFOs and alien visitation). 


These passions are self-contained. A person may be interested in the paranormal but not in microbiological alien life, for example. 

Similarly, someone could be extremely interested in the potential of life on Mars but not at all interested in extraterrestrial biosignatures. 



Another problem is that views in alien life are not always the same as beliefs about the significance or usefulness of looking for it. 


The degree to which a person believes it is essential to seek for evidence of alien life is not the same as their conviction in the existence of extraterrestrial life, and the latter was not addressed in Pettinico (2011). 



A third problem is that curiosity in alien life is not the same as curiosity about what science has to say about it. 


Some people are fascinated by the origins of human existence but are uninterested in what evolutionary scientists have to say about it. 

It's possible that the same is true for alien life—that many people who are interested in extraterrestrial life will be uninterested in what astrobiology discovers. 

Two prominent examples are conspiracy theorists who believe in extraterrestrial visitation despite a lack of solid proof, and religious people who think (and have little doubt) either that God only created life on Earth or that God created life wherever it exists. 



The fourth problem is that curiosity in alien life, and even curiosity about the science surrounding extraterrestrial life, does not imply a desire to expand funding for the scientific quest for extraterrestrial life. 


If the comparison with space exploration is correct, we should anticipate few people to favor increased spending for the hunt for alien life, even if the majority of people support the quest. 

When seeking the public's opinion on the hunt for alien life, it's critical to ask both types of inquiries. 



A last point to consider is that absolute interest in alien life is not the same as relative interest or prioritizing the quest for extraterrestrial life. 


It's conceivable that even people who are highly interested in alien life, and even those who believe it needs more financing, do not prioritize the quest for extraterrestrial life above their other interests. 

The same may be said for opinions on space exploration in general. 

Thus, it is insufficient to simply question if one believes the hunt for alien life is worthwhile in isolation. 

Rather, the aim should be to assess the relative importance of the hunt for alien life to other space exploration goals and initiatives, both scientific and otherwise. 



Although there is more to astrobiology than the quest for alien life, it is possible that interest in astrobiology may exist independently of extraterrestrial life research. 


Nonetheless, the hunt for alien life is a major priority for astrobiologists, and they are not bashful about publicizing it. 

It is noteworthy, then, that there is no clear evidence of widespread public interest in and support for astrobiology and the scientific search for extraterrestrial life— leaving the claim that the public's desire to see astrobiology answer "life's big questions" provides sufficient grounds for the existence of an obligation to support astrobiology in this way as unsubstantiated.


~ Jai Krishna Ponnappan 


You may also want to read more about Space Exploration, Space Missions and Systems here.




Views on Space Exploration.



Consider the public’s views on space exploration. 



As NASA historian Roger Launius (2003) has noted, there has been and there continues to be a mismatch between, on the one hand, the public’s approval of NASA and the space program, and, on the other hand, the public’s willingness to support funding increases for space exploration. 


As mentioned earlier in this chapter, Gallup polls from 1990 to 2007 revealed that an average of 57.6 percent of Americans thought that NASA was doing an excellent or good job; 28.5 percent thought NASA was doing only a fair job; 7.8 percent thought NASA was doing a poor job; and 6 percent had no opinion. 

According to the General Social Surveys (GSS) from 2008 to 2014, an average of 67.2 percent of Americans were either very or moderately interested in space exploration, while an average of 32.1 percent were not at all interested. 



Meanwhile, a different picture emerges when the public is asked specifically about funding for NASA. 


Focusing on the period between 2006 and 2010, William Bainbridge finds evidence of the influence of scientific literacy and religion on beliefs about space funding. 

Among the 52.7 percent of GSS respondents who correctly identified that “human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals,” 18.2 percent said there is too little space funding; meanwhile, only 10.7 percent of those denying this claim thought there is too little funding for space.

Similarly, among the 50.4 percent who said that “the universe began with a huge explosion,” 20.2 percent said there is too little space funding; of those denying this claim, only 9 percent said there is too little space funding.



