I was going to write about libertarians today, but that will have to wait. Some commenters have replied to yesterday's post about manned space flight, and I'd like to respond. The argument that space exploration yields spin-offs is pretty spurious. Any large expenditures on science and technology are going to yield spin-offs. Spending on robot technology doesn't produce spin-offs? If we stop short of the race of killer robots that torment Matt Yglesias's imagination, I think we'll have valuable spin-offs galore. And surely there are those who think terrifying Yglesias is an end unto itself.But the argument I'd really like to address is this one, sent in by a reader:
As Stephen Hawking has observed, it is important for humans to spread out into space to ensure the survival of the species. I cannot myself perceive being to unimaginative as to be satisfied with sitting here on this rock until we annihilate ourselves or the Sun burns out.
First off, the sun isn't going to burn out for at least the next several billion NASA funding cycles, so I think we can relax there. But look at the other threat cited -- the “annihilate ourselves” part. I have heard the argument many times from intelligent people that it is presumed that we will destroy ourselves and/or planet earth, so time to head for the exits. There will never be an exit for the vast majority of earth's population. Do the math on the required number of rockets. But far worse, it is a very short step from pretending there is an escape to giving ourselves tacit permission to ruin the one planet that is the only real option our descendents (YES, THE GRANDKIDS!) are ever going to have. Preposterous exodus scenarios that feed this sense that taking care of earth is optional are not just poorly thought through, they are dangerous ideas. --Tom Toles
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