January 13, 2004

Space thoughts 1

Alan pours scorn on a suggestion that the Space Initiative could help solve the problem of bone-loss in the elderly...

....Poppycock, a senior citizen might say. The idea that medical research could be facilitated in space would not withstand any honest cost-benefit analysis. This argument is simply a scam to sway an important voting block in favor of more high-flying pork. Make no mistake: at present the manned space program is no more than an engine for expropriating and spending money. If we want to learn about the cosmos, we are simply wasting resources when we send humans into space. If we want to learn about human physiology, earth is the place to do it....
We've been hearing arguments like that for decades. NASA has long pushed the idea that "spin-offs" will justify their budget. It's total balunkey, Any spin-offs are dwarfed by what would have happened if that money had just been given to good research labs.

But the whole argument is wrong on a deeper level. We can't plan what we should do in or with space, because we don't know what space IS.

We are like 16th Century Europeans becoming aware of a New World in the Western Hemisphere. We dream of cities of gold and a Northwest passage. But it's a certainty that what we will find will be the equivalent of tobacco and maize and potatoes and steamboats and geysers and the US Constitution and a "new birth of freedom." We don't know what space is, and we won't find out until a lot of people can go there. Go there with time and resources and freedom to experiment and invent and just be crazy dreamers. Freedom to try crazy things that will get some of them killed.

Posted by John Weidner at January 13, 2004 12:50 PM
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