John Derbyshire has a compelling article on the merits of the Space Shuttle program. His basic premise is that the program is the “folly of our age,” accomplishing little in light of the vast governmental expenses involved:
There is no longer much pretense that shuttle flights in particular, or manned space flight in general, has any practical value. You will still occasionally hear people repeating the old NASA lines about the joys of microgravity manufacturing and insights into osteoporesis, but if you repeat these tales to a materials scientist or a physiologist, you will get peals of laughter in return. To seek a cure for osteoporesis by spending $500 million to put seven persons and 2,000 tons of equipment into earth orbit is a bit like… well, it is so extravagantly preposterous that any simile you can come up with falls flat. It is like nothing else in the annals of human folly.
Having no practical justification for squirting so much of the nation’s wealth up into the stratosphere, our politicians — those (let us charitably assume there are some) with no financial or electoral interest in the big contractor corporations who feed off the shuttle — fall back on romantic appeals to Mankind’s Destiny.
I’m inclined to agree with Derbyshire. The space program is no longer as closely connected with national security as it was during the cold war. Is the expense that the American taxpayers have to incur worth the benefits of the Space Shuttle? Velcro, Tang, and freeze-dried ice cream are nice, but how much less money from our paychecks would go to Uncle Sam if the program were scrapped?
This doesn’t mean that space exploration has to end. Recent private ventures have proven that government involvement is not required. Why not let free enterprise lead the way?
I don’t have strong feelings on this one way or the other, so does anyone know of any good arguments for keeping the Space Shuttle program?