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The Value of Science in Space Exploration (Oxford UP, 2020) provides a rigorous assessment of the value of scientific knowledge and understanding in the context of contemporary space exploration. It argues that traditional spaceflight rationales are deficient, and that the strongest defense of spaceflight comes from its potential to produce intrinsically and instrumentally valuable knowledge and understanding. It engages with contemporary epistemology to articulate an account of the intrinsic value of scientific knowledge and understanding. It also parleys with recent work in science policy and social philosophy of science to characterize the instrumental value of scientific research, identifying space research as an effective generator of new knowledge and understanding.
These values found an ethical obligation to engage in scientific examination of the space environment. This obligation has important implications for major space policy discussions, including debates surrounding planetary protection policies, space resource exploitation, and human space settlement. Whereas planetary protection policies are currently employed to prevent biological contamination only of sites of interest in the search for extraterrestrial life, it contends that all sites of interest to space science ought to be protected. Meanwhile, space resource exploitation and human space settlement would result in extensive disruption or destruction of pristine space environments. The overall ethical value of these environments in the production of new knowledge and understanding is greater than their value as commercial or real commodities, and thus, exploitation and settlement of space should be avoided until the scientific community adequately understands these environments.
John W. Traphagan, Ph.D. is Professor and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Fellow in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is also a professor in the Program in Human Dimensions of Organizations.
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