The US spends more on military spending than all ten countries following it, combined: 600 billion dollars a year. This is almost ten times more than Russia spends on military expenditures. Meanwhile, the joint budget of NASA and the National Science Foundation is only $ 25 billion, or 4% of the military budget. Many astronomers, astrophysicists, engineers and scientists of all stripes dream of increasing the budgets of their spheres.
What if we actually reached out to the stars? What if they lived in an era when investments in peaceful research for the benefit of mankind would far exceed investments in war, defense and military equipment? If the space and scientific budgets of individual countries had reached $ 600 billion, the track record of humanity would have increased significantly. Here are five possible breakthroughs that science could have made if it had received a military budget for just one year.
The final energy breakthrough: a nuclear clean-energy reactor
Although there are many different methods for achieving nuclear fusion, the most promising direction is magnetic confinement (confinement). The International ITER Consortium started construction in the era of Reagan-Gorbachev, and in 2019, when the total investment reached 20 billion euros, it will be fully completed. It will take another ten years to realize a successful ignition of the plasma, and in the 2030s we must overcome the point of no return, synthesizing deuterium and tritium together.
Nevertheless, in many respects, the only thing that prevents the penetration of fusion energy into our world is upfront investment with an incredibly long-term return. Taking the US military budget for just one year, scientists could not only achieve nuclear fusion, but also learn how to scale it and make a revolution in the energy field on Earth. This is the ultimate holy grail for energy, and the greatest obstacle to its success is not physics, but a lack of investment.
Mars and its subtle atmosphere. The photograph was taken by the Viking orbiter in the 1970s. With all the difficulties of living on the Red Planet, a successful human colony could be built for only $ 50 billion.
At least four separate colonies on Mars
People on Mars? The only thing that stops us is financing, which is not available since the 1990s. Thanks to a sustained investment of $ 50-150 billion over 10 years, we could land on the surface of Mars, landing a crew that could remain on the planet for 6-18 months before returning. We could create four separate independent colonies on another planet for 600 billion dollars. The only reason why we did not do this before is funding.
Two workers install a photovoltaic array on the roof. A small 2-kilowatt plant can be commercially available today for $ 5,000
2000-watt solar system in each house
There are many breakthrough technologies that could be combined with solar energy, from transparent windows to shingles and siding. But the solar panel remains the cheapest and most effective solar installation. Systems that generate about 2000 watts now cost less than $ 5,000 and provide about 175-375 kW per month. If we take 125 million homes in a single country, for 600 billion dollars it would be possible to put a solar system in each house.
This would not solve our energy needs, but would significantly reduce the load on the electric grid and reduce the use of fossil fuels. In addition, the effect would be instantaneous.
A hypothetical new accelerator, either long linear, or surrounding the Earth, could eclipse the LHC’s energies. But there is no guarantee that we will find something new, no
Particle accelerator for the entire country, 40 times more powerful than the LHC
Do you think the LHC is cool? It reached proton-proton collisions with an energy of 14 TeV in a 27-kilometer tunnel underground, and it cost about $ 10 billion. What could be built if there were sixty times more money? Believe it or not, there are only two free parameters that determine how powerful a proton ring accelerator can be: the strength of the electromagnets they control, and the circumference of your ring.
For 600 billion dollars, we could build a tunnel 1,000 kilometers long and reach proton-proton collisions at energies above 500 TeV. If our electromagnetic technologies also improve, we could overcome the barrier of 1 PeV (1 PeV = 1000 TeV). The next step will be a giant “Fermitron”, first introduced by Enrico Fermi, an accelerator of particles with a circle across the whole Earth. If the LHC finds something outside the Higgs boson, it will become a clear signal to explore new energy boundaries.
“Super Hubble”, 100 times more powerful than the previous one
The Hubble Space Telescope has become a revolutionary observatory and remains largely a captain in astronomy and astrophysics. But being a diameter of 2.4 meters, he has already reached his maximum resolution. In fact, to see objects ten times fainter, he needs to watch them 100 times longer. But if we build a space telescope 10 times larger, with a 24-meter plate, its resolution will not only be 10 times higher – in 2 hours of observation it will see everything that Hubble sees in a week.
The James Webb Space Telescope with its segmented design, sun visor and automated robotic technology can be a proof of the concept of such a mission, but financing remains a limiting factor. To get the size, image quality and launch and maintenance capabilities necessary to create such a monster, you will need a lot of investment. For 600 billion dollars, we could reach a diameter of 30-40 meters, but “100 times more powerful than Hubble” is a conservative estimate. The technologies that we could create for this money could produce a revolution comparable to the Apollo program.
Of course, we could make breakthroughs in all these areas and for an amount less than $ 600 billion. ITER is still under construction – and it will take a total of 40 billion dollars. A single crew mission to Mars would cost $ 50 billion, including a massive deployment of infrastructure on the surface of Mars. 2-kilowatt solar installations on the roof are already available for $ 5,000, but fall year after year in price. “Small” super-colliders are estimated in the range of 20-40 billion dollars and will be able to reach the energies that the LHC never dreamed of. LUVOIR, the most ambitious project of a space telescope from the proposed, 40 times more powerful than Hubble, will cost $ 15 billion.
The costs of achieving our scientific dreams are truly astronomically high, but the gains will be even higher. In just one generation, investments of this magnitude in science and technology could transform our world as never before. In just a year and $ 600 billion, a breakthrough in scientific research could be made for the next 25 years.