Dan Popp
Why manned space flight?
By Dan Popp
December 7, 2014

And they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves...." – Genesis 11:4a, NKJV

I was ten years old when we first walked on the Moon. Every schoolboy then wanted to be an astronaut. Those smart, skilled, brave men were the modern heroes. The space program was patriotic. Few people, least of all me, questioned the validity of manned space exploration.

On that July night I watched the fuzzy, black-and-white TV images of Neil Armstrong bouncing down the ladder of the LEM and onto the lunar surface. Later, he and Buzz Aldrin read the plaque on the base of that craft stating, "We came in peace for all mankind."

And I said, "What?"

"We came" (we were told) because we had to beat the Russians to the Moon. Otherwise they could make it a platform to bomb us. Ludicrous on its face, isn't it? A rocket that could reach the Moon carrying another rocket that could reach the Earth would be an enormous waste of resources when the USSR could bomb us from orbit or, using an ICBM, from land or under the sea. "We came in peace?" not really. We came "for all mankind?" Certainly not.

Like the interstate highway system, the US space program was sold to the public as a military necessity. It would have been unconstitutional otherwise.

So what did we learn from our trips to the Moon? We learned that it's very difficult, dangerous and expensive to send people to the Moon. After the premature shutdown of the Apollo program in 1972, we never went back. No one has ever been back.

What would be the point?

What is the purpose of manned space flight? If you can find a statement about it on the NASA website, you're a better sleuth than I. The truth is that civilization has gained quite a bit from what we used to call artificial satellites – machines that orbit the Earth. The Global Positioning System (GPS), greatly enhanced communication abilities and new levels of military surveillance are some of the big ones. What did we get by risking the lives of human beings on lunar exploration? Some rocks? Tang?

I think it would be difficult to argue that we sent men into space to do what machines couldn't do.

Yet, with the recent success of the spacecraft Orion, NASA is once again in the Dream business. People in space. Going to Mars, y'all.


Some will answer that we need to colonize other planets in anticipation of a time when Earth becomes uninhabitable. But that's science fiction, not science. The truth is, if you wanted to save a small colony of humans from planet-wide catastrophe, you could build it at the bottom of the sea. That would be faster, easier and cheaper. But everyone knows it's impossible. And besides, it's not as exciting.

"Humans are incurable adventurers – we're compelled by our nature to reach out for the stars," others will say. But again, that's Star Trek dreck, not reality. In the Year of Our Lord 2,014 there are still places on this planet where no human foot has trod. Apparently, the drive to explore is an anomaly among homo sapiens, and a luxury, not a necessity.

If we value human life, and if we're willing to look at the situation realistically – that is, scientifically – we must conclude that the costs and risks of manned space flight are infinitely greater than the probable rewards. And that's just as it was in the 1960s, by the way.

So again, why?

There is a particular distortion of rational thought in our way.

A lot of people hold the vague notion that anything will be possible eventually – we just need some more of those amazing technological breakthroughs. So many features of science fiction have become reality, and in a short period of time, it's easy to believe that the future will be a continuing line of "more of the same." But faster-than-light travel is not even possible in theory. Free, infinite energy. Teleportation. Time travel. These are dreams of a different kind than the "miracles" wrought by faster, smaller computers. They are fantasies.

Why put humans in space?

Well, maybe we can find the cause in human nature, after all. We can look at history and identify a common characteristic of species-wide impudence; of arrogance; of refusing to recognize our place in the world.

The atheist cosmonauts sneered that they had been to the heavens and had not seen God. Some American preacher retorted that, if they had opened their capsule and taken off their space suits they would have found Him pretty quickly. Could it be that post-Christian America, with its soviet-style Godvernment, is now at the place where the USSR was then? That our efforts to, say, live on Mars are a deluded attempt to break free of our unbreakable human limitations? That, deep down, we want to poke our finger in the eye of God?

If manned space flight isn't just the latest attempt to build a tower to the heavens to make a name for ourselves, then what is it?


© Dan Popp


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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