Tuesday, January 20, 2004

And now for something completely different...

There has been a lot of news devoted lately to the news that "Mankind is going back into outer space!" and so on. I have to admit that I was initially excited by this. I mean, we could make new discoveries, broaden our horizons, look beyond small, insignificant, Earthly problems...except, it doesn't really work that way.

Here's why, according to Dr. Bill Wade (a.k.a. Pa)

Take me to the stars: why???
I'd like to play devil's advocate about the recent proposal to send a man to Mars by 2020, without reference to any of the political overtones of who's proposing it & why. I have one elementary question:

Can anyone please cite me a single concrete reason why we should do this?—to send humans on a return trip to the moon & thence on to Mars? To me, it is painfully apparent that we have no true justification, only excuses.

The excuses I've heard so far are three:

1. "One step at a time": we need to send men back to the moon so as to use it as a launching pad for Mars.
- Unh hunh: & the reason for going on to Mars then would be why?.....

2. "We need new worlds to conquer": gotta keep striving. Personkind needs to reach for the stars, or we will wither up.
- To what extent have we as a species withered in consequence of not returning to the moon these past 25 years? This is an airy-fairy virtual admission that there is no rationale beyond high-falutin' rhetoric.

3. "We need new worlds to destroy": we're laying waste to Earth, so we better be ready to move on.
- Is this not the drug addict's explanation as he panhandles for money for the next fix?—is it not far wiser to give up the habit entirely? Even so, we can better use those bucks to help stop our laying waste to the Earth. Is that not the more useful & noble task? I think so.

Just for practice, perhaps someone can cite one reason why we went to the moon in the first place? And by a reason, I mean a justification in & of itself, nearly merely because we felt compelled to be there prior to any Russians. As best I can tell, the only candidate explanations are so that: a) Neil Armstrong could deliver a noble one-liner—oops, he blew it: he meant to say "small step for A man", & b) so that Alan Shepard could set the world (sic) record for distance on a golf shot.

In contrast, I can supply you with ample concrete reasons why it is wise not to include human beings in our space exploration endeavors for the time being. But the two strongest arguments—deaths & unneccessary expense—should suffice to keep our feet on the ground for now.

I'm more than open to a future policy change if & when the stars are better aligned; in fact I can promise that—no longer being here—I will not utter a single word against it.

I know it's alluring to have something like the first man setting foot on Mars during one's lifetime. I know many of you young folks would not only enjoy seeing a man reach Mars, but feel slighted that the moon missions were over & done before you were born, & would perhaps feel even more slighted if Mars was never reached during your lifetime. I'm one of many millions fortunate enough to have watched the moon landing on tv. But I don't believe that our government should throw money at every program that might make me or you or other Americans feel good. I believe that part of maturity is learning to accept that there are feel-good goals not worth their price. And for what it's worth, remember that Americans quickly got over the excitement of the moon landings in the 1970's & paid essentially no attention to the later missions, aside from Apollo XIII's near non-survival. In the absence of a true compelling purpose, such things are simply not all that you dream they will be.

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