Scientific literacy may be the primary culprit here, since other questions seemingly unrelated to any potential conflict between science and religion revealed similar differences in attitudes toward space. 


For instance, of those correctly denying that lasers work by focusing sound waves, 20.1 percent said there is too little space funding; meanwhile, of those incorrectly agreeing that lasers work by focusing sound waves, only 9.8 percent said there is too little funding for space.

Nevertheless, Bainbridge does find data that bear directly on the influence of religion, and in particular, on the strength of one’s religious convictions. 



Of those who “know God really exists” and who have no doubts about it, only 11.7 percent said there is too little funding. 


Compare this with 22.4 percent of atheists and 24.9 percent of agnostics. 

A similar trend emerges when examining frequency of attendance of religious services. 

Of those who claim they attend religious services more than once per week, just 7 percent feel there is too little room financing; compare this with 16.9 percent of those who never attend religious services. 

 According to Joshua Ambrosius’ examination of data from the GSS and from many other polls, we must also be aware of the impact of religious tradition. 



Just as religious tradition seems to impact one’s beliefs on evolution, so too does it seem “to affect space knowledge, policy support, and the overall advantages of space exploration”.


As with evolution, Evangelical Christians stand out: Evangelicals are indeed less informed (even if reluctant to acknowledge their knowledge), interested, and supportive of space/​ space policy than the public as a whole and/​or other religious traditions. 

This is a concern for the future of space exploration since Evangelicals make up more than one-​quarter of the U.S. population and therefore a substantial proportion of prospective space-​minded constituencies. 



Meanwhile, individuals identifying as Jewish, Hindu, or Buddhist showed higher than average interests in space. 


Thus, Evangelicals may have an outsized effect on the connection between religiosity and pessimism about space, because Evangelicals are more likely than are other religious groups to attend services once a week or more, to think that scripture is the actual word of God, etc. 

It is plausible, then, that the public largely approves of astrobiology and the scientific search for life, but that like space exploration more generally this support is moderated by scientific literacy, religiosity, and religious tradition, and it does not extend to willingness to provide increased funding for astrobiology projects.


~ Jai Krishna Ponnappan 


You may also want to read more about Space Exploration, Space Missions and Systems here.




Evolutionary And Religious Perspectives On Space Exploration




Consider first the public's perceptions of evolution in the United States. 


According to the Pew Research Center's 2014 Religious Landscape Study, 33 percent of Americans think that people developed via natural processes, 25% believe that humans evolved "by God's plan," and 34% believe that humans have always been in their current form. 


This is down from 42 percent in 2005 who rejected evolution, while the combined number for evolution supporters (58 percent) is up from 48 percent in the same time period. 

Those who believe humans developed via natural processes rose from 26% to 33%, while those who believe in intelligent design increased from 18% to 25%. 



Religious traditions have quite different perspectives on evolution. 


Ninety percent of people who believe in intelligent design think religion is either very or extremely significant in their lives. 

Religion is either very or extremely significant in the lives of 93 percent of those who think people have always existed in their current form. 

Meanwhile, 52% of those who believe in natural processes as the cause of evolution say religion is either somewhat or extremely significant in their lives. 

Though not asked in the 2014 study, the 2005 study found that 63 percent of those who believe humans have always existed in their current form are “very certain about how life developed” (69 percent of biblical literalists); in contrast, 39 percent of believers in intelligent design are very certain, and only 28 percent of believers in natural processes are very certain. 



Another interesting finding from the 2014 study is that the more religious activities one engages in (e.g., attending services, praying, reading or studying scripture), the more likely one is to believe that humans have always existed in their current form or that humans evolved according to God's plan. 


Individuals who strongly believe that the Bible is God's literal word follow a similar trend. 

What does this have to do with astrobiology support? It must be stated up front that one's beliefs about evolution may or may not be predictive of one's beliefs about astrobiology or alien life. 



After all, individuals are known to have contradictory belief systems. 


Nonetheless, it's possible that skepticism about evolution is linked to a lack of interest in scientific solutions to questions like how life began or if alien life exists. 

