Wayne Eleazer has an excellent article over on The Space Review this week, that I highly recommend. He talks a lot about the question “why manned space exploration”. I think the points he makes about stunts and programmatics is dead on. People need to realize that just guaranteeing the pork gets spread around doesn’t immunize a program from Congressional cancellation. How many NASA programs in the past have spread the pork around, but still eventually been canceled? Just doing an unrepeatable stunt, while exciting for a time is going to lead to the same place Apollo did.
I also agree with his point that life will go on if we don’t go back to the moon in my lifetime. The environment isn’t going to be destroyed because lunar platinum isn’t being mined to enable the Hydrogen Economy. Human civilization isn’t going to stagnate much worse than it will anyway. We aren’t likely to be wiped out by a huge meteorite impact. I’m not too worried about those “Chinese Communists” taking over the free world by first wasting vast amounts of money building bases on the moon to prevent plucky space startups from accessing it. In fact, life would even go on if NASA closed its doors tomorrow, or if it completely canceled its manned spaceflight program. I don’t think that Western Europe is going to convert to Islam and join the Evil Caliphate o’ Doom (TM) if we don’t continue to show “technological leadership” by flying people very expensively into space on government run boosters.
There’s probably nothing in the public or private space program that is essential to human survival over the next century. Life would go on without it.
But it would also go on if say Hawaii ceased to exist tomorrow. There are all sorts of things that people find subjectively important to them that transcend mere survival. And now that I’ve had someone explain to me that that is what Wayne was trying to say by calling those subjectively important but non-life-critical things “self-actualization”, I agree with him 100%. It’s unlikely that space exploration and development can be sold on strictly survival terms, because the case just isn’t that strong. But life is about more than mere survival.