This node is inspired by Jet-Poop
's impassioned node, Once you have tasted flight: In defense of manned space travel
. Though I sympathize with his objectives, I must disagree vehemently with his desire for Space Shuttle
missions to continue. I originally added a writeup to his node, which was rightly nuked by the E2
editors, as it was a pure response to his writeup which did not stand on its own. I also apologize to Jet-Poop for the somewhat vituperative
style of the writeup. I'll try to address his arguments, as well as those I have heard others make. The principal targets of his arguments are those who oppose space travel for safety reasons. I have no opposition to manned space travel because of its dangers to astronauts. It's a lot safer, statistically, than climbing Mount Everest
, and I'm not one to ban that, either.
My objection to the space shuttle is rooted in my general objection to government. Governments are primarily good at two things, taking money and killing people. If the 20th century has taught us anything, it has taught us that. I have long enjoyed science and science fiction, and I support our race, the race of mankind, being a spacefaring race. I do not, however, support government forcing me, or anyone else, to pay for meaningless trips intended primarily to justify other, equally pointless endeavors. The space shuttle is a multibillion dollar publicity stunt. It performs science which is essentially meaningless. It only deploys satellites which have been designed so as to prevent their being deployed by any other (i.e., cheaper Apollo era rockets) method.
It is so obvious that unmanned missions would be better suited to send up satellites and explore other planets initially that only romantic (mis)remembrances of past adventurers could stir anyone to make a counter argument. Unmanned missions are cheaper, and no more error prone. The failure rate for unmanned missions would have to be extraordinary indeed to justify the increased cost of a manned mission. We could perform many unmanned missions for the cost of one, without risking precious human lives in the process. NASA knew that the shuttle was obsolete, and that they could not be used for anywhere near the number of missions they were promising. Instead of 100 missions, we can get maybe 20-25. And at much higher cost than the one which promised more missions. The shuttles have to keep flying so the shuttles can keep flying. So the aerospace engineers have somewhere to go. So government workers can keep their jobs in government and not have to duke it out in the private sector like the rest of us.
Funds could indeed be better allocated than they are currently. The best allocation of those funds would be back into the pockets of those from whom it was taken. There are many people who would love to go into space, and even more who would love to help fund such an enterprise. Let those people purchase NASA equipment and hire suitable expertise to make such a thing a reality. Much of the wealth in this country is held by technology geeks. I'm sure some of them would be just chomping at the bit for an opportunity to search out new worlds. Let them. The private sector is better at creating technology than the government, and better at implementing it at or under budget. For a person to say that he or she thinks $15 billion of mostly other peoples money is worth it is almost like Madeleine Albright saying half a million dead Iraqi children is "worth it." Those who don't bear the brunt of the costs can't really speak for those who do. Just because something is worth it to you, does not mean it is worth it to me. That is the advantage of the free market. You base your expenditures on what is valuable to you, such as space travel, and I can base mine on what is valuable to me, such as a nice vacation with my wife. I would not force you to give up even a dollar to pay for me to go to Disney World, so why force me to give up (considerably more) money to send people into space?
NASA is the pathological liar of the American federal government. Consider the magnitude of that statement. It is akin to saying someone is the racist bastard of the Ku Klux Klan. With regard to the really large projects, the one they pitch to Congress so they may pilfer more and more of the tax payers' money, NASA is not above underestimating budget requirements by a factor of 10. If you or I went to buy a car for $20,000, I think we would both be ticked off if the car were delivered for $200,000. And years late on top of that. NASA does not want to get to the stars. All NASA wants, like all of government, is to continue to exist, and continue to expand its budget. If we were serious about getting into space, we would say that whomever can set up a colony on any world gets the right to exploit it for whatever purpose they see fit. If there is a good reason for going, free individuals will be best suited to discover those reasons and convince other free individuals to support their efforts.