Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 3, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

THE DREAM OF SPACE....William Burrows has an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times today in which he talks about our destiny in space:

If anything good is to come out of the cause for which the Columbia astronauts died, it should be a resolve that it is humanity's destiny to inhabit Earth orbit, the moon and beyond.

But turn that around and see how this sounds instead:

If anything good is to come out of the cause for which the Titanic passengers died, it should be a resolve that it is humanity's destiny to inhabit not just the surface of the seas, but the ocean's depths, its sea floor, and beyond.

Domed colonies on the floor of the sea were a science fiction staple of Jules Verne's time, but today it sounds quaint and old fashioned. Why would we bother?

That's the problem with manned space flight. I'm not opposed to it because it's dangerous, or because the government shouldn't be in the business of basic research, or because we should be spending the money fighting poverty instead. I'm opposed because some dreams just don't pan out as well as others. Manned space flight today is like the domed sea colonies of 1900: cool sounding, but ultimately not very interesting.

Unmanned probes are a great use of government money. Aspects of biotech, nanotech, AI, and other frontiers of science that are too risky or far out for the private sector might be too. But manned space flight is ultimately a dream about human progress, and in the past 50 years it's been superseded by newer, shinier miracles. Frankly, space is no longer the final frontier. We should move on.

Kevin Drum 9:43 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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