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Posted: July 20, 2019

Fly me to the moon is largely a waste of money

“Perceptions,” by Gerry Warner

Op-Ed Commentary

“Mars can wait; oceans can’t.”

That’s the title of a recent CNN production and it summarizes perfectly how this former space nut feels about the futility of spending gazillions of dollars on space exploration while we live on a planet that’s sick and rapidly dying.

As a result I did my best this week to ignore all the hysterical hoopla about the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo Moon landing and the cosmic significance it was supposed to have had for the great unwashed here on Earth and why we should all be forever indebted to those courageous astronauts who kicked up a little moon dust but stained that once virginal lunar surface with the dangerous boot prints of a far from gentle human race.

And if I hear again that eloquent but wretched refrain “One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind,” I might upchuck.

Yes, the astronauts were courageous. It was a tremendous scientific achievement and it was broadcast live, or almost live on TV. It gave everyone the warm fuzzies, or almost everyone, but if it was such a glorious achievement, what did it accomplish? How did it impact your life or mine? What did it do for the human race?

Did it do anything to improve the threatened environment back here on Mother Earth? Did it cure any diseases? Did it help to bring peace to our troubled planet? Did it put any food in the stomachs of the billion or so people that go to bed hungry every night? Did it prevent any animal extinctions? Did it stop our oceans from being polluted? Our skies being filled with smog? The Amazon rain forest being destroyed? The Great Barrier Reef from disappearing? The oceans rising? Glaciers disappearing? Prejudice against those who are different from us? End poverty?

I could go on, but hopefully I’ve made my point. Yes, the Apollo Moon landing was one of the most exciting events ever and an epic adventure, but in a practical sense it offered few crumbs for the advancement of the human race and all other living things on Earth. It was great theatre, but little substance. In fact, there was so little to it that no country has launched another human flight to the Moon in half a century and in recent years lunar flight has fallen out of interest in favour of flying to Mars.

And I believe putting a man or a woman on Mars will do about as much good for us as the man in the Moon did. So what was the Apollo Mission really about for those of us old enough to remember?  Adventure? Yes. Scientific advancement? Yes, but not to the degree it was hyped. More than anything else, the Apollo Mission was about one thing and one thing only – politics! Hear me out.

In 1969, the world was a very different place. Two super-powers – the US and the Soviet Union – were vying for supremacy and the Russians were looking pretty good. They had already launched the world’s first satellite, Sputnik, and put a man (cosmonaut) in Earth orbit leaving the Americans fuming in their wake. Russia’s staunch ally, Cuba, had humiliated American forces in the botched Bay of Pigs invasion and newly elected President John Kennedy was desperate to do something – anything – to make America look great again. (Sound familiar?)

Thus the multi-billion dollar NASA  space program was launched and Kennedy flatly declared the Americans would beat those nasty communists to the moon and they did while the Russians contented themselves with launching “Mir,” the first orbiting space station devoted to pure scientific research while the Americans concentrated on doing politics on the moon.

Is the above an unfair statement? Not really. How else do you explain the telling fact that the Americans have not even attempted another Moon voyage in more than half a century?  In market terms, going back to the Moon isn’t worth the billions it costs to get there. And that’s why only private entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Richard Branson are talking about sending space tourists to Mars in a new twist on the space “race.” Not even the bombastic Donald Trump is getting sucked into that.

However, it would only take one thing to change this situation in an instant. What do you think would happen if China announced it was going to establish a colony on Mars? God forbid! Twittering Trump would be in the race faster than you can say “Yankee doodle dandy.” And he’d probably charge the passengers for the flight.

Don’t you think we’ve got better things to do back here on Mother Earth? Let’s fix our own house first before we start damaging other planets.

– Gerry Warner is a retired journalist who thinks “2001 – A Space Odyssey” is the  greatest science fiction movie ever.

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