That is, people who have strong concerns about natural selection may not only be uninterested in astrobiology, but may also prefer that astrobiologists avoid studying the origin and spread of life. 

This may be demonstrated by the fact that the vast majority of creationists are "quite confident" in their beliefs, and therefore are likely uninterested in what scientists have to say about the subject. 


The validity of this hypothesis is determined by how closely evolution, astrobiology, and the search for extraterrestrial life are linked in the public's mind — an intriguing area for future research, to be sure. 



~ Jai Krishna Ponnappan 


You may also want to read more about Space Exploration, Space Missions and Systems here.




SPACE EXPLORATION AND THE BIG QUESTIONS IN LIFE.




Another common justification for space travel is that it will provide answers to "life's great issues," such as the genesis of life on Earth and whether or not terrestrial life is alone in the Universe. 



Astrobiology and the scientific hunt for alien life are concerned with such issues. 


According to proponents of astrobiology, such issues are not only inherently interesting, but almost everyone wants to know the answers. 

According to Bruce Jakosky, Both scientists and the general public are interested in astrobiology and astrophysics because they address issues that are almost universal. 


We're looking for answers to questions like how the universe formed and evolved, how galaxies and stars form, evolve, and die, how planets form, behave, and evolve, and whether they're common; whether Earth-like planets exist elsewhere; how life evolved and whether microbial life exists elsewhere; and whether intelligent life is unique, rare, or common in the universe. 

As humans, we are profoundly moved by these questions. 

They address the fundamental question of how we connect to our environment, both collectively and individually. 



There are two different rationales to consider. 



  • On the one hand, there is the notion that we have a moral responsibility to answer "life's great questions" via astrobiology and the scientific hunt for alien life because these issues are inherently valuable. 
  • On the other side, others argue that we have a responsibility to answer "life's great questions" via astrobiology and the scientific hunt for life since the majority of the public wants to know the answers. 


I don't want to encourage doubt about the first argument. 

This is because, although I agree that concerns concerning the origin and breadth of life are inherently interesting, I shall argue in Chapter 4 that the scientific hunt for alien life is not the most essential consideration when it comes to space environmental preservation. 

However, we should be cautious of the second argument, which claims that we owe it to the public to answer "life's great issues" based on astrobiology and the scientific hunt for life. 

However, we should not reject this argument as just ad populum, since it would disregard the importance of political and social context to scientific study. 



Although we do not need to go so far as to support a highly democratic stance, such as Philip Kitcher's well-ordered science15, it is fair to believe that in a democratic society, at least certain research objectives should be sensitive to the public's needs and wants. 


If the public is vehemently interested in a topic, there is at least a prima facie case for funding research into that topic. 

When there is a confluence of public and genuine scientific interest, it is much more obvious that we should fund study into problems. 

Assuming that the public is particularly interested in the search for alien life, and that the quest is already genuinely scientifically fascinating, it seems that there is a prima facie duty to assist the astrobiological search for extraterrestrial life. 



As a result, gauging the public's interest in astrobiology and the scientific quest for alien life has some significance. 


And it is here that I shall offer an issue to the second astrobiology reason. 

The public's perceptions of astrobiology and the hunt for alien life are mostly unknown. 

There has only been one significant study of the American public's views about extraterrestrial life that I am aware of, and it did not try to measure interest in, or support for, astrobiology or the quest for alien life. 

Although I will discuss the survey's findings in more detail later, it is instructive to form two preliminary hypotheses based on well-known aspects of American public opinion that are likely to influence public perceptions of astrobiology, namely, the public's views on evolution and space exploration in general. 



As previously stated, the American public usually supports space exploration, yet, somewhat paradoxically, the American people is typically opposed to NASA budget increases. 


Insofar as astrobiology and the scientific quest for alien life include spaceflight, it's conceivable that the American people may respond similarly. 

Meanwhile, the public in the United States is split on the origins of terrestrial life—religiosity is linked to skepticism regarding natural selection-based evolution. 

Those who doubt that terrestrial life originated via natural selection may also doubt that life arose anyplace else in the Universe.


