Post-Rave Review

Layne found a great article in the Los Angeles New Times about the Yuri’s Night party. I had a Fox column on this subject a week or so before it occured. It gives a good insight into the space-enthusiast/fanatic subculture.

I disagree with one of the space enthusiasts quoted, though.

He’s more than a little disappointed in what has happened to space exploration in the years since the heady days of Apollo. NASA, he says, fumbled the opportunity to make it an integral part of American life, and economic downturns, fuel crises and wars that rocked the home front took the attention away, maybe permanently. “The adventure has passed, in many people’s minds,” Walker says. “But many of us in this aerospace industry recognized that this phase would come, that the average citizen wants to see the adventure, the exploration, but the public funding isn’t there.”

He’s wrong. The funding is there, and has been since the end of Apollo. NASA has consistently gotten many billions of taxpayer dollars every year. What’s lacking is not funding, but the will to spend it in a way that would truly open up space. And as long as we continue to look to the government to sate our dreams, we will continue to be disappointed.

And of course, the reporter has to ask the (admitted) obligatory question:

No discussion of space exploration — an inherently risky and expensive proposition — is complete without answering the “why” question. And it can be a painful, pointed question. During Shuttleworth’s flight, an interviewer asked how he justified spending $20 million on a space junket when that money could have gone to feeding starving people outside his own back door. His answer — to demonstrate to other Africans that space was within their grasp — must have been cold comfort to many on that famine-ravaged continent who have suffered for so long. Let’s be brutally honest here: None of the Yuri’s Night crew have ever gone to bed starving.

Implicit in this commentary, of course, is the false notion that a) if Mr. Shuttleworth had spent his money in some other way, that those Africans would have been better off, and b) that Africa suffers from a lack of money that’s currently going to space activities, when in fact Africa suffers from malgovernance on a tragic and unimaginable scale.

It comes back to one of my earlier columns, in which I described how unknowledgable most people are of how much money is spent on space, relative to those things that some would have us fund instead. NASA’s annual budget would fund the Department of Health and Human services for just a few days. So, while I wouldn’t advocate this, for reasons stated above, you could double the NASA budget, taking the money from HSS to do it, and the HSS would barely even notice it. Space is not taking money from the mouths of starving kids.

But the real problem is not the amount of money being spent, but how it’s being spent. And with more private players getting involved, that problem is going to be solved soon, regardless of how much or little NASA gets.