(Editor’s note: My friend TOL has had a deep interest in our space program, well, since birth. His first words were “perigee” and “apogee” –his parents through he had a speech impediment.
(He would have rather met the Mercury astronauts than Bridgett Bardot. I know I’m dating both of us badly in saying this—substitute your own erotic and unattainable female.)
“I am SO glad you asked (me to comment on NASA). You know me. There is no bigger ‘fan’ of manned space flight.
”But that was then. Not so much now. It isn't so much about the money. It is the impracticality of the thing compared to the return on our investment.
“There are only three general areas a human body can go in space. Earth orbit. Lunar desert. Martian desert. Even a Mars mission is barely possible given the life support requirements for human beings and the launch windows involved (six months out, six months back and almost a full year on surface).
“Physics and the pathetically short life span and frailty of the human species preclude all other travel. It simply isn't happening. Not for centuries. Maybe never.
“So the question, it seems to me, is what do you want to do -- what can you realistically do -- at any of those three places. Answer: Not all that much.
“It was different in the late 50s and early 60s. The space race had military implications. Well, not really. You didn't have to send a man into space in order to build an ICBM, but it seemed like it at the time. In any event, we had something to prove, and we proved it.
“Entirely different paradigm today. There is no technology curve defined by space to stay "ahead of." Other nations will match our accomplishments in space for the same reason that India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons -- because they can.
“While our having more nukes than most other guys has an obvious strategic implication, I'm damned if I can see that same analogy compelling us to greater and greater space conquests. I'm with Buzz on this one. And all the other NASA crying sounds an awful lot like a bureaucracy attempting to protect itself. At least when the Pentagon does that the philosophical premise is considerably stronger.
“Today, space exploration has to be about the science, and there is an awfully lot of really good space science that can be done without humans along for the ride. And forget colonizing anything. A base supporting a few dozen is about the best you can hope for. The Jamestown colonists didn't have to transport oxygen, trees, food and water to the new world. The difference in scale and complexity between earth colonies and space colonies is on orders of magnitude.
“We will return to the moon one day. We will go to Mars. But there is no great hurry to do either. We already have a pretty good idea of what we will find in both places.
“Meanwhile, we have done such a good job of overcoming limitations throughout our history that I believe we are in danger of buying into the myth that we may no longer have any. If so, I would term that as ignorance born of arrogance.
“The biggest problems facing this country are national security issues posed by jihadists and economic suicide which has been adopted as a bipartisan government fiscal policy.
“Compared to the crises those two issues present, manned space exploration is a very distant frontier indeed. There is no great sin or treachery in "neglecting" a hang nail when one is dying of cancer.
The public wrath should be reserved for what is not being done about the much greater threats.”