I’ve long been an advocate for space exploration. I don’t possess any deep technical knowledge of aviation or aeronautics; I just think the idea of colonizing the moon is cool, and that space holds forth endless opportunities.
In the context of our own nation’s history, space exploration and colonization take on an additional significance: space is a new frontier for liberty. People cross the Atlantic to settle the New World, in part because of the promise of being left alone to pursue their own destinies. What is space but a boundless, inky ocean to be crossed? What are new worlds but potential bastions of hardscrabble liberty?
It’s been awhile since I’ve written about space exploration or lunar colonization, but today’s Scott Rasmussen Number of the Day brought the topic back to my attention. The occasion is NASA’s announcement that it plans to put humans back on the moon by 2024—four years earlier than previously scheduled.
The rationale behind the accelerated schedule is political: NASA officials wager that they have a better chance of accomplishing the mission prior to a change in executive administrations. The Trump Administration has vocally supported revitalizing NASA’s role in space exploration, and Space Policy Directive 1 ordered the return by 2028 following an executive order.
A manned mission to the moon would be the first one since Apollo 17 in 1972. If NASA succeeds in its mission, the proposed 2024 landing would be the first time a human has set foot on the lunar surface in fifty-two years—a short lifetime.
Rasmussen’s poll found that 37% of voters believe NASA will get humans back to the moon before private companies. 36% believe it will be the other way around. 59% of Americans think both NASA and private companies should be tackling space exploration—a rather prudent opinion, I would argue, though I’d like to see the private sector continue to expand in this area.
Another interesting number from the polling: 60% of men are okay with the additional $1.6 billion in funding this year that would get the project moving, while only 41% of women approve. That’s an interesting gender gap, but not a surprising one: women are far more likely to prefer that cash be allocated to more terrestrial matters, like bolstering social programs. I also suspect there’s something of the boyish wonder at play here, as men are more likely to relish adventure and risk-taking.
Regardless, the prospect of returning to the moon inside of five years is exciting. Even with pressing concerns here on Earth, we should continue to look outward to our Solar System. What opportunities might it contain? Like funding the border wall, $1.6 billion is a drop in the bucket of our federal budget.
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