KRAUTHAMMER: SPACE GEEK
Charles Krauthammer is a man ahead of his time:
Four years ago, I wrote an article (“On to Mars,” the Weekly Standard, Jan. 31, 2000) advocating phasing out the space shuttle, abandoning the space station, establishing a moon base and then eventually going on to Mars. It was greeted with yawns by those who noticed it at all.
Even my friends excused my fondness for the moon as the kind of eccentricity one expects from a guy who has an interest in prime numbers and once drove to New York to see a chess match.
Well, things have gotten worse. This week, when the president of the United States proposed to phase out the space shuttle, phase down the space station, establish a moon base and then eventually go on to Mars, he was met not with yawns, but with ridicule.
Krauthammer then explains why he and Bush are right, via a cleverly structured false dilemma:
NASA gave us the glory of Apollo, then spent the next three decades twirling around in space in low Earth orbit studying zero-G nausea.
It’s crazy, and it might have gone on forever had it not been for the Columbia tragedy. Columbia made painfully clear what some of us have been saying for years: It is not only pointless to continue orbiting endlessly around the Earth; it is ridiculously expensive and indefensibly risky.
Those who want to divert even these paltry sums to domestic spending would undoubtedly have objected to Magellan’s costly plans, too. Look. We can stay on Earth. We can keep tumbling about in orbiting Tinkertoys. Or we can walk the moon again and prepare for Mars. I can’t imagine an easier choice.
So, we can either waste money doing something worthless repeatedly, we can spend much more money doing something of limited value, or take what’s behind Door Number Three?
I still haven’t made up my mind on this one. Krauthammer may be right that, if we cancel the shuttle and devote the entirety of the existing NASA budget to this new adventure, the added cost would be something like 5 percent. I’m naturally skeptical of budget projects made decades out, though. He is almost certainly correct that the scientific gains from such a project would be tremendous. But, then again, one would think that simply spending the same amount of money on focuses R&D–say, cancer research–would yield comparable benefits.
I’d like to hear more about the expected practical benefits of this. Will we finally be getting those flying cars the sci-fi writers have been promising us? One of those cool Star Trek replicators where you can walk up and say “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.” and get a cup of hot Earl Grey tea? [You mean, like a microwave? -ed. Too slow!] A holodeck? Hot Vulcan chicks in skimpy costumes? I’m still sellable on this one; but I’m far from sold.