When did we become so quick to mock this kind of thing? When did our national imagination wither this way? When did exploration become just another "big government" program for pipsqueaks like Willard Romney to ridicule?I must admit more than a little conflict on this matter. On the one hand, there is something more than a little breathtaking about the thought of human beings exploring space. On the other hand, there's the fact that our robot exploration program is up and running and doing quite well. On the one hand there's the sad fact that Pierce is correct. Too many, at least within the political class, have withered imaginations, leaving the kind of child-like awe and fascination that lay at the heart of the attraction of the space program to become childish fantasizing. On the other hand, the cold reality is there is great danger and cost in sending humans in to space. These are dangers and costs that all of us bear. We have lost three sets of astronauts: Apollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia. While a pretty good safety record, all things considered, it still demonstrates the dangers even when we know how to do something this complex pretty well.
I'm old enough to remember when the space program was something capable of moving the entire world to wonder and delight. It seemed like something we all got together and did as a species.
Then, of course, there is Imperialism. Far too much of the space program was couched in terms that reminded far too many people thinking of the French, the British, and the Americans planting flags on various distant shores and claiming them for national glory without any thought being given to the folks who lived there. While there is no evidence - yet - of any folks out there for us to ignore in our quest for glory, one would think some caution would be warranted before we as a people (whether national or as a species) started thinking about planting whatever flag we choose on the Moon or Mars or wherever.
The United States should resume our part in sending human beings to space. It is a sign of national decline that we allowed the Shuttle program to come to an end without anything to take its place. At the same time, we should pursue human space travel with care on multiple levels. It is true enough, I think, that much of the mocking of Gingrich's idea demonstrates not so much a problem on his part as it does a kind of malaise among many of our elites. That doesn't mean we should run whole hog in to the arms of folks who have visions of The Sea of Tranquility looking like an exurban strip mall, and Boeing or Northrop or some other company seeking to change the name and copyright it in order to make a buck.