Fly Me to the Moon
by Peter Larson
"Fly me to the moon
Let me sing among those stars
Let me see what spring is like
On Jupiter and Mars…"
As if borrowing a line from an old Frank Sinatra song, President Bush unveiled plans last week for a manned voyage to the moon by 2020 and, later in the century, a manned flight to Mars. In a speech delivered at NASA headquarters, Bush declared that "We will build new ships to carry man forward into the universe, to gain a new foothold on the moon and to prepare for new journeys to worlds beyond our own."
After hearing this announcement, I wondered if the president had been watching too many Star Trek reruns.
Spending hundreds of billions of dollars on a scheme to inhabit distant, lifeless planets has more to do with science fiction than with science. It is worse than a pipe dream: it is sheer folly.
As a young newspaper reporter, I spent three years covering NASA and the space shuttle program. The first thing I learned about NASA is that the acronym stands for Never A Straight Answer. Hard questions about cost and feasibility are usually obscured by vague and grandiose promises about the benefits of space exploration.
For instance: NASA promised that we would save billions of dollars by building a reusable spacecraft, the Shuttle. Based on this promise, we phased out the expendable rocket technology that we had spent decades developing. In reality, the shuttle turned out to be far more expensive than the throw-away rockets it replaced.
In the early 1980s, NASA claimed that scientific experiments aboard the space shuttle would produce revolutionary new materials and medicines that could only be manufactured in zero-gravity. Twenty years later, these hopes have not panned out. Scientific experiments on the space shuttle have produced some interesting data but nothing to justify the enormous expense of the shuttle program.
In the meantime, the European Space Agency and the Japanese government have developed their own space programs for launching satellites into orbit. These foreign agencies operate with far greater efficiency than NASA.
Now we're being told by President Bush that we will reap enormous technological benefits by flying to the moon.
But here's the truth: We have already been to the moon and to Mars and as far as we know, there is no life on either of them. To believe we can somehow colonize the moon and make it profitable is, in a word, lunacy.
Here's