So I really liked the format of last week's Harry Potter: WTF entry. I bring up something that puzzles me, and the comments leap into the breach to clear the air. I liked it so much I may make a habit out of it.

Why don't people give a shit about the space program anymore? I understand the obvious arguments about the exorbitant costs outweighing the benefits combined with the lack of "exciting" new developments akin to landing on the moon. But….the idea of sending people into space is really cool. I can't argue that it's productive, efficient, or worth anything at all to society. But I refuse to say that it's not kinda neat.

I understand why people think it's a stupid waste of money, but I don't understand why spacewalks aren't worth 20 seconds on the news. When I was a youngin' we used to get out of class to watch Space Shuttle launches (and let me tell you, that policy fuckin' backfired when a bunch of 7 year-olds were confronted with an exploding Challenger) and now I don't think anyone even realizes when it happens. It's pretty sad, in my humble opinion, that we're so jaded. I'm not sure what it'll take to impress people these days, but apparently launching humans into the vacuum of space and returning them to Earth safely (most of the time) just doesn't cut it.

Am I just puerile and easily amused or is the idea of sustaining life in space still, you know, worth an occasional moment of awe?

8 thoughts on “THE FINAL FRONTIER, ETC.”

  • It is. Not just because it's cool–which it totally freaking *is*–but because it's a genuine investment in the future of our species. Look, the sun's gonna die someday. Not soon, not soon at *all*, but it'll happen. (Unless we find a way to reverse the laws of thermodynamics, and good luck with that.) And when it does, dammit, we're gonna need somewhere else to go. So for that alone, it deserves as much attention and funding as, say, fighting global warming, which in the *long* view of things, is simply a stop-gap measure. It deserves awe and respect.

    (Except that it strives against both bleeding heart liberalism, who want the money to go to local artists painting vaginally-based self-portraits in mentstrual blood, as well as lunatic conservatives, who still think secretly that the heliocentric concept of the solar system is bullshit, and that the Ptolemaic system is just what the fundamentalist doctor ordered, thank you. So it'll never be popular except with secular science geeks, alas.)

  • I watched the recent Space Shuttle Endeavour launch on HDNet… it doesn't matter how many times you've seen it, it's never short of awesome.

  • Every launch is awesome, without a doubt. And the missions themselves are noble. Sometimes, I could watch the NASA channel (available on any respectable satellite package) for an hour straight. I personally don't understand people who fail to see the significance or grandeur of the space program.

    I think some people just used it as proof that "America rulez, dude" during the Cold War, and starting ignoring it as soon as the Berlin Wall came down.

    I also think we as a species should be pushing ourselves to accomplish bigger and better goals all the time. Going into space was one such goal. We need to up the ante in space. We also need an "Apollo program" for energy independence and another for genetics. We need to raise the bar again.

  • Although I completely agree that shuttle launches and working in space are fascinating topics, I feel as if there are many more important issues that we need to address. For example, the price of college continues to go up, many Americans don't have health care and social security is not going to be there when my generation retires. But let's drop a shit ton of money into space because…it's cool…and we may have to live there someday? Don't get me wrong, I took an astronomy course my freshman year and loved it. It gave me an appreciation for what we have done and where we could go. But let's be realistic. We are a species that has been around for literally a blink of an eye in comparison to the Earth's age. If we live until the sun burns out (and that is a HUGE if) I would be thoroughly surprised. So let's fix some of our country

  • We need the space program, because otherwise we'll never know if ants can be trained to sort tiny screws in space.

    Also, I don't know if buy the "the sun's going to die someday, so we need to be UP THERE! IN SPACE! DOING SHIT!"-argument because of the time frame involved. I mean, the very first engine-propelled by any human being in history occurred about 100 years ago. We went from Kitty Hawk to the fucking moon in just under 70 years. Considering the fact that the sun is going to be in good shape for about the next hundred thousand years, I think it would be okay to put the space program on the back burner for a few centuries while we try to get our shit in order down here on earth, and make sure we don't kill ourselves before the sun takes care of it for us. Even if we do, we'll still have plenty of time to work out how to get our asses to Alpha Centauri before we're engulfed in solar flares.

    I mean, I'm going to die someday, but I don't need to be out shopping for a coffin RIGHT NOW.

    I just think the money can be better spent somewhere else, at the moment. Of course, without a bloated NASA research budget, where else are we going to get pens that write upside down and Tempurpedic foam mattresses?

  • I don't get it either, Ed. I realized only a few years ago that this issue is largely divided along party lines, with dems being anti-space program and repubs being pro. I was baffled.

    Sure, I understand the arguments that Mike makes about fiscal priorities that hit closer to home, but we could just as easily, oh, say, stop spending millions of dollars a DAY in Iraq.

    The space program is important for more reasons than "it's cool." Human beings are explorers, and we're curious by nature. Since the dawn of our existence we've been compelled to travel beyond our boundaries. I believe it's just as valid to see what's "out there" as it is to probe the depths of the human mind looking for the answer to "life, the universe, and everything."

  • I'm torn on this issue–and I'm certainly not a Rep. The Dems are too right for me most of the time, to be honest. So, yes, I believe we need to spend money here, taking care of health care and the environment and cleaning up our act around the world. OTOH, I really believe that the space program has value for humanity and not just in the long, long, long term. There are medical experiments happening now that have applications for us here now. We wouldn't be on the internet, most of us, without satellites and we wouldn't have those if not for the scientific experimentation of the space program. So, I believe this is a false dilemma–it's not either/or. It's both/and, especially if we minimize the TRULY bloated defense budget.

    Besides, isn't the question of whether or not it's "practical" assuming that knowledge must in some way have immediate benefit for us, instead of having the knowledge being valuable in and of itself?

  • So here's the half-drunk, all-straight dope. We're (in the grand, all of us and our future offspring sense) never getting off this rock and surviving. The radiation levels, not to mention the obvious and already noted ridiculous waste of resources/man hours/wealth, will kill us sure as Shinola. The human body has evolved to live in a very rarified environment, relative to the truly vast, truly inhospitable environment we so accurately label "space"; it's like this, folks: Not only CAN we not accomplish interstellar travel, we OUGHT not. Honestly, take a frank, soul-searching look at humanity. Granted, some of us are Amy Goodman, or Regis Philbin, or even Mr. Winkle. However, what self-respecting other piece of watery stone in the almost perfect state of cooling in its mind-bogglingly long lifetime really wants us? In the end, our bone marrow and our ability to reproduce outside the friendly confines of Earth have been shown to be almost (ah, yes, ALMOST, clingers to slimmest hopes) totally incompatible with interstellar travel. Far be it from me to beat the deadest of horses, but it ain't gonna happen. If you'd like to continue pissing away resources on a pipe dream when more than likely the slush fund that I can't believe doesn't exist from the absurd amounts of money paid to defense/aerospace contractors (honestly, is there a difference?), please send me one Euro for each fantasy you have that it isn't a mind-numbingly foolish waste of time. That way I'll have less to spend on Colt45, but you'll at least have a moment to consider the injustice we do to all that truly suffer in this world while we go to the fridge wondering what's coming up next on television.

    PS I challenge Ed to a Cynicism-Off. Any day, any time, yo.

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