Sunday, June 15, 2008

Should We Have a Space Program?

Rod Dreher rails against McCain's talk of putting a man on Mars.

I know it's obligatory for American politicians to come up with new goals in the space race. It's also obligatory to tell people who criticize this kind of thing that they're a bunch of plodders who have no sense of adventure, and who fail to honor something deep in the human spirit.

But you know what? Plodder that I am, I don't want this country to put a thin dime toward sending a man to Mars until we have figured out what to do about the long-term energy crisis in this country. I know, I know, you could substitute any cause you want to for space exploration (How can we send a man to the moon when there are people going without health care?!, etc.). But get this: oil just closed today a smidge shy of $140 a barrel -- up over $10 in a single day. Biggest one-day jump ever.
The only point I want to make here is that the idea that the US should commit itself to a manned mission to Mars strikes me as so 20th century. Not a fantasy we can afford today.

Rants like this always annoy me. I've heard many people claim that the space program is a waste of money and we need to "solve the problems here on Earth first", but they don't seem to realize that the program has led to many advances not just in areas such as rocketry and computers, but in all sorts of areas such as communications, weather forecasting or even home cookware. The point is that the space program as with any cutting edge research can yield enormous benefits outside of its intended scope.

That said, I'm not sure our government should have an extensive space program. I think it is better left in the hands of private corporations. Let the government give out some grants and such, but it is too inefficient and unwieldy to continue being on the cutting edge of technology here (witness the debacle that is the space shuttle program).

I will vehemently disagree with anyone who claims, though, that we need to solve Earth's problems first. There will always be problems here and scientific research including that into space can help with some of them.

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