The question is: Why do we send people in to space when it’s so much cheaper and safer to send machines?
We send people because we *are* people, because a place isn't real to us until a person has been there and seen it with his or her own eyes. We do it because we're a curious species - at least occasionally - and we're the kinds of people who'll walk across the Bering straight in the middle of an ice age just to see what's on the other side, and, ideally, to get a wooly mammoth burger if possible. We do it 'cuz we're greedy, and there' a whole bunch of stuff out there yet to own. We do it because no matter how much the environmental evangelists and Gaia worshipers and PeTA-philes and whackjobs attempt to deify the rock we live on, the fact remains that we've totally enslaved it a million times over in the last three million years, and no one can worship a slave. Not without shutting off half your brain, first.
We do it because, in the words of the Mercury 7 astronauts, "No Buck Rogers, no bucks" - people won't pay taxes for robots. They want a face. They want something they can understand. They want heroes. We do it because NASA is a bloated, soulless government agency that is budgeted for six or seven launches a year and by God they're going to launch all of 'em rather than risk a budget cut in the next year. We do it because it employs about 40,000 high tech workers who have no other skills, and it kicks lots and lots of money in to the local economies of every state. We do it because when Nixon shut down the Apollo Program and laid off 30,000 engineers and technical types in 1973, it caused recessions in California, Texas, Florida, and New York, which was political suicide. We do it because it's prestigious. We do it because few others can - only three countries in the long history of the world have done it. We do it because it's a source of pride saying to the rest of the world "We dare mightier things than you do, and, yeah, we're better than you because of it."
We send people because we can, and it's cool, and why the hell wouldn't you do something cool if it's reasonably safe and you're capable of it? To avoid doing something cool is to turn your back on the way a journey or an experience changes a person, and to do that - to be content in who you are, and not wonder or strive for more - that is turning your back on evolution and progress and time and God's Great Design, whatever that may be. It's perverse to do so. To set aside the wonders and glories of the universe so one can sit at home and watch John & Kate Plus Eight and masturbate like a filthy monkey to internet porn is not only a waste of time when you have the ability to do something cool, it's a rejection of life itself. Not only that, it's one step away from going back in to the caves and writing of evolution as a bad idea. Which is of course what the Environmental Evangelists and PeTA-philes are all about anyway, if we're honest.
We do it because the whack jobs don't want us to, and that's enough reason right there.
We do it because it's sexy. "What do you do for a living?" "Oh, I strap a rocket to my ass and ride fire." We do it because the Tyranny of One - one planet, one way of life, one environment, one outlook, one system of government, one set of stars in the sky, one horizon - is insufferable to some of us. There must be more ways to live, and better, but we won't find them here. The answer is always on the frontier, wherever and whenever that may be. The new ideas are out there, waiting for us to find the right questions to unlock them. We do it in the hope that when we're finally living out there, the new ideas, the things we learn, the things we discover, the new ways of living will trickle back to earth and improve our way of living immeasurably, just the way the Age of Discovery hauled western Europe out of the middle ages, sparked the renaissance, and changed life in a million manifold ways that we take for granted, but which they'd never be able to conceive of. Try explaining a Root Beer Float to a Spaniard in 1491, or a car to an Englishman in 1509.
We do it because God commanded us to be fruitful and multiply, and to go out in to the world - into the worlds - and have dominion over them. One down, seven to go, and it's getting rather crowded here. We yearn to go because the Heavens Declare the Glory of God, and we ache to see Him reflected in those heavens up close. We do it because eventually babies must leave the cradle, and children must leave their parent's houses. We do it because for things to have their full meaning here, we must have something else somewhere else with which to contrast it. We do it because - as has been repeatedly pointed out by others elsewhere - it's too dangerous for us not to do it. We're one big errant rock away from extinction, and keeping all your eggs on one planet is a bad move, as the dinosaurs discovered. And even if the disaster never comes, some day this world will die of old age, and if we're not established elsewhere when that comes, Humanity will die with it, and then all that we are, all that we were, will be gone and forgotten and meaningless, lost like tears in the rain. And all that we could have become is lost as well.
We do it because evolution commands it. We do it because life itself commands it. We do it because life must be served. We do it because as far as we know for sure, us stupid apes are the only intelligent life in the entire universe, and our world the only abode of life. If we screw up, that's it, and that's too damn big a gamble. We do it because we very well might be alone, and if there's not a God, we ourselves become gods by default, re-making the universe in our own image. We do it because it is quite literally the only worthwhile thing we, as a species, have ever done. We do it because, as far as we know, the entire future of sentience in the universe rests on us, and by God, I am damn well not going to let that tiny spark die out because of anything I do.
We do it for all these reasons and a million more.
And you speak to me of money?
That's fine. Keep your vulgar monies. The rest of us'll go without ya. The rest of you can stay here with the trilobites
NOTE: This was originally writen as a comment in another article on June 7, 2009. It seemed a shame to let it get burried there.