Yeah, but there are always ‘pressing domestic needs’. Does that stop you from exploring? Should we all just turn inwards now, spend all our resources making each other comfortable, and just exist? Or are we going to continue exploring, pushing the boundaries of humanity, and expanding our knowledge?
Great expeditions have always been a signifant portion of a country’s treasure. Spain and Britain explored in the face of the same arguments being made here - that with no immediate tangible benefit, it’s better to spend the money at home making the people’s lives more comfortable. They chose to explore.
I happen to believe that nations survive and thrive when they have frontiers. Sometimes these are attained by conquest, and sometimes through exploration. Personally, I’d rather explore. When nations stop looking outwards and begin looking inwards at their navels, they start to decline. We lose our tolerance for risk. We stop understanding that risk is an acceptable part of exploration.
Our children read about the great adventures and it gave them something to hope for, something to attain, something to study for.
When I was a kid, we all wanted to be astronauts. It was during the heyday of Apollo. And the generation before me had the start of the space age and the promise of grand explorations to motivate them. And we produced generations of great engineers. These were kids who, in their spare time built Meccano sets, studied amateur radio and rocketry, and read science fiction books and dreamed of the stars.
Today, we talk about manned exploration of space as a foible. Kids don’t know who the current astronauts are, and don’t care. Our engineerng schools are falling behind. Educational standards are slipping.
Not all of it is related, of course. But to a child, the promise of a good salary and a clean working environment is a poor substitute for the promise of adventure if you just study hard enough.
I believe manned space exploration has another benefit as well - it inspires not just children, but everyone. How many times have you heard, “We can put a man on the moon, but we can’t make a (fill in the blank)”. Implicit in that common complaint is the acceptance that we are the kind of people who can land men on the moon. The criticism itself is a statement that we don’t live up to our own high standard. But at least a standard has been set. We know what we’re capable of, and it makes lesser tasks seem…easier. It makes us confident as a culture.
I’m not seeing a lot of cultural confidence lately. Instead, I see a lot of handwringing and guilt. Put a man on the moon? Hah! Maybe our parents could, but we can’t. Better to spend our money making fluffier pillows for people to rest on until they die.
When a culture loses its confidence, it’s in for a hell of a battle against other cultures emergent. I’d rather we kept ours, and showed the rest of the world what we can do, in a peaceful way that makes them respect us and like us, rather than through fear and military strength alone. So space exploration is also good for geopolitical relations. I think to this day the U.S. gets a lot of good will around the world from having put a man on the moon. Probably some ill will as well, but by and large it’s been good for the United States to have been the country that did it. How many of the best and brightest from other countries emigrated to the U.S. to be part of that? For starters, you could ask the former engineers of the Avro Aircraft Company in Canada, the bulk of whom went to the United States to work in the space program.
When Apollo was proposed, I imagine the same conversation we’re having now was being had all over the country. Spend that much money on a bunch of rocks and a few pictures? What’s the point? Why not spend it at home helping the people? But do you think there’s anyone today who wishes that Apollo hadn’t happened? That it was folly? A thousand years from now, what will been seen as one of the transformative events of mankind’s history? Apollo.
What good is being wealthy if you can’t use your wealth to undertake great things?
By the way, those of you who argue against manned spaceflight by claiming that unmanned space flight is a better form of exploration, do you realize that the same argument you use against manned spaceflight supporters is useed against you? A Hubble space telescope? How many billions did you spend for some pretty pictures? Do you know how many starving kids that money would have fed?