Debating Human Spaceflight

I interviewed Steven Weinberg who has replaced James Van Allen as the most prestigious and eloquent direct critic of human spaceflight (unlike Barack Obama who may be the most effective passive-aggressive de-funder of space activities since Nixon).

I faced a fundamental media ethics issue. Weinberg’s opinion on the likelihood of nuclear war with Russia in the next twenty years (“more likely than not”) puts him in a tiny minority. By publicizing his view on this, it delegitimizes him as a spokesman against human spaceflight without discrediting directly his arguments against human spaceflight on the merits. I chose to carefully transcribe his words on this point, confirm that he stood by them, then released them.

What would you have done?

I certainly owe society a warning if he is correct. Twenty years ago, I would certainly have joined Weinberg in agreeing we are on a nuclear precipice and the facts certainly have not migrated all that much since then, just our interpretation of them. Like the national intelligence estimate of Iran; they are enriching uranium, but maybe they’re not trying to build a bomb just today. We compartmentalize and convince ourselves that we’re OK.