16 August 2010

Venture to the Moon by the People, of the People, for the People

A friend of mine brought to my attention today this article from the Los Angeles Times in which famed author Ray Bradbury laments the size of the federal government and chastises President Barack Obama for not boldly committing the United States to returning to the moon and later colonizing Mars.  An agitated Bradbury is quoted as saying, “There is too much government today. We've  got to remember the government should be by the people, of the people and for the people.”

But this begs the question: can the kind of government idealized by Bradbury actually make real his fanciful dream?  Space exploration is not inexpensive.  Aside from the necessary equipment and machinery, you need a lot of dedicated, qualified people with backgrounds in some very specialized fields.  If you think it's outrageous to pave the Interstate, paying a bunch of guys who took the road department work because it was available, just wait till you balance the books and have to pay people who do maintenance work on a space shuttle!

Folks might think Pete's overpaid for what he does, until they need
the snow plowed.  Space shuttle technicians cost a lot more.
Assume for the moment, though, that we somehow balanced the books and had the resources to commit to such an undertaking.  Does anyone honestly believe that the majority of Americans would support using those resources to go to the moon and Mars?  It's always tempting to say that our government has strayed from its "by/of/for the people" roots, but can you imagine what it would take to convince the majority of Americans that the necessary amount of their tax money should literally go to the moon?  It seems to me that, by not making the space program a top priority, our government has reflected the will of the people.

In 2003, Americans
supported going here.
Could've gone to the moon.
This is not to say that I am for or against Bradbury's hopes of establishing a human presence elsewhere.  It is, however, I think an interesting microcosm for exploring how carried away we all can become at times.  Despite what the loudest of the talking heads on TV would have us believe, I think it's pretty clear that (for the most part) our government has responded to the desires of our people.  And not just the current administration.  Remember, for instance, how vehemently the majority of Americans supported President George W. Bush's plans to go into Iraq.  There were "I Stand with PRESIDENT BUSH and the Troops" bumper stickers a-plenty in those days, and Natalie Maines can attest to how little room there was for criticism.  I'm not saying it was right or wrong; merely that our government acted with our support.

Ray Bradbury may be right that we should return to the moon and that we should establish a permanent presence on Mars.  But for him to characterize those desires as more deserving than the myriad other uses for our collective resources, or that a government that minimizes its commitment to that dream, I find disingenuous at best and insulting at worst.

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