Manned space flight is just another form of welfare

Due to advances in technology, there is now renewed interest in manned space flight.  I hope I'm not alone in asking, "What's the point?"  For extraterrestrial scientific discovery, robots do a much better job at a significantly lower cost.

Tom Wolfe, in The Right Stuff, laid it all out.  Sending astronauts up into space, during the Cold War, was a return to the medieval practice of single warrior combat.  Rather than having whole swarms of fighters slashing and bludgeoning each other, the two opposing forces would, on occasion, send only their best champions to fight, one on one, while the rest would just watch and await a symbolic victory.

The Cold War, however, is over.

Some "visionaries" are now looking forward to establishing human colonies on the moon and Mars, even though neither has a breathable atmosphere or abundant potable water.  But so what?  We still get to employ a vast army of tech nerds, brandishing pocket-protectors, while coveting suburban ranch houses and country club memberships.  Hence, we have what boils down to welfare for the educated middle class.

Some of those who may object to my cynicism will cite the impending destruction of the Earth's habitability.  But there's really no actual evidence for that assumption.  Others will also point to the vast mineral wealth beyond our planetary confines that's just waiting to be harvested.  Again, robots can do the job a lot cheaper than humans, without the attendant casualty risk.

Demonstrated by this situation is the established pattern that, once a constituency is allowed to plant its snouts deeply into the trough, they will strenuously resist any effort to dislodge them.  A while ago, NASA floated a theory of the possible existence of a "mirror" universe, where time runs backward.  How much would need to be spent to confirm or deny this supposition?  Again, I have to ask, "Why bother?" 

It is human destiny to explore the world beyond our own planet.  And we've already done an awful lot of that, starting with such folks as Galileo and Copernicus.  I'm just noticing a disconnect.  Fictitious heroes, from Buck Rodgers and Flash Gordon to Captain James T. Kirk, have inspired many ingenious pursuits.  But there's a mundane reality that has to be considered.  Human life support is a tremendous burden on the design of a space craft.  At the beginning, back in the mid-twentieth century, NASA scientists and engineers used captured data generated by sadists such as Dr. Josef Mengele of the Third Reich to establish minimum conditions necessary for astronaut survival. 

Robots don't need air, water, or a bathroom.  Their capabilities have been drastically enhanced because of their usefulness in commerce.  Obviously, manned space flight will continue, but its importance should be honestly downgraded.  If super-rich adventurers choose to escape the confines of gravity, mostly to just admire the view, it's really none of my business.  And, again, the Cold War is over...while we still get to enjoy Velcro and Tang.


Image via Pxhere.

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