“Back in the 1970s we didn’t have the space shuttle to get all excited about. We had to settle for men walking on the crummy moon.”
It has been 40 years since a graduate from a Tippecanoe County school first walked on the moon. It’s hard to overstate the achievement. Zach Wendling quoted Megan McCardle with a good one: “The most magnificent single feat our little tribe of East African Plains Apes has ever managed.”
It’s a counter-example to those who claim that government can never do anything. Whether it was worth the price is obviously a policy debate reasonable people can have. I think it was. As a people, more than our basic needs for food and shelter are necessary. We need to dream and have aspirations. And getting to the moon was a dilly of an aspiration.
It’s tough for me not to draw parallels between the space program and European voyages of exploration. What I hoped for is that NASA was running a Prince Henry the Navigator kind of operation. At the moment, however, it looks more like Leif Ericson’s flirtations with Vinland.
One question I remember from history class was the one of why the Norse didn’t end up colonizing North America. They simply didn’t have the population, technology, or other resources necessary to sustain the effort. Prince Henry, on the other hand, devoted a substantial amount of resources on behalf of Portugal to explore the African coast and ultimately find a route around Africa to the Pacific. Eventually they had Dias rounding the Cape of Good Hope, da Gama making it to India, and Portugal benefiting from the spice trade for years to come. The European gold rush that followed has shaped the world to this day.
It may be that we don’t have the resources to sustain space exploration. It may be that there is no outer space equivalent to the profits from the spice trade. But, I’ve always been of the mind that we ought to figure out the whole space colonization thing so that, when we inevitably screw up this planet irretrievably, the human race has some options.