A View from David Appell

The Dark Side of the Moon

NASA’s plans for a return to the Moon were out only two days before there were calls to cut it to pay for Katrina’s damage. That doesn’t bode well for our society’s commitment to explore space. Robert Park is not…

  • September 22, 2005

NASA’s plans for a return to the Moon were out only two days before there were calls to cut it to pay for Katrina’s damage. That doesn’t bode well for our society’s commitment to explore space.

Robert Park is not a fan of manned space flight in this day and age, and comes out with both barrels firing in today’s op-ed in the New York Times. The time for it, he thinks, has come and gone, and we’re now in an area where it’s too costly, where there seems little real point of repeating past glories, and where robots do it better.

Much of what we yearn to discover in space is inaccessible to humans. Astronauts on Mars, locked in their spacesuits, could not venture far from shelter amid the constant bombardment of energetic particles that are unscreened by the thin atmosphere. Beyond Mars, there is no place humans can go in the foreseeable future. The great adventure of the 21st century will be to explore where no human can possibly set foot. The great quest is to find life to which we are not related. Could nature have solved the problem of life in some other way, in some other place? When we find out, we will know much more about ourselves.

Just as the glories of the Apollo space program were stubbed out by the cost of fighting the Vietnam War, so may man’s future space adventures be lost by a civilization that is all too willing to pay for war and too little values the thrill of science.

Does it matter? Some people think so. About a decade ago Princeton astrophysicist J. Richard Gott III wrote a famous paper in Nature in which he “calculated” that mankind will be capable of manned space travel for only a brief time:

There may be only a brief window of opportunity for space travel during which we will in principle have the capability to establish colonies. If we let that opportunity pass without taking advantage of it, we will be doomed to remain on the Earth, where we will eventually go extinct.

If you look at it that way, what is the true value of the hundred billion dollars another Moon shot would cost?

Become an MIT Technology Review Insider for in-depth analysis and unparalleled perspective.
Subscribe today

Uh oh–you've read all five of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium

$179.95/yr US PRICE

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.

  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus ad-free web experience, select discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

You've read of free articles this month.