Let me start by saying as much as I love Star Trek, I don’t care about space, the final frontier. I don’t gaze into the night sky and wonder about infinity. I’m not curious about other planets or black holes or if Mars has ice. Honestly, the only Milky Way I care about is covered in chocolate and has a delicious fluffy center.
But I will give a shout out to JB, my favorite rocketeer, and to Hans, my favorite astrophysicist, despite the fact they’re much too busy and smart to visit BeckyLand. Besides, they’ll only argue with me about this. And have I mentioned they’re smarter than I am?
We — the collective American we, because let’s face it, nobody within a moon rock’s toss of BeckyLand had anything to do with it — went to the moon 40 years ago in a race to beat Russia up there. Just to say we did it. Like eating snails. Or applying to Princeton. Or getting a job.
But c’mon. Really?
Buzz Aldrin thinks we should go to Mars. Tom Stafford, commander of Apollo 10 agreed and said, “All of us here are pretty much convinced that Mars is a goal to shoot for.”
Buzz said, “Apollo 11 was a symbol of what a great nation and a great people can do if we work hard and work together.”
But neither Buzz nor Stafford has explained to me why we should go to Mars. What would we get out of it? What would be the purpose? To say we did it? How redundant.
I can’t find a list of the tangible benefits we’ve received from the moon shot and all the shuttle trips. What useful, practical information have we learned from space in the last 40 years? As I said, I’m not at all interested in the cosmos, but I can understand there’s lots of cool stuff out there. But for the price tag, shouldn’t all of humanity benefit from the knowledge?
The only thing I ever hear about are the spacewalks at the international space station to fix things. Remember the toolbelt that floated away? And the $15.6 million space-station toilet that broke? I can only imagine the horror of dodging slow-mo space poo floating around.
Absolutely unrelated to my argument, but I read something interesting recently. There are six current astronauts who weren’t even alive when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. One is Christopher Cassidy, a crew member aboard the space shuttle Endeavor. Okay. Palate cleansed, back to arguing.
President Obama used the moon landing anniversary as an opportunity to inspire learning about math and science. But surely there are ways to do that without spending a gazillion dollars on the space program. Right now NASA’s budget is $20 billion, which is less than half of 1 percent of the federal budget. But still. Does that make it cheap? $20 billion can go a long way to fixing the health insurance mess. Or to actually teach math and science rather than just “inspiring” kids in those areas. It can get a lot of clunkers off the highways, shore up a lot of crumbling bridges, and harness a lot of wind power.
Can we really justify NASA continuing the space program when we have so many devastating problems to conquer here on terra firma?
I think the next giant leap should actually do some good, not just the squishy “we beat the Russians” or “the human spirit needs to explore.”
These are the three themes I continue to hear regarding space exploration …
• the U. S. needs it to remain globally competitive
• the U.S. has “security interests” in being a world leader in space exploration
• and states need to maintain their local “space economy,” building rockets and such.
Security interests in space feels ominous to me.
I really only understand that last one. It reminds me of the recent fight about the F-22s. The Pentagon didn’t want them, the President didn’t want them, the taxpayers didn’t want them. But Congress wanted them because component parts were built in their states. Smells über-porky.
An independent group is “reviewing NASA’s human spaceflight program and should present its findings in August.”
So these are my questions:
1. Should NASA return to the moon, head straight to Mars, or neither?
2. What do we achieve from space travel? What are the tangible benefits?
Help me understand.