Defending the virtues of liberty, free markets, and civilization... plus some commentary on the passing scene.

Freedom's Fidelity

Saturday, March 06, 2004

New Age of Exploration?

When President Bush first mentioned going to Mars, I would be lying if I said I wasn't doing some head scratching. We got terrorists to fight damnit! I thought, "unless you're talking about moving America to Mars and leaving all the wack jobs behind to figure it out for themselves, no way!" Okay fine, Australia and Britain can come too... and France, we need someone we can all poke fun at right? But that's the only reason to talk about Mars, if it involves NASA you can bet it involves billions at seemingly little or no benefit to the common man. My initial reaction was "nice ambition, but just now the times seem a bit turbulent for expenditures and ventures of this scope." Then as I'm browsing InstaPundit, I come across a fascinating piece like this:
The president's plans include developing new spacecraft, establishing launching points outside the Earth's atmosphere, and harnessing extraterrestrial resources that will "boggle the imagination" and "test our limits to dream."

Mr. Bush's program will create a new American empire in space that will resemble the ocean-born empires of the European states in the 17th and 18th centuries. The United States will stake claim to new "open" territories, leverage their resources, and settle them on a small scale.

As in the first era of exploration, travel to new horizons will inspire some of the national virtues Mr. Bush extols: "daring, discipline, ingenuity, and unity in the pursuit of great goals." If the past is any guide, however, exploration also will bring its share of problems, even for a country as powerful as the United States.

There are three difficulties, in particular, we must prepare to confront:
Go read the rest, the author draws some parallels with 17th and 18th century Europe's exploration of the new world to forecast some of those dangers we'll have to prepare for. We should go forward with optimism though, exploration has clearly been a long-term net benefit for the world so far.

Perhaps the greatest value to space exploration is its inspiration. The thought of a never ending world out there, operating under colosally different laws of life and physics, removes Earth's limitations from our brains and opens a whole new path of dreams, inventions, advancement.... and science fiction novels. Perhaps this is what we need at this time, competition from the Soviets is what pushed us to the moon in the 60's, today there is no such force. Maybe we allowed our ambition to become a bit too muted after Cold War ended. Maybe now is the time to "test our limits to dream."


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