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Why the Hell Are We in Space?
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I was disappointed to see Cecil Adams' Straight Dope Q&A this week, in which he argues that manned space flight is really a waste of time, money, and energy (via Gene Healy).

Cecil poo-poos the four possibly legitimate reasons why humans would want to explore space themselves, instead of sending robots:

Depending on who you ask, the rationale might be:
(1) Because the space program provides technological spin-offs valuable for terrestrial applications.
(2) Because manned space flight advances scientific knowledge.
(3) Because it will help us colonize the stars.
(4) Because it's cool.

He then goes on to downplay each justification, and I'm particularly disappointed because I've been a long-time reader of The Straight Dope, and it has always struck me as being a staunch advocate for science. I suppose this doesn't necessarily translate into being an advocate for exploration, but I guess I expected, or at least hoped, that someone who had dedicated a large chunk of their life to informing, debunking, and educating would strongly favor learning more about the universe and ourselves, things can't find out by just safely clinging to our own little rock.

So I'd add another reason to the list, one I posted in Healy's comments:

How about:

5) Because a nation that has no vision, no drive, and no sense of exploration stagnates both culturally and technologically.

China has figured this out:

And while American airspace desperately needs to be deregulated to allow private industries to test and launch (otherwise they *won't* be able to "do it on their own dime"), large-scale missions are simply too expensive to be undertaken by companies. There needs to be a mix of space entrepreneurs combined with NASA's efforts.

Meanwhile, if you and Cecil want to withdraw into a cozy shell, be my guest. There are still plenty of Americans who want to keep exploring.

Like these. And these. And of course, these.

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