History has shown that the Space Race in the 20th century between US and Soviets has been high enough to motivate US to increase federal NASA budget to [about 4%] of the federal budget 2, compared to below 1% recent decades. Still, in 2018 this 1% of federal budget brings up $20b, nearly 4 times more than ESA has got.

So let's explore which events could lead governments to boost funding for space exploration (US seems to me to be a good example but feel free to substitute any other country of your preference).

Now if I exclude scenario descriptions for emergency cases known to me where:

then this narrows the scenario to something like in Blind Lake, where people of Earth are enabled to observe alien life in great detail.

Surprisingly enough, this is not technically impossible even today, so in some not very far future (but at least some decades, I guess) we might indeed have some observations of what happens on the surface of (Earth-like) exoplanets.

Nevertheless, we have seen that Earthlings might need some monetary motivation and tangible results for things they do (no information about other sapient species regarding this question is currently avaialble).

So the following reality check: how high and under what conditions (i.e. what is to observe on an exoplanet's surface) could (say U.S.) federal budget for space exploration become in face of new knowledge about aliens and what they actually do beyond just existing? (possibly, we can't consider too low tech aliens but who knows).

To simplify - when would they say, again 4%, or 10%, or 25%? (to compare, federal spendings in US on military were 54% in 2015; imagine people of Earth would at least partly unite after knowing that we are not alone, so you could cut these new spendings from military)

More details on referenced books:

  • Seveneves: Moon scatters into pieces which will extinct humanity in 2 years timeframe
  • Rememberance of Earth's Past (trilogy, first book is "The Three Body Problem") - an alien civilization declares humanity war, their spaceships are to arrive in 400 years
  • Blind Lake - advanced technology allows for TV-like format observation of alien life
  • Road not taken - a short story where alien invaders appear to have no superior technology over Earhtlings than hyperdrive (which appears to be trivial to copy)
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    $\begingroup$ (1) The world is much bigger than the U.S.A. If you mean the U.S.A. then say the U.S.A. I had to stop and think what "federal investments" the question was referring to. (2) While the defense expedinture of the U.S.A. is indeed large, it's nowhere near 54% of the federal budget; it is 54% of the discretionary spending part of the budget. The bulk of the budget consists of mandatory spending, so that overall the defense part is about 16% of the budget, or 3.6% of the GDP. (3) It won't be scientific exploration; it will be military reconnaisance, with a corresponding defense budget. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Nov 2 '18 at 12:09
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    $\begingroup$ Knowing about aliens existence could mean that earth money have no value (to people deciding about them) as we now know that we can go to other planets and invade.. er I mean.... discover new territories. Spending could also be 100% as the return may be worth it. $\endgroup$ – SZCZERZO KŁY Nov 2 '18 at 12:42
  • $\begingroup$ @SZCZERZOKŁY good point, thank you! $\endgroup$ – J. Doe Nov 2 '18 at 13:26
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    $\begingroup$ @manassehkatz thank - I better remove this mess. comments like "why you dare to refer to US, is this about its politics" really distract: your numbers confirm every country has relatively low investment in this topic. $\endgroup$ – J. Doe Nov 2 '18 at 14:49
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    $\begingroup$ "federal spendings in US on military were 54% in 2015" seriously misinterprets nationalpriorities.org/campaigns/…. It says that military spending is 54% of discretionary spending, which is -- according to nationalpriorities.org/budget-basics/federal-budget-101/… -- "less than one-third of the total federal budget". Thus, US military spending is less than one sixth (thus 16%) of the federal budget. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Nov 2 '18 at 15:58

There are several places to pull from

A quick catch-up on economics, since you mentioned that U.S. Federal spending was 54% on military expenses. That 54% is the amount of discretional spending (only about one-quarter of all budgeted spending, and less than a twentieth of all Federal financial obligations). With that in mind, there are some places where you can pull a LOT of money from.

