Paul Spudis says that the public is justified in being disappointed in LCROSS, to the degree that they are. he seems to be.
I’ve noticed that Columbus Day is not as…celebrated… these days as when I was a kid, when it was pretty much an unalloyed paen to the great explorer and navigator who thought that the planet was a lot smaller than it was, bumped into a convenient continent in between Spain and Asia (had it not been there, the expedition would have been lost, or the crew mutinied and return home, long before they arrived at the real Spice Islands). Fortunately for him, the power of self delusion is great, and he seems to have gone to his deathbed thinking that he found a new route to the Orient, albeit one that bore no obvious resemblance to the one being traded with previously, other than full of heathens.
Anyway, the holiday seems to arouse much more protest today than in the sixties, at least among the politically correct and bien pensant, many of whom think that colonizing and industrializing the continent was the worst thing to happen to not only the people who had already been living here (and despite Rousseau’s toxic delusions about savage nobility, pillaging and making war amongst themselves, torturing and human sacrificing, and slaughtering the fauna who had beaten them here), but the entire planet.
I’m somewhere in the middle, but more old school than new. Certainly the place could have done with a lot less slavery and gold digging in the name of the Lord, and it would be a happier, or at least more productive place had both the north and south been Anglicized, rather than feudalized by Spain and Portugal, but overall I think that we’ve been better stewards than the first plunderers were, having gained a lot more scientific (as opposed to faux spiritual) knowledge and developed technologies to make things more to everyone’s liking, for all their cavilling. I don’t, after all, see the natives doing much of that return-to-the-earth stuff — they find casinos much more lucrative. That seems to have been left to their worshipers in communes and academia, who seem to worship them even when they are fake but accurate. And it’s tragic that so many died from simple contamination by diseases to which they had no immunity (though not deliberately for the most part, despite that particular mythology), but this is another area in which we may learn from the past, and at least try to minimize such future events.
Which gets me to my real point.
In reading some of the comments over at Pop Mechanics today, I was struck (on this day) by how many in the space advocacy (and non-advocacy) community continue to use the opening of the New World as an analogy for where we are today, or are going, in space. For instance, Jeff Greason:
I think Mars is a very obvious place for settlement to happen. It is the place we have that is closest to us and looks like the most prominent candidate for a self-sustained human presence. Why would anyone want to go there? I want to go! There are lots of people out there who want to go. Wind that question back 400 years. Why would anyone want to go this great howling wilderness in North America? When the pilgrims got here, they wrote about what inhospitable place it was, with no inns to refresh one’s spirits, nothing but howling wilderness. The first three attempts to make a permanent place in the Los Angeles area ended in death. Even now, you have to pipe in water to survive. We had to master fire to get out of Africa, and agriculture to get to a lot of places. The American West had to be subjected to massive civil engineering works before more than a small community of pioneers could live there. What you consider to be habitable is a function of your level of technology.”
This is an argument that I (and countless others) have made in the past. And then we have the inevitable Bob Park:
When we established colonies [on Earth], we did it for very specific reasons. To rape the resources and bring them home. There aren’t any resources on Mars, not that we know of. There’s nothing to go there to get. If there were diamonds a feet deep on Mars, it still wouldn’t be worth the cost of sending people there. We’re already doing a great job with unmanned explorers.
That last, of course, always begs the question of what “the job” is.
So is it a good analogy or not? Yes, in some ways, no in others. As Scott Pace notes, our future in space depends on two critical issues, and one can build a quadrant table from them:
|Can Live Off The Land||Can’t Live Off The Land|
|Economic Benefits||Space Settlements||Oil Rigs|
|No Economic Benefits||Antarctica||Nothing Much In Space|
|Can Live Off The Land||Can’t Live Off The Land|
|Economic/Spiritual Benefits||Space Settlements||Oil Rigs|
|No Economic/Spiritual Benefits||Massachussets/Salt Lake City||Nothing Much In Space|