31 January 2012

Lunacy

I gather that Gingrich has been running his mouth in Florida about a moon base. I've seen people debate the feasibility of it, the politics, the budgetary consequences, but I haven't seen anybody talking about why.

Seriously, why bother? What is achieved — besides Ozymandian grandeur — by establishing a moon base that couldn't be done on Earth?

Should we do it to beat the Chinese? That's a pretty petty reason. So what if they want to spend money on white elephants?

Should we do it to mine Helium-3? That sounds like a solution in search of a problem. I didn't realize there was such a pressing need, nor that it was the Federal government's responsibility to meet it. Every other mineral, including "rare earth metals"*By the way, the reason the Chinese are mining almost all the world's supply of these isn't because of geology, it's be-cause they're the ones most willing to accept the environ-mental consequences of the mining operation. If we suddenly decided getting our hands on some was a priority we could find them domestically, and the clean-up would probably be a lot easier than going all the way to the moon and back. seems prohibitively expensive to transport back to Earth, not to mention the risks of all the fixed-costs to set up the operation.

Should we do it in the name of scientific research? I'm all in favor of science, but federal science spending is divided up into weapons, spying, medicine, space and everything else. NASA already eats up a massive chunk of the non-defense research budget. Why should human space travel be made even more of a priority for the fisc?

Should we do it so that humanity doesn't have all its eggs in one basket? Okay, fine, but if I proposed spending multiples of the GDP on systems to protect us from plagues and asteroid strikes and bunkers full of supplies and records and genetic materials people would think I was an apocalyptic maniac. But if I propose a lunar outpost I'm a visionary. I get that everyone wants to be Magellan/John Carver/Michel Ardan. It's romantic and fantastic and inspiring and all. Fine. But I am not interested in spending my real dollars for your fantasy.

Spending has been growing monotonically, through booms and busts, and is a hair's breath from sending us off the rails completely. And Ginrich — Gingrich the Republican — wants to spend how many trillions on a massive new Federal program? And he's supposed to be the one with the smart ideas? How can any fiscal conservative look at the US budget, look at NASA, and think anything other than "bring me a hatchet; I've got some chopping to do"?

4 comments:

  1. hee hee, "lunacy." I see what you did there.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The open frontier matters a lot to the American mythos. It may actually be important in reality as well.

    Also, you can drop (ok, de-orbit) rocks from the moon.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Yeah, I appreciate the frontier thing. I think it's valuable to have semi-governed places with highly plastic societies where various types of people can escape to. I hadn't considered the moon as that place, but (1) would Moon Base Gingrich operate in a frontier-like way, and (2) would it provide the sorts of opportunities, primarily economic ones, that the American frontier did?

    Yes, you can "drop" things from the moon. But you still have to escape the moon's gravity well. And what's up there that's both worth dropping back and able to survive the fall? And what do you do about the problem of supplying all the people doing the dropping? Are moon colonists going to be able to drop themselves back to Earth, or do they buy one-way tickets?

    ReplyDelete