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Commentary :: DNC
Neoconservatives on Mars
15 Jan 2004
Neoconservatives on Mars

In America, the neoconservatives are happy (or "delighted," to use one of their words): Bush is going to Mars. Not himself, of course – that, for neocons, would be cause for alarm, or give them pause.

No, NASA's manned space flight program is going to Mars. First it's going to populate a base on the moon, then send astronauts to Mars – that's the idea, according to the White House.

A "grand plan," a "vision worthy of America," wrote Adam Keiper in The National Review. The Weekly Standard website reran an old "On to Mars" cover essay by Charles Krauthammer. "[I]t is that very beyond – the moon, the asteroids, Mars – that is the whole point of leaving Earth in the first place," he wrote in The Washington Post after the Columbia space shuttle crashed last February.

Neoconservatives – meaning conservatives who use words like "breathtaking," "astonished," "amused," "felicitous" and "delighted" – are understood to be Americans with a passion for pure capitalist economics, constant wa. Whoever doesn't get excited over those three causes cannot be called a neoconservative. But there is one more identifying mark, one that I think captures the neocon spirit like nothing else: the space program.

I know there are lots of people who get a charge out of the idea of man walking on Mars who are not neoconservatives. The difference is that for neocons this is a crusade, and not just any kind of crusade, but a delightful one, an amusing one.
For them, going to Mars kills all sorts of birds with one rocket ship.

It's a hell of a display of American supremacism, planting the flag on the moon and all that. It's warlike, the ultimate in capturing the high ground. It's hard and unsentimental, all science and math, none of that squishy humanities idiocy.

And it's so Darwinian. When you can send a space ship up to the stars, that is really an assertion of dominance, that is some demonstration of prowess.

Also, it just spits in the face of the liberals and the minority whiners. You can't affirmative action your way onto an engineering team at NASA. Onto an astronaut crew, yes, but we know what they do – zilch.

No, building the rocket ship is what takes the right stuff, and to have the right stuff it really does help to have the right genes.

But the best thing, the most thrilling aspect of the space program, the truly delicious part, is how it eats up so many hundreds of billions of dollars for no other purpose but one's amusement! One's joy. When all those rabble that the liberals are always blubbering over are starving, dying of thirst, dying of AIDS, dying of whatever – we're going to Mars! It's so – Roman.

Now – if I may be serious – I really don't think anybody but a neoconservative, or maybe a Star Trek freak, can honestly make a case for space exploration anymore.

WHEN THE program got underway in the early '60s, people tried to make pragmatic arguments for it: we can't let the Russians control space, there's all sorts of practical science to be done up there, all kinds of spinoffs that'll come out of it; and who knows, maybe we can colonize the moon, build a second home up there in case we blow up this one. We have to explore space to help mankind on Earth.

By now all those arguments have gone out the window. The only practical benefit anyone's gotten out of 40 years of space exploration is Teflon. And anyone who's ever tried to save calories by eating an egg fried on Teflon, without margarine, would challenge even that.

There's no security to be found in space, no useful science, no industry – only, for some people, a thrill, a mind-stretch, and a dazzling show.

But no neoconservative would pretend that going to Mars needed any other justification. "[I]n some ways, the worst critics are those that find no inspiration in discovery and exploration, challenge and adventure – those whose souls have forgotten how to wonder," writes Keiper. "For them, we can only have pity, and hold out a hope that someday they'll share our joy in this journey to the stars."

Why doesn't Keiper and the other neocons just drop acid and save America a fortune? And if it's challenge they want and "pushing the envelope," that's why God created sports. "Faster, higher, farther" was the Olympics motto a long time before NASA came along.

Throughout history, I can't think of a more appalling, literally astronomical waste of money than space exploration. The US should sell all of NASA's property for scrap metal, or scrap Kryptonite or whatever they use.

"The cause of exploration and discovery is not an option we choose; it is a desire written in the human heart," Bush said after the fatal Columbia crash. Fine. Let him spend the money on exploring the sea for a cheap way to desalinate water so the Middle East and Africa will have a future. Discover a cure for AIDS, or if AIDS is too gay for the Republicans, discover one for cancer. Even Federalists get cancer.

As for what's written on the human heart, there may be a word or two there about going to Mars, but I'm sure it's also written – in much bolder letters – that you don't tell starving children you can't feed them because you'd rather throw your money away on some joyride.

But if Bush and the neoconservatives are so determined, I have another suggestion. Let them do the Mars trip their way: Privatize it. Let Lockheed and Boeing see which can be the first aerospace company to have somebody in a space suit nail its logo onto the red planet. I'm sure they'll jump at the chance. For a few trillion dollars, think of the great spinoffs they'll get from all the new frying pan technology up there.

This work is in the public domain
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Re: Neoconservatives on Mars
20 Jan 2004
I agree with everything you say except the part about Teflon.


http://web.mit.edu/invent/iow/plunkett.html