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Ross Douthat says that it makes sense that the U.S. government is abandoning manned space exploration, at least for the time being. He approvingly quotes John Derbyshire, who says:
From the beginnings of modern science in the late 17th century, all the major European nations offered state support to societies and academies of pure research. Such support must submit to public audit, however. In a time of cratering public finances, the stupendous costs of manned spaceflight — half a billion dollars per shuttle launch — cannot be justified.
Similarly with “the vision thing.” Since the building of the pyramids, governments have carried out non-utilitarian projects, bonding citizens together by appeals to the collective imagination. Here too, though, there is a cost-benefit calculation to be made.
Agreed: continuing manned space exploration in this time of long-term fiscal peril makes no sense. I’m afraid I simply don’t understand the space geeks who argue that curtailing space exploration in any way is an abandonment of the destiny of the human race, and an unspeakable capitulation to the bean-counters. Of course it’s a capitulation to the bean-counters — but as Saul Bellow wrote, kreplach in a dream is still a dream; it’s not kreplach. Even science is subject to economics.