The Corner

It’s Only a Paper Moon

The upcoming anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon is generating some good commentary. I’ve had a go at it myself here. More recently, here’s a fine piece from Tom Piatak, with a couple of nice “hooks” into current events:

[The Apollo astronauts] were selected to go into space for the simple reason that they were the best men for the job, a criterion that today is often no longer enough, as Frank Ricci discovered. Today’s NASA seems as interested in trumpeting its commitment to multiculturalism and diversity as in the exploration of space, a commitment that would have struck the men who actually planned and achieved multiple landings on the moon as simply irrelevant to what they were doing.

Forty years on, multiculturalism and diversity are irrelevant to nothing whatsoever. They are the very first things that must be addressed in the planning of any project, the formulation of any policy. We all know that.

Feedback from my own column on Apollo has opened my eyes to a peculiar contradiction in the conservative soul. On the one hand, as patriots, conservative Americans take great pride in our nation’s achievements. It can’t be denied that landing men on the Moon was a simply tremendous achievement. On the other hand, conservatives look askance at big, expensive federal programs, and the Apollo program was surely one such.

The cognitive dissonance thus engendered has produced some very tortured logic among my e-mailers. A common argument is that by demonstrating our aerospatial-technological superiority to the Soviets, Apollo helped win the Cold War. I can’t myself see any evidence that Apollo advanced our victory in the Cold War by so much as fifteen minutes, and nobody has anything concrete to offer. The U.S.S.R. decayed on its own domestic timetable, with very little reference to what we were doing. So it seems to me, anyway. Contrariwise to the Apollo argument, our humiliation in Vietnam should have enormously encouraged the Soviets; but I see no real sign of that, either. They just went on slowly crumbling.

Other e-mailers tell me that since, by the irrefragable laws of stellar evolution, the earth will at some point become uninhabitable, we had best get on with exporting ourselves to other worlds. There’s something in that; but stellar evolution is a mighty slow process, and this issue won’t be pressing for several billion years.

A related line of argument, somewhat more plausible, is that we are bound to suffer a major asteroid impact at some point in the next hundred thousand years or so, possibly tomorrow, so to ensure the survival of the human race we’d best etc., etc. True again; but the goverment expenditures required to get us out of harm’s way would be positively Obamanian, and might not do the job anyway. The only planet we could colonize with present technology would be Mars, which is even closer to the Asteroid Belt that we are, and in correspondingly greater danger. Deep-underground bolt-holes for a survivor remnant are a better bet for keeping our species in play, and way cheaper.

As I’ve made plain in several columns, I am a space buff from far back, and I find the exploration of space, including the manned exploration, thrilling beyond measure. That’s my taste in vicarious thrills. Other people have different tastes therein: They are thrilled by sporting achievements, or medical advances, or cultural accomplishments. If the federal government is going to pay for my thrills, why shouldn’t it pay for everyone else’s? If putting men on the moon is a proper national goal requiring billions of federal dollars, why isn’t winning the soccer World Cup, or curing the common cold, or resolving the Riemann Hypothesis?

As a minimal-government conservative, I’d prefer the federal authorities do none of those things. I’d prefer they stick to their proper duties: defending our coasts and borders, maintaining a stable currency, organizing national disaster relief, etc. Leave manned space travel to the entrepreneurs.

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