Matthew Yglesias remarks,

Maybe you need to be a baby boomer or something to feel the space vibe, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why you would think a federally financed trip to the moon was a better use of money than, say, providing health care and education to children, getting better equipment for our soldiers, better pay for our reservists, or reducing the debt burden on future generations.

I can’t disagree. I find the 1960s moon program quite interesting and a remarkable adventure. But doing it again seems silly. If we’re going to spend money in space, we should either do something useful or at least go somewhere new.

FILED UNDER: Science & Technology
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Steven says:

    I have mixed feelings–and I will admit part of them are based on romantic notions of space exploration.

    However, I do think that eventually we need to get back into space (and I am betting that the Chinese interst in space may spur us on), and if we are going to go somewhere else, a base on the moon makes sense to some degree. Still, how realistic all that is is a different issue altogether.

  2. John Irving says:

    something useful: establish base on moon, near polar shadow regions to mine ice for water and oxygen, and lunar regolith to be launched into the Lagrange points

    someplace new: O’Neill colonies built in the Lagrange points to provide properly maintained solar power systems to transmit back to Earth.

    In meantime, stock manned exploration ships built from orbit and Luna to explore rest of Solar System.

    A moon base is the first step, and we haven’t taken it yet.

  3. John,

    Couldn’t agree more. I disagree with Yglesias. It’s the typical leftist argument. If the objective is to just go back to the moon, then that is a waste. So too are many of the things he suggested.

    But if you’re going to waste money, you may as well do what he said.

  4. nathan says:

    I couldn’t disagree more.
    The main benefit to a space program is serendipity.
    The technology to cap teeth came from the necessity to find a way to fuse glass to metal for the mercury capsule. Digital watches were another spinoff.
    Computer miniaturization was spurred by the space program.
    The precision of our nuclear ICBMs came from the space program. No big deal? Well, it helped us spend the USSR into collapse because they needed to have 3 missiles to every one of ours because they couldn’t get that level of precision. We wouldn’t have GPS without the space program, nor would we have precision guided munitions that increase effectiveness of bombs to avoid civilian casualties and allow our pilots to fly fewer missions.
    But we only get this serendipitous technology when we are challenged to do something new. Just sending up the space shuttle for science experiments really doesn’t spur much. We need to push to go farther. A Moon Base would do wonders for helping us develop non-polluting technologies we could use on earth. Who knows what else? Who knows what we would get from a Mars mission? Lightweight alloys that would make cars more fuel efficient? Solar power to reduce carbon emissions on Earth?
    We need to fund the space mission to do more, and push the envelope. It’s a wild card of technological progress.

  5. JimP says:

    While there are several places I had rather see the money spent, nathan has some excellent points.

    I feel certain that the Chinese space program has lent emphasis to us renewing ours. And, in a way that is good. Competition is usually good.

    On the other hand, and slightly off subject, (maybe more than slightly) I think that there is a real significance to the use of terminology in space exploration, especially as concerns the moon. To me, the term base connotes a military orientation. On the moon, I would like to see there be a “settlement” or some other less loaded term than base.

    Other than that, what nathan said.

  6. JimP says:

    Settlement obviously carries its own connotations.

    Perhaps there isn’t a neutral word. I can’t think of one right now. But I sure hope that it can be a militarily neutral effort.

  7. Paul says:

    Matthew Yglesias gets it wrong (again, sigh)

    One of Bush’s requirements, according to the reports, is that it not take new federal spending.

    So Yglesias’ whole post is meaningless.

    I’m starting to wonder if the lefties read these things before they rant and just ignore them or they just don’t read them.


  8. James Joyner says:


    Even if it took no new spending–which I’d be skeptical of–it might well still be money better spent elsewhere.

  9. rpl says:

    Framing the debate in terms like “we should spend the money on X instead of Y” seems to me to be a bit specious. First, it fails to examine whether the costs of the two really are comparable. It’s no good saying that we should scrap the moon mission to pay for health care if the cost of the moon mission wouldn’t even make a dent in the costs of the health care program.

    More importantly, this sort of reasoning creates a false dichotomy fallacy. The argument is that we must pay either for subsidized health care or for space exploration, when in fact the two issues are largely independent. For instance, many people believe that subsidizing health care would be pernicious in itself, quite apart from the purely pecuniary costs. If so, then the disposition of the health care issue is completely irrelevant to arguments over whether or not to fund other projects. Alternatively, one could argue that we should have both space exploration and health care, and we should make up the costs by cutting some other less worthy project, or by raising taxes, or by voodoo economics, or whatever.

    In other words, it may well be the case that health care is a worthier project than space exploration, but that by itself is not a sufficient argument that a moon mission should not be funded.

    In fact, I think a moon mission would likely create a lot of technological spinoffs (as Nathan observes, the last one did) that would in the long run repay the investment and then some. A permanent moon installation would also advance the state of the art in space exploration, and would open up many possibilities for scientific research, all of which are worthy goals. True, it would cost some money, but science and exploration have always proven to be a bargain in the long run, and I expect a new moon mission would be no different.