Like just about everyone else on this little blue planet, I am sad to hear of the passing of Neil Armstrong. R.I.P.
Going to the moon was a pretty tremendous human accomplishment and Armstrong’s courage shouldn’t be overlooked even while accepting that it took a village to get into space and onto the moon.
However, the space program and the moon landing effort itself came at great opportunity cost. It was damn expensive and that money could have been better spent (by individuals) here on Earth! And despite all of the pretty pictures and incredible moments, why shouldn’t we look upon much of government space funding the same way we (or at least I) do things like the Pyramids: beautiful, amazing accomplishments that came at such great cost (and through ethically dubious means) that they can’t be honestly justified?
One possible counter – that I reject – is that the US needed a space program for the morale of the country and
propaganda information operations abroad in the Cold War struggle with the Soviets. An even better argument would be that the logic of the security dilemma dictated that the US couldn’t afford not to run the space race with the Soviets. Of course, that wouldn’t justify a large fraction of the space program, including putting a man on the moon. A third, which can’t really be said with a straight face, is that the technological, scientific, and commercial spin-off benefits of the space program justify the costs on their own.
My own two cents is that the only justifications for government spending today on space concerns are military and environmental. Therefore, I would slash the heck out of the NASA budget and refocus it towards military concerns (or even turn it over to the DoD while selling off the rest to the private sector). Here is a nice quotation on the best course ahead for human space exploration:
The best thing that could happen for the future of space exploration, discovery, and information would be for NASA to retire all of its shuttles, send those billions back to the American people, and open the sky up to the free market. Private entrepreneurs tend to produce and invest in a way that attempts to minimize costs in order to gain profit, while government programs work in the exact opposite manner.
And here is another wonderful set of thoughts on space and the Moon from Armstrong’s shipmate Buzz Aldrin, courtesy of the VC:
A base on the Moon does not have to be a permanent government-controlled and owned facility. After it has been fully established, control could be handed over to a private non-profit consortium that would lease space to companies and governments which will then pursue their individual goals, such as energy, research, tourism, or developing the technology and supplies needed for further space exploration.
Handing off control of the base to a private group means that we will have to establish rules explaining what exactly is and is not private property on the Moon. According to the Outer Space Treaty, the Moon is “a common heritage of mankind.” No one has ever been able to agree on exactly what this means, but few space law experts outside the United States seem willing to accept the idea that there is room for private entities to claim any sort of recognizable property rights on the Moon. The best they are willing to concede are long term leases with the rent being paid to the United Nations.
Still possession is nine tenths of the law. An American moon base would insure that traditional American ideas such as private property and homesteading would influence the future legal regime. Otherwise the Europeans and others might try and push their model of tight government control and high taxes onto the off-Earth economy of the late 21st century . . .
Greg Allison, Chairman of the National Space Society’s Policy Committee states that it “believes that the 1967 Outer Space Treaty can be interpreted as permitting public and private entities to appropriate resources that they can directly utilize and to establish a ‘reasonable’ zone of operations around sites of activity.” An American base, even one with substantial international participation, would create a precedent that would not only apply to the Moon but to all the other accessible bodies in our solar system. (note: quotation marks had to be reentered from the VC due to formating problems).
Here are my previous thoughts on space exploration here. And here is Eisner on “Space Keynesianism.”
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