The Moon will probably still be there later on…

Reacting to the “zeroing out” of manned space flight in NASA’s budget – something forecasted months ago, but, according to reports, now a step closer to reality – Dafydd ab Hugh sounds some familiar themes, fortissimo, from the HotAir Greenroom (emphasis in the original):

I’ve always considered a presidential administration’s commitment to manned space exploration an excellent barometer of its belief in the grandeur of Western civilization; its belief in America’s future and exceptional greatness; and its understanding of what Konstantin Tsiolkovsky meant when he said that, “a planet is the cradle of mind, but one cannot live in a cradle forever.” Simply put, an administration that believes in manned space exploration — believes in Mankind.

The rest of D.a.H’s piece fills out a standard anti-Obama polemic:  a – (as above) define something as wonderful, necessary, or wonderful and necessary;  b –  note Obama’s opposition to a program or policy associated with that something; c – main development:  speculate as melodramatically as possible on what it all says about the man who was somehow – tragically, insanely, apocalyptically – elected president.

Here’s ab Hugh’s finale:

There we have it: A grandiose narcissist who sees himself as simply too big for America’s britches must be horrified by a program of manned space exploration, the consequences of which threaten to overwhelm his own meagre achievements, assuming one can find any, in a Noachian deluge of science, technology, and future shock. Indeed, if we indeed returned to the Moon on a permanent basis, using that as a stepping stone to Mars and the rest of the solar system, then that would likely be the only thing anyone would remember, “generations from now,” about the administration of Barack Obama…

How could a creature like Obama possibly live with such a rival without scratching her eyes out?

What’s missing amidst the italics and boldface is, of course, any notice of any other conceivable rationale for the cancellation of the “return to the Moon” effort.

Some react with a sense of melancholy, with nostalgia and loss, viewing the difference between old visions of space travel and actual achievements.  That’s how I  initially reacted last year when possible cancellation of the “Constellation” program was being discussed, but can’t we recognize that there’s a lot more to this issue?

I’ve done some thinking and remedial reading on space exploration in recent months, and I’m not sure anyone has an adequate answer to some basic questions.

What if sending human bodies up into space is a dream nurtured from too much pulp science fiction and an insufficient appreciation of what the effort really entails?  Among scientists and engineers, as opposed to science fabulists, the trade-offs are well-understood:  For now and the foreseeable future, sending human beings and all that’s required to support them into space increases costs by orders of magnitude, while imposing severe limitations on possible missions.

What if, for a similar or even smaller investment, we can go much further, faster; learn more; develop more useful technologies; and bring much more back – if we leave the sacks of protoplasm in the planetary environment to which they are heavily adapted? What if manned space exploration is impeded by the inescapable requirement to transfer surrogate ecosystems into outer space along with the organisms (us) that can’t subsist without them?

What if, in short, the argument for manned space travel often amounts to a weird kind of Luddite romanticism offered in the worst possible context for it – something like arguing against further development beyond current UAVs because America should depend on real human pilots for air flight, or against capping the Deepwater Horizon leak unless it can be done by human beings on scene, 1 mile beneath the surface of the ocean?

Long duration space travel isn’t about shooting bodies into the great void.  It’s not about escaping the Earth:  It’s about transporting miniaturized versions of the Earth into space, and then protecting and supplying them.  With currently available technologies that means lifting pre-fabricated micro-Earths from the surface of the planet into orbit, and then sustaining them over time and across vast distances.  The physics are unforgiving, as unforgiving as the radioactive vacuum.  Learning how to handle these matters might be very worthwhile over the very long term, but it’s a lot easier to achieve in a movie or for a sci-fi novel’s cover art than with real people and machines.

I don’t mean at all to suggest that the argument has been settled forever, but there’s a serious, interesting, and useful discussion here to be had – one that doesn’t have anything to do with fantasias on the “creature” in the White House.

And I’m also not picking on ab Hugh.  The suppression of rational discussion in favor of emotionalism and empty, exaggerated polemics is becoming typical for the Right, ca. 2010.  In my view it extends to stunted, merely ideological discussions of health care, economics and fiscal matters, the conflict formerly known as the War on Terror, immigration, the disastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, energy, and every other intermittently hot political topic.

Intellectual compromise and emotional appeals are unavoidable in politics and governance, but overindulgence in this approach may already be exacting a price that’s hidden by the popular reaction to the real and imagined failings of the Obama presidency and of Democratic governance generally.  More important, it tends to leave whatever victors of whatever elections, in effect our society, ill-prepared to cope with real decisions and real trade-offs – right here on Earth.

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15 comments on “The Moon will probably still be there later on…

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  1. There are many good reasons for putting people into space and many people that we would do well to put there.

    why is it that liberals are too full of hate for western civilization to be willing to spend the money for such a program?

    they’re willing to spend money on everything else, aren’t they?

    how many damned billions is that fool Obama pouring into that so-called “war” in Afghanistan without us even getting to kill more than a stinking handful of those Talibandits… and when we do manage to blow up some them skunks, we got some lily-livered apologist named McChrystal starting an apology tour if we off a few their women and kids along the way.

  2. why is it that liberals are too full of hate for western civilization

    Liberals hate America;they love Western civilization.

  3. It’s all about ‘returning science to it’s rightful place,’ endorsed by the
    Ehrlich disciple Holdren, practicing the alchemy of clean energy, through the cap n trade, card monte, imposing a vast regulatory
    straightjacket, on every aspect of human enterprise, in tandem with
    a stultifying health care framework, call it triage, or death panels, the
    terms don’t really matter

  4. WE could be charitable and regard it like the post Apollo interregnum
    after Skylab, but we were actually developing the shuttle in that period, so that’s not an exact comparison, There is the X-37 which
    will supposedly be deployed some time in the future

  5. George Jochnowitz wrote:
    America = Western civilization

    Let’s not get carried away: The Core of Western Civilization, Greece,Rome,Israel;we’re just a recent chunk of a big land mass.

  6. It’s kind of an Outerspace Western set in the 26th century, there abouts, the Chinese have taken over, the trek to space, and Anglosphere (Londinium) have colonized a nearby star system, there
    was a Civil War type Rebellion, a rag tag band with strictly libertarian

  7. A good piece CK. Manned space flight has never made sense. Our progeny will eventually go to the stars as fertilized eggs carried by a robotic ship whose piloting may or may not be partially managed by a human mind in a machine.

  8. The Right gives up on Afghanistan:

    “We are at such a moment in this forlorn war in Afghanistan. Only self-deception can justify the continued sacrifice of our young men and women in uniform. Given the two presidents in command and their irreversible dispositions toward this war and each other, failure is virtually inevitable. For a lesson in how wartime allied presidents ought to struggle to work together for victory, consider the Franklin D. Roosevelt–Winston Churchill partnership.”

    This sounds like Buckley’s final opinion on the Vietnam War.

  9. Tony Blankley says “The Afghanistan War Is a Farce”

    Jennifer Rubin says “There is no way to “explain” the timeline that will improve this situation. Obama needs to lift it, announce we are in this for the long haul, and commit himself to victory. Anything less is dereliction of his duty as commander in chief to win on a battlefield he defined as critical to our national security”

    Those two should talk.

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  1. […] “These two should talk,” sez Rex in re:  Tony Blankley and Jennifer Rubin. […]

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