Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 2, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

SPACE FLIGHT AND BALLET....I just saw NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe on 60 Minutes tonight, and I have to give him a mixed review. At first he compared manned space flight to the early days of commercial aviation:

What was aviation like after its first 113 flights? How many crashes did they have? And yet today we have a thriving airline industry. And I think we'll have the same thing in the future in space: people will go back and forth to space stations as easily as we fly to another city today.

(That's an approximate quote. I was eating dinner, not taking notes.)

And he almost had me going. Yeah, it's like the early days of aviation. Yeah!

Unfortunately, we've been flying humans into space for 40 years now, and space flight is nowhere near where commercial aviation was 40 years after the Wright brothers. Then, to make it worse, O'Keefe started talking about symphonies and ballets:

These are things that perhaps people think aren't absolutely necessary, but we fund them anyway.

(Again very approximate quote.)

Unfortunately, most Americans just don't have much interest in government funding of symphonies and ballets. For good or ill, this is not a great way to sell the American public on the idea of manned space flight.

I love the idea of manned space flight myself. If my income tax form had a box that allowed me to contribute an extra $100 to a government program to colonize space, I'd probably check it off. Unfortunately, though, I suspect the "symphonies and ballets" analogy is a pretty good one. And like the civic arts, manned space flight probably ought to be consigned primarily to the private sector, where it will be funded by enthusiasts and rich philanthropists. Maybe Bill Gates would contribute a couple billion dollars.

Kevin Drum 8:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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