~ Jai Krishna Ponnappan 


You may also want to read more about Space Exploration, Space Missions and Systems here.




Scientific and Space Enthusiasm.




So much for the notion that spaceflight activities can be justified by their ostensible function in motivating kids to pursue STEM degrees. 



What about the other half of the educational inspiration argument, namely, that space exploration aids in the fulfillment of a responsibility to improve the general public's scientific literacy? 


Consider the following paragraph from Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot as an example of such an argument: Exploratory spaceflight exposes the public to scientific concepts, scientific thinking, and scientific language. 

It raises the standard of intellectual investigation in general. 

The notion that we've finally comprehended something no one has ever grasped before— that thrill, felt by almost everyone but particularly strong by the scientists involved— spreads through society, bounces off walls, and comes back at us. 

It motivates us to tackle challenges in other areas that have never been addressed before. 

It boosts the society's overall feeling of optimism. 

It lends credence to the kind of critical thinking that is sorely required if we are to tackle hitherto insurmountable societal problems. 

It contributes to the development of a new generation of scientists. 

The more science in the media—especially if methods, findings, and consequences are described—the better society, I think, will be. 



People all around the world are hungry for knowledge. 


Unfortunately, there are practically no statistics that directly relate to the impact of space exploration on the general public's scientific knowledge. 

As with the influence of spaceflight on STEM degree conferral rates, we should at least postpone judgment on the efficacy of spaceflight's ability to enhance public scientific literacy, and acknowledge that there is no obvious foundation for a duty to utilize spaceflight for such a goal. 

Nonetheless, I think a greater warning is necessary in this instance. 

I shall present a reduction of the argument that spaceflight has a beneficial impact on the general public's scientific literacy. 

Assume that spaceflight activities and scientific knowledge have a positive causal connection. 

As a result, we can anticipate the degree of scientific literacy to fluctuate over time as the breadth of spaceflight operations expands. 

What can be shown is that there has been no such covariation, implying that there is no obvious causal connection between spaceflight activities and scientific knowledge. 



My reduction is written as follows: 


1. Support for space exploration is linked to scientific knowledge. 

2. Public support for space exploration has been relatively constant throughout time. 

3. The activities of spaceflight have changed dramatically throughout time. 

4. As a result, spaceflight operations are unrelated to public support for space exploration. 

5. As a result, spaceflight activities are unrelated to scientific literacy. 


As a result, spaceflight activities are not linked to scientific literacy in any way. 

All that's left is to prove the premises of this argument are correct. 


Consider the data for (1), which suggests that scientific knowledge is linked to support for space exploration. 

While college students claim to know little about U.S. 

space exploration, they tend to have favorable views about NASA, according to a small-scale survey of undergraduates at Syracuse University. 

Their scientific literacy levels and public support for space exploration are linked, with political science and health science degrees showing the strongest correlation. 

It's possible that the more knowledgeable a person is about space science, the more likely he or she is to become an informed citizen who engages in public debate and is therefore more hopeful and supportive of space research. 


Cook, Druger, and Ploutz-Snyder 's sample is likely typical of the American population in terms of views about space exploration, according to Fran├žois Nadeau's analysis of data from the General Social Survey (GSS): 


If Americans are better educated about and appreciate organized science, they are more inclined to support expenditure on space exploration. 

This shows that Cook and colleagues' recent results apply not just to a small sample of undergraduate students at Syracuse University, but also to the general population in the United States. 

Scientific knowledge seems to assist many Americans compensate for a lack of elite signals in society when determining their spending choices on space exploration. 

Furthermore, as more college-level scientific courses are completed, Americans tend to prefer greater expenditure. 

s a result, there is evidence that scientific knowledge is linked to support for space exploration. 



Second, examine the data for (2), which shows that public support for space exploration has been relatively constant throughout time. 


For a government agency, NASA has always had strong public support. 

According to a 2015 Pew Research Survey, 68 percent of Americans viewed NASA favorably, second only to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which had a 70 percent positive rating. 

Meanwhile, according to a series of Gallup Polls conducted between 1990 and 2007, an average of 57.6% of Americans believe NASA is doing an outstanding or good job, while 28.5 percent believe NASA is merely doing a fair job, and just 7.8% believe NASA is doing a bad job. 

Scientific literacy has remained reasonably constant during the same time span. 



Finally, consider that NASA's budget decreased from about 1.0 percent of the federal budget to about 0.5 percent of the federal budget during the same period, supporting (3). 


Since the scope of spaceflight activities (as measured by NASA’s funding) does not correlate with the public’s approval of NASA, whereas one’s level of scientific literacy does correlate with one’s approval of NASA, it would be difficult to maintain that the scope of spaceflight activities has a salient impact on the level of scientific literacy among the general public. 

Spaceflight activities thus are not effective implements for inspiring the general public to become more scientifically literate, and consequently, we have no obligation to use spaceflight to promote increases in the scientific literacy of the general public. 

Things only get muddier when examining support for space science relative to the more general issue of support for science. 



The common refrain among space advocates that space topics are inherently exciting is not supported by public opinion regarding science funding. 


A comparison of the GSS natsci,11 natspac,12 and natspacy13 data sets from between 2002 and 2016 reveals that roughly 38 percent of Americans felt too little was being spent on scientific research, while only 17 percent felt too little was being spent on space exploration. 

Meanwhile, about 12 percent felt that too much was being spent on scientific research, while 33 percent felt too much was being spent on space exploration. 

This suggests that Americans are, on average, less sanguine about space exploration than they are about scientific research in general. 


Relevant here is a recent study which found that respondents tend to overestimate science’s share of the federal budget, and that after presented with correct information, there is a significant increase in the percentage of individuals responding that science funding should be increased (Goldfarb and Kriner 2017). 


This corroborates a suspicion of Alan Steinberg’s (2013) that opinions about spaceflight spending are influenced by misperceptions of, and can be improved by accurate communication about, the actual level of spaceflight spending. 

Although there is no reason to believe that spaceflight activities are efficient predictors of scientific literacy, maybe we might achieve greater support for spaceflight (and for science more broadly) by improving overall scientific literacy. 


The issue here is that, although scientific knowledge and support for research are positively linked, there are many other important factors: 

  • The route from scientific knowledge to favorable views toward science or support for research is not always obvious. 



Knowledge impacts various sections in a community differently based on a number of variables, including degrees of religion, political predispositions and worldviews, and respect to scientific authority. 


These trends appear to differ depending on the particular scientific problem being investigated and the society in which the data is gathered. 

Thus, a rise in scientific literacy, particularly targeted to a single area of research, would not offer a solid assurance of an increase in support for that domain of science.



~ Jai Krishna Ponnappan 


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SPACE EXPLORATION AS AN INSPIRATION FOR EDUCATION.




The idea that spaceflight should be given more support because it is particularly educationally inspirational is a frequent topic in space advocacy, both in popular science and peer-reviewed scientific and space policy literature. 



Improved interest in STEM fields (as shown by STEM enrollments) or increased scientific knowledge among the general population may be evidence of such motivation. 


For the time being, I'll concede that achieving both of these objectives would be beneficial. 

I am particularly uninterested in debating the value of increasing general public scientific literacy; however, I grant that it is debatable whether society (at least, American society) is currently in need of more individuals with STEM degrees, as enrollments in engineering and computer science, in particular, have shown strong growth over the last 30 years (but perhaps the complaint is that enrollments in engineering and computer science have shown strong growth over the last 30 years). 


I'm not going to argue that any of these jobs is impossible to do. What I'll argue is that there's no conclusive evidence that spaceflight is a good source of either kind of inspiration. 


  1. SPACE EXPLORATION AND STEM EDUCATION.
  2. Scientific and Space Enthusiasm.


We have no related duty to fund spaceflight since it is not an effective means of fulfilling the commitment (if there is one) to inspire interest in science.



~ Jai Krishna Ponnappan 


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SPACE EXPLORATION AND STEM EDUCATION



STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and space. 



Take, for example, the assertion that spaceflight activities are important drivers of STEM degree conferrals. 



Eligar Sadeh, for example, argues that there is evidence of a link between NASA's budget and the rate at which students in the United States obtain degrees in STEM fields: During the Apollo program, there was a significant rise in the number of American citizens seeking postgraduate degrees in STEM fields. 

The number of students entering STEM disciplines corresponded with the decreasing trend in NASA's budget when the Apollo program was ended and funding reduced, particularly for graduate courses at the Ph.D. level. 



A general lack of interest in STEM subjects is one factor contributing to these developments. 


The notion that money spent on the space program would be better spent in the educational system, encouraging kids to pursue STEM fields, is a fallacy, since the United States is already one of the world's top spenders per student. 

The bottom line is that students need motivation to pursue their goals. 




As shown by elements of the Apollo paradigm and the inspiring value of Apollo, the beneficial effect of space exploration on STEM education is unprecedented. 


Sadeh is right that there is a strong link between NASA's budget and STEM degree conferral rates during the Apollo era (approximately 1960 to 1975), at least when the former is measured in absolute dollars and the latter is measured in total doctorate degrees awarded in different STEM fields. 

However, as shown in Table A.52 in Appendix A, doctorate conferral rates in most fields were similarly favorably linked with NASA's budget, and in many instances even more strongly with the overall government budget, during the same time period. 

Thus, identifying NASA's activities as the primary drivers of degree production would be premature, especially given that overall federal science spending followed a similar pattern over the same time period— a spike in the mid-1960s, followed by a steady return to prior levels of funding (at least as a percentage of the federal budget) by the mid- to late-1970s. 



A more cautious theory is that students were reacting to— or “inspired by”— anticipated improvements in job possibilities in many areas, particularly the space industry. 


Comparing total U.S. degree conferral rates (bachelor's, master's, and doctorate degrees) with different categories of U.S. 

government outlays allows for a preliminary evaluation of this theory. 

At the time of study (fall 2018), complete data on degree conferral rates was only available for the years 1970 to 2015, which were the years for which data from the National Center for Education Statistics' Digest of Education Statistics was accessible for all fields. 

As a result, I'll concentrate on the years 1970 to 2015. 


To see whether change in degree conferral rates can be explained by variance in funding levels in a priori relevant domains, multiple linear regression models were employed. 


These models were built to answer specific questions like 

"Does financing for biomedical research predict biomedical degree conferral rates?" 

rather than broad ones like 

"What, if anything, predicts biomedical degree conferral rates?" 


Degree conferral rates were entered as percentages of the US population, while funding levels were input as percentages of total government outlays to account for the effects of population growth, yearly budget changes, and other factors. 




Three models were created for each field, accounting for three possible delays between the funding year and the degree conferral year: four years, six years, and eight years. 


Degrees awarded in 1970 correspond to funding levels in 1966, 1964, and 1962, respectively; degrees awarded in 1971 correspond to funding levels in 1967, 1965, and 1963, and so on. 

The rationale for this is that financing changes are unlikely to have an immediate effect on degree conferral rates, but are more likely to have an impact years later. 

I'll just talk about the findings of the analysis; for further information on the methodology, outcomes, and data sources, see Appendix A. 

Only positive correlations with a p-value of less than 0.05 are reported. 

Agriculture degrees, which are positively linked with energy and natural resources financing after a four-year delay, are among the disciplines for which funding sources can explain the bulk of variance in degree conferral rates (adjusted R2 >.500). 




Degrees of agricultural research are positively linked with six- and eight-year delays. 



Biology and Biomedical Research degrees, which are linked to financing for healthcare, health research, and training, as well as NASA, for all delays. 

  • Money for health research and training is by far the most important contribution (NASA funding is only significant at p 0.05 on a four-year delay). 


Communications degrees, which are favorably linked with financing for health care services and labor services after a four-year delay, with the latter being a two-order-of-magnitude larger contribution. 

  • The only substantial positive relationship on six- and eight-year delays was with health-care spending. 


Computer science degrees, which are favorably linked with NASA funding after a four-year wait. 

  • The only substantial positive relationship on six- and eight-year delays was with funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). 


• Engineering degrees, which are linked to financing for military research and development, energy, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Corps of Engineers/Civil Works after a four-year wait. 

  • Funding for the Corps of Engineers/Civil Works is by far the most significant donor. 
  • Engineering degrees are positively associated with funding for military research and development, energy, HHS, the Corps of Engineers/ Civil Works, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) after a six-year delay, with funding for the Corps of Engineers/ Civil Works being the strongest contributor once again. 

Degrees are positively linked with spending for military research and development, HHS, and the EPA after an eight-year delay, with funding for the EPA being by far the most significant contribution. 



Degrees in English and Literature are favorably linked with financing for higher education as well as primary, secondary, and vocational education after six and eight years of delay. 


• Foreign language degrees, which are favorably linked with financing for higher education as well as primary, secondary, and vocational education after six and eight years of delay. 


• Health-related degrees, which are positively associated with funding for health-related services, research, and training for all delays. 


On an eight-year lag, the latter is an order of magnitude greater contributor. 

• Mathematics and Statistics degrees, which are favorably linked with financing for military research and development after a four-year wait. 



Degrees are favorably linked with NASA funding after a six-year delay. 


Degrees are positively associated with funding for the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation (NSF) after an eight-year delay, with the latter being an order of magnitude stronger. 


• Physical Sciences degrees, which are positively associated with funding for energy, NASA, and the NSF after a four-year delay. 


Degrees are positively associated with funding for military by an order of magnitude, funding for the NSF was the most significant contribution in each instance. 


• Psychology degrees, which are favorably linked with financing for health care services and health research and training after four and six years, with health research and training being an order of magnitude larger contribution. 



Degrees are favorably linked with financing for health care services after an eight-year delay. 


• Public Administration and Social Work degrees, which are favorably linked with financing for health care services and consumer and occupational health and safety after a four-year delay, with the latter being three orders of magnitude greater. 


Degrees of delay are positively linked with financing for health care services over a six-year period. 

Degrees are positively linked with financing for health care services and the Department of Education after an eight-year delay, with the latter being by an order of magnitude the larger impact. 


• Social sciences and history degrees are favorably linked with NSF funding after a four-year delay, according to Tables A.43–A.45. 

Degrees are favorably linked with funding for labor services and the NSF after a six-year delay. 

Degrees are positively linked with financing for labor services and the NIH after an eight-year delay, with the former being by an order of magnitude the larger contribution. 


• Visual and Performing Arts degrees, which are favorably linked with financing for elementary, secondary, and vocational education after a four-year wait.




Degrees with six- and eight-year delays are positively linked with Department of Education funding. 


Architecture , Business (see Tables A.10– A.12), and Education (see Tables A.19– A.21) are among the disciplines for which financing sources do not explain the bulk of variance in degree conferral rates. 

Thus, financing in a priori important fields seems to have the ability to explain a large portion of the variance in degree conferral rates across a variety of disciplines. 



However, it's worth noting how seldom NASA money emerges as a major, positive contribution to conferral rates, with just a few instances where it stands out as the only positive contributor or the greatest contributor. 


This does not offer a solid foundation for claiming that NASA expenditure or space research funding has a major role on students' educational choices. 

As a result, we have adequate reason to defer judgment on the need to boost spaceflight expenditure in order to encourage students to pursue STEM degrees. 



These statistics, it should be noted, do not support any firm causal inferences regarding the relationship between financing and degree conferral rates. 


Comparing degree conferral rates to federal funding is probably too simplistic a strategy, because there are other factors to consider, such as the effects of higher education corporatization, shifts in state and local education and research funding, shifts in demand from the public and private sectors, and so on. 

Variations in financial position, aptitudes and talents, items of student interest, and social, peer, and familial pressures, among other things, are all probable contributors. 


Taking inventory of all pertinent factors is a job that is above my sociological capabilities.



~ Jai Krishna Ponnappan 


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