I was watching "Good Morning America" yesterday, and a NASA representative was being hounded by one of the Silly Morning People about plans to spend $104 billion to get back to the moon by 2018: What about some people who say this kind of money shouldn't be spent on this kind of foolishness when we have poverty and hunger here and are spending so much money on the Iraq war, and there is, you know, this huge post-Katrina problem? (These types of questions are always from "some people who say," which is how journalists put it when they want to make an interviewee squirm but still maintain the illusion of objectivity.)
The NASA guy had a pretty good answer. In the first place, he said, divide $104 billion by 13 years, and it's a pretty reasonable amount by federal standards; it's less than NASA spends now. In the second place, Katrina was tracked and predicted as good as it was because of technology developed because of the space program. I had a different answer, which I shouted at the TV screen: Just take the half of the $200 billion already pledged for Katrina relief -- the part that will be sucked up by waste, fraud and abuse -- and dedicate it to the moon project. Problem solved.
This debate always sounds new. How can we care about going to the moon when people in New Orleans are homeless? How can we care about getting to the New World when people are dying in the streets of Barcelona? How can we care about out how to grow things when our hunters are coming back to the caves bleeding and wounded? But it's always been the same choice -- easing the discomfort of those not doing so well in the world as it is, or trying to move us all along to a better world, exploring, growing, adapting.
The NASA guy got to the heart of it when he talked about the space program making hurricane tracking more accurate. Apply that to the whole history of the human race. If we'd listened to the Silly Morning People, we'd still be in those caves waiting to patch up the bleeding hunters.