To the MOON, Alice!
Okay, there's been a lot of joking around on the left side of the blogosphere about NASA's planned return to the moon. 'It's obviously a ploy to have a big number in the budget that someone can cut and say they don't need to roll back the tax giveaways to the rich', say the cynical. The conspiratorial wing claims it's a new giant boondoggle to give money away to corporate cronies, and there's probably a bit of truth in that one.
But the Liberal Conventional Wisdom, alas, seems to be 'as long as there's poverty and suffering on earth, we can't afford a space program'.
I'm going to depart of Liberal Orthodoxy and claim we can't afford to NOT have a space program.
Look around you - we as a nation are considerably stupider than we were back in the manned spaceflight heyday. Smartass little MBAs at FEMA tell Governor Bill Richardson he can't deploy his National Guard troops to Louisiana until he has the paperwork filled out just right. Getting airlifts of supplies to people stranded on the ground in New Orleans is apparently beyond our technical capabilities, although we managed to keep the city of West Berlin supplied with everything it needed for almost a year during the Berlin Airlift over half a century ago. (The operation was delivering supplies one day after the start of the blockade.)
We can't move a million people out of an endangered town with days of warning. We're getting stupider and shallower, people, and it's our own fault.
Can you imagine 'Uncle Walter' Cronkite allowing a flat-earther to appear on his show to 'balance' someone from NASA talking about orbiting a non-flat earth? The mind reels. In those days, even people who didn't understand science respected it. Now you can't talk about anything without providing an alternate viewpoint from some crackpot fringe group, giving them legitimacy they don't deserve and literally unbalancing the coverage by making it appear that they do.
It doesn't matter that some huge percentage of the US population believes the earth is 6000 years old - they're still wrong. And 'respecting their viewpoint' makes us all a little bit dumber. If NINETY-NINE percent of the population believed the earth was flat, that would not change the fact that it's spheroidal.
Science meant something in the manned-spaceflight days. And it could mean something again, if we only got over our Political Correctness and home-schooled 'respect for the views of others'.
A manned mission to the moon, and building permanent bases there and on Mars, is not a waste of money. We could use some experience in closed system recycling, in terraforming and alternate energy. Because we're quite likely going to need to know how to do those things here - someday we may be called upon to terraform ... well, Terra. Could we do it now? Hell, no.
I'm a big fan of sci-fi and fantasy literature. And there's a common plot device often found in these genres - stumbling across artifacts of an ancient civilization more advanced than our own. While I enjoy these stories, I always used to roll my eyes at this point. Because technology used to only go in one direction. How could any civilization with such-and-so a technological capability come to lose it? Well, apparently by ignoring science for a few decades, putting morons in charge of education, allowing people to teach mythology as science and pretending that facts are just a matter of opinion, all of which are equally valid.
We used to know how to send people to the moon. We can't do that now. Doesn't that scare anybody but me?