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If you don’t mind me saying so, Anthony, I think Charles Krauthammer is talking sentimental tosh.

Why do it? It’s not for practicality …

He lost me right there, I’m afraid. To spend 24 billion current dollars (I think it was) on a project of no practical value, is not the action of a mature commercial republic with a firm grip on its senses. It’s more like the pyramid-building exploits of oriental despots — “A monument to the insufficiency of human enjoyments.”

As for

And when you do such magnificently hard things — send sailing a Ferdinand Magellan or a Neil Armstrong — you open new human possibility in ways utterly unpredictable.

The Magellan/Armstrong parallel simply doesn’t work. In the early 16th century there were huge profits to be made from spices (because “the diet of the time was boring in the extreme and … spices were an ideal commodity from the traders’ point of view, being small in bulk, but high in price and profit margin” — Colin McEvedy’s Penguin Atlas of Modern History). The Spice Islands (nowadays the Moluccas) were a terrific prize, but a chore to get to by going round Africa and India. A Western passage was potentially very profitable. That, according to my 1911 Britannica, is how Magellan, who was out of favor with the king of Portugal, sold his voyage to Charles V of Spain. (“And,” says Britannica, “he found an invaluable financial ally in Christopher de Haro, a member of a great Antwerp firm, who owed a grudge to the king of Portugal.”) Magellan’s enterprise, in short, promised great commercial returns from known resources. I don’t recall Apollo being pitched to Congress on those terms.

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