The Free State
"Man, in a word, has no nature. What he has is - history."

Friday, July 17, 2009

Thirty-Four Years After South Vietnam...

...'America's abandonment of the moon'!

It's the moon! The moon I tell you!

For all my sympathy for exotic scientific endeavours (see my previous posts on 'Prometheus'), I think we can be a good deal less shrill about these things. But you have to love ol' KH's raw inhumanity:
So what, you say [to the abandonment of the Space Shuttle program]? Don't we have problems here on Earth? Oh, please. Poverty and disease and social ills will always be with us. If we'd waited for them to be rectified before venturing out, we'd still be living in caves.
Well I might point out two things:
1) If people spent lots of money in the past on exploration by land and sea, it is because they expected some kind of return (typically in the form of trade, land or booty). There is no foreseeable reason for space to ever be profitable given current technology. That might change in the future. And I guarantee you, as soon as soon as space exploration were to appear as useful an enterprise as that of overland pioneers and oceanic expeditions were in the past, you would see it occur.

2) Actually socially problems can and have been resolved, and at an exponential rate too. In the 19th Century, the average European (inhabitant of the wealthiest continent in the world) could look forward to pauperism, typhus, dysentery, smallpox, illiteracy, infant mortality, rotten teeth and an infinity of other ills, long considered 'incurable'. Well, notwithstanding certain persisting social problems of an altogether lesser magnitude, these issues have basically been eliminated in the wealthier countries. Meanwhile, the 'emerging markets' are beating back their own problems at an historically unheard of rate. Dealing with our own problems is less than futile, it has been working. And I have no apology for being anthropocentric - if human life should have a goal it should be that human lives should be good - that strikes me as a self-evident truth.

And I say this even as I think space exploration, CERN and other sciency stuff are good things. Practically speaking, it is cheaper and more useful to this stuff with robots. A live astronaut brings nothing to the table except the burden of air, food, water, and the fuel and rockets for a return ticket.. That, and the propaganda value that it be the boots of this or that nation leaving treads on extraterrestrial soil. I don't actually think space exploration driven by prestige and international rivalry - Americans, Russians, Chinese or what have you - is necessarily as conducive to genuine scientific progress than pragmatic and, when possible, international projects. One is for the acquisition of new knowledge for human advancement, the other is a pissing match.

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