Science & Tech

The Case for Space

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover vehicle lifts off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Fla., July 30, 2020. (Joe Skipper/Reuters)
What good can aiming for Mars do at a time like this? Quite a lot, actually.

Mars is looking real,” Elon Musk tweeted on Tuesday evening. “Progress is accelerating.”

Musk has every right to be bullish. At a SpaceX facility in Boca Chica, Texas, on Tuesday night, the Starship prototype Serial Number 5 launched in a brief test flight. The fifth-generation rocket — hopefully the model for the rockets that will one day shuttle people, cargo, and satellites to and from the moon and Mars — rose nearly 500 feet before landing near the launch pad in a controlled descent. It was the first rocket of its kind to successfully launch with full-sized propellant tanks.

Tuesday’s test launch came just two days after the safe return to Earth of the DEMO-2 crew members, who launched on the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket back in May. Their mission was a rousing success, and another NASA crew is slated to launch with SpaceX this September. Musk and his company have the capability to ride their recent momentum into the fall, using hard-earned American taxpayer dollars to push the cause of space exploration forward.

Critics might contend that there are far too many problems here on planet Earth — heck, in the United States alone — to devote precious time and resources to that cause.

First and foremost, there’s the coronavirus pandemic. Why bother trying to conquer Mars when our government institutions cannot deliver an effective, non-partisan response to the rapidly spreading disease which has already claimed over 150,000 lives? Socially isolated inside homes and apartments, unemployed Americans face continued lockdowns and economic damage. Families struggle to make ends meet, loved ones pass without proper funerals, and to those suffering from depression, anxiety, and substance abuse, the future may look hopeless. The mental-health and opioid crises that existed before the pandemic will almost certainly be much, much worse afterward.

Then, there are the unrest and violence on America’s streets, inflamed by the disease and pundits — from both sides of the aisle — who seek to capitalize on the moment for political gain. What good is imagining a future when Mars is colonized while protesters attack federal property in Portland and violent-crime rates soar in New York? Who cares if astronauts ever set foot on the moon again when citizens are afraid to set foot on a sidewalk in Chicago?

And, of course, there’s November’s presidential election. It might be the most consequential in recent memory. It will certainly be the most divisive. Two less-than-ideal candidates will face off, backed by two rapidly changing, often-hardly recognizable political parties. They’ll do so at a time when many Americans cannot even have an honest discussion about the choice the nation faces, because they feel as if sharing their political views could get them socially ostracized, axed at work, or worse.

So, the question remains: What good can space exploration do at a time like this?

Well, quite a lot, actually. In aiming for Mars, SpaceX and Elon Musk have undertaken a noble and necessary endeavor. Way down the line, when generations of Americans yet to be born look back on this moment, they’ll be seeking some glimpse of hope, some apolitical accomplishment fueled by the ideals this country once upheld: private enterprise, innovation, vision. And in the present, to escape the bleak, polarized moment America faces, we will need those values, which have nothing to do with identity, tribe, the Black Lives Matter movement, or “Owning the libs.” Civilization does not progress when its heirs are bickering about pronouns, Goya beans, and reparations. But when a place as foreign and abstract as Mars is made to seem a little more real — when technology and good old-fashioned human ingenuity accelerate together to expand our sense of what’s possible — the chances of progress are made to seem a little more real, too.

Most Popular

Law & the Courts

Replacing Ginsburg

While we did not agree with many of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s views about the Constitution or the judicial function, we never doubted her industry, dedication, gumption, civility, or patriotism. We send our condolences to all who mourn her passing. Justice Ginsburg almost certainly had more fans than any ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Replacing Ginsburg

While we did not agree with many of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s views about the Constitution or the judicial function, we never doubted her industry, dedication, gumption, civility, or patriotism. We send our condolences to all who mourn her passing. Justice Ginsburg almost certainly had more fans than any ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Barr Is Right About the Prosecution Power

Attorney General Bill Barr gave a speech at Hillsdale College on Wednesday that attracted a lot of attention. Much of that attention was for his ill-considered remark (in a question-and-answer session following the speech) that "Other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, [the pandemic lockdowns ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Barr Is Right About the Prosecution Power

Attorney General Bill Barr gave a speech at Hillsdale College on Wednesday that attracted a lot of attention. Much of that attention was for his ill-considered remark (in a question-and-answer session following the speech) that "Other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, [the pandemic lockdowns ... Read More

Snobs or Mobs?

A   lot of us were feeling pretty good about the future of the media in late September of 2004. Dan Rather and the CBS news division had just tried to derail George W. Bush’s reelection campaign with some genuine fake news — based on fake documents — and, in spite of the manful attempts of ... Read More

Snobs or Mobs?

A   lot of us were feeling pretty good about the future of the media in late September of 2004. Dan Rather and the CBS news division had just tried to derail George W. Bush’s reelection campaign with some genuine fake news — based on fake documents — and, in spite of the manful attempts of ... Read More

The Mystery of Robert E. Lee

No one who ever met Robert Edward Lee -- whatever the circumstances of the meeting -- failed to be impressed by the man. From his earliest days as a cadet at West Point, through 25 years as an officer in the U.S. Army’s Corps of Engineers and six more as a senior cavalry officer, and then as the supreme ... Read More

The Mystery of Robert E. Lee

No one who ever met Robert Edward Lee -- whatever the circumstances of the meeting -- failed to be impressed by the man. From his earliest days as a cadet at West Point, through 25 years as an officer in the U.S. Army’s Corps of Engineers and six more as a senior cavalry officer, and then as the supreme ... Read More
World

Jared Kushner Was Right

Over the past several years, a new certainty was added to death and taxes: Jared Kushner would fail in his role as the administration’s Middle East point man. It caused considerable merriment among President Donald Trump’s critics (and even some of his well-wishers) when he put his son-in-law in charge of ... Read More
World

Jared Kushner Was Right

Over the past several years, a new certainty was added to death and taxes: Jared Kushner would fail in his role as the administration’s Middle East point man. It caused considerable merriment among President Donald Trump’s critics (and even some of his well-wishers) when he put his son-in-law in charge of ... Read More
Film & TV

The Convictions of Jim Caviezel

‘I didn't get invited by Hollywood to come to this industry,” actor Jim Caviezel says. It was God — not the executives, the talent agents, nor the filmmakers — that gave him his acting talent. “God believed in me, that He wanted me to be an actor. I felt it in my heart very deeply.” A man of deep ... Read More
Film & TV

The Convictions of Jim Caviezel

‘I didn't get invited by Hollywood to come to this industry,” actor Jim Caviezel says. It was God — not the executives, the talent agents, nor the filmmakers — that gave him his acting talent. “God believed in me, that He wanted me to be an actor. I felt it in my heart very deeply.” A man of deep ... Read More