Thoughts on space exploration (21 July 2009)
re: The 40th anniversary of the first manned moon landing is a good time to reflect on the wisdom of putting humans in space at all.
For those born since July 20, 1969, space flight is something that's always gone on somewhere in the background, and the landings themselves are ancient history.
Nowadays, even as NASA cheerleads the need to revisit the moon as a stepping stone to reaching Mars, few people would set that as a high priority for our collective strivings.
[. . .]
That cost, just for the Apollo program, was $25.4 billion. In return, we got about 400 kilograms of moon dust and rocks and a photo, "Earthrise," that Al Gore used to advantage in An Inconvenient Truth.
The political return on investment, however, wasn't even that good. Even Apollo 13, for all the drama of its aborted journey, couldn't match the excitement on the screen of Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica, not to mention the eternal Star Trek.
[. . .]
Supposedly the cost of such expeditions is the price we pay for being human, with a mystical urge to go out and explore. But only a few dozen humans will get the opportunity, and the farther they go, the more physically and psychologically miserable will be their ride.
And the taxpayers will get nothing but news reports and some cool video.
Space exploration should certainly continue, but putting people in space only runs up costs while yielding no scientific benefits -- unless you want to include scientific studies on how humans deteriorate in an environment they were never designed for. (Crawford Kilian, “Lunar Loony Tunes,” The Tyee, July 20 2009)
Not sheep, but rather . . .
It never really works when people try and set-up "manned" space adventure as silly, because it did work to awe a generation (+), make them believers of the formidableness of human potential, "its" inherent genius. Holy shit! . . . We did that. Wow. To not deal with this, come on . . .
Doesn't mean I'm for it. But I respect the effect it had on people, a ton. I am not sure it's glamor we need ("glamor," we note, though, is again one of these suspect feminine terms we're hearing a lot of these days, here at the Tyee. To have glamor means to be seductive; to resist its allure, means to possess manly self-possession, restraint--to be able to see steadily on through to the "truth" [which inevitably has one saying things like, "[t]he political return on investment, however, wasn't even that good," or some such, that actually could be accused of "charming" through an appeal of sobriety]). But we do need fun; do need adventure; do need to know that life should not easily be set up as something best taken in with due modesty, restraint, sobriety, work-day seriousness--i.e., the same old preferred Canadian way to neuter anything that seems exciting, into forms more comfortably dealt with. We're a nation of grandpas.
. . . . .
First thought that comes to mind:
Just pushing further away from "home" just doesn't seem all that adventurous. If the trip to Mars ends up feeling the same as trip to moon, then so what? Progress? Really? It is perhaps just the experience of what we're doing when we travel, traveling anywhere--corner store, gas station, Pluto--whatever--what travel amounts to, means to, us, that needs adventurous change. Explorations of, developments in, how we experience our external world.
Second thought that comes to mind (involving some reconsideration--i.e., forward progress [?])
If we travelled to the moon again, but did so not in an effort to show up another nation, not to accomplish something grandiose, spectacular, phallic, but out of recognition that a planet will always mean something to us, and stepping beyond, reaching beyond, something too, that might well be something of real value to us. We could do so not to plant a flag on it, simply tag it, but to encounter it--that could be something beautiful, worthy of resources and support, maybe. And thinking this way, it is possible too, that reaching beyond a solar system will always means something epic to us as well, no matter how much we try to persuade ourselves that, really, you can have/live the same experience just by finally convincing yourself to leave old life habits behind you, and maybe out of respect for natural desires, we should aim out there as well.
We need to appreciate the fact that it just feels different when a human being is the one out there, rather than an instrument/robot of some kind. When a human being is out there, s/he is not one of a few: in a very real sense, we feel like we were out there too--We were in touch with something New, too. Can't be denied, I think. Scientists, objectivists, need to respect human ways of experiencing, making meaning out of, their environment. Otherwise they're just robots, technicians, drained of soul. Human being on Mars. Touching Mars' “soil.” Waving back to Earth. Waving forward, further out there. You know this could be something really great. I'll think further about this.