As you might see with Alphabet or SpaceX, high tech investment is in the hands of a few fundraiser / decision makers. Their reasons for action (such as the gentleman in 'Contact' can be personal. But, if you'd like some popular attitude to make this change happen, here is how you can make funds available.

The German Economic Miracle

Non-budgetary financial obligations (the U.S. debt) stands at 21 trillion, compared to the 4 trillion per year annual budget. Private debt is around 202% of earnings . Post-war Germany was in a similar situation. Part of what the winners did was to cancel most public and private debts. People who owed mortgages overnight were free-and-clear homeowners. It contributed greatly to an incredible post-war recovery called the German Economic Miracle. There is some conversation about this being done in deeply debt loaded parts of Europe, and some talk of doing it in the United States also. This would send approximately 21 trillion + 202% of a GDP of 18 trillion -- is roughly 57 trillion dollars that could be sourced for NASA (or other) activities. 240 billion per year in interest payments could also be recovered.

Privatizing Retirement

If the German Economic Miracle is too crazy an idea, you could consider the possibility that the Federal Government gets out the Retirement Insurance business. The Social Security and Medicare Trust Funds are both bankrupt. All our politician admit it. Nevertheless 3 trillion per year of tax receipts are sent to these 'non-discretionary' programs. These programs replaced a private option that existed for our grandparents called Retirement Insurance, which was the idea of paying premiums against the possibility that you would not save enough to afford retirement. This would provide 3 trillion per year that could be re-purposed.

Rebasing the Currency

Although, on paper, only 40% of the U.S. population pays taxes, the other 60% are taxed in an insidious way at the rate of somewhere between 2 and 3% due to the Federal Reserve being allowed to print money on demand, loan it out to central banks cheaply who may buy things and loan money out to peripheral banks, who use it to buy things and loan that money to the public - at interest - to buy from them the things they just bought with that money, at a reasonable markup. There has been plenty of talk of banking reform and re-basing our currency. Andrew Jackson took on the Bank of the United States in the 1830s and won. Other Presidents (Teddy Roosevelt, FDR) have been claimed to have similarly forced banking reform for a time, but I don't know those as well. Successful banking reform to eliminate forced inflation (instead of natural due to scarcity) would add 2% of the 18 trillion dollar DSP (360 billion per year) back into circulation for other activities (nearly the entire military budget).

Possible Motivations: * Gambling the contact will help a scientifically falling behind nation leap ahead of it's rivals (Three Body Problem) * Believing the spend in technology will have downstream benefits in new products and services (Reagan and SDI)

  • $\begingroup$ I like your very informative answer @James McLellan; from what I understand here, the baseline is so to say "given a reason, money will be no problem". So this addresses though just a half of my question. The other half is: what must be observed that governments say "OK now we need to really boost space exploration". OK, aside seeing a fast approaching Death Start carrying capital letters "KILL EARTH", that's why I've referenced also to "Rememberances about Earth's Past" aka "The Three Body Problem" by Liu Cixin. $\endgroup$ – J. Doe Nov 2 '18 at 13:33
  • $\begingroup$ I think motivation may be too broad to answer. You mention Three Body Problem : gambling for a technology leap from alien contact was enough for government in that work. They hinted that the weak reason came from someone with enough clout to make it happen. $\endgroup$ – James McLellan Nov 2 '18 at 15:10
  • $\begingroup$ @J.Doe the US cranked up spending on the civilian space program when it perceived another country's growing technical superiority to be an existential threat to it's existence. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Nov 2 '18 at 16:04
  • $\begingroup$ @RonJohn yes. So by what criteria would be aliens superior enough to appear threatening starting at minimal level? Would we say, if they have no hyperdrive, it's okay? (possibly due to limited science budget spent by their government, hehe) $\endgroup$ – J. Doe Nov 2 '18 at 17:06
  • $\begingroup$ @J.Doe what prompted the US to crank up civilian spending on space in 1960? (That's a rhetorical question. I expect you to do some research.) $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Nov 2 '18 at 17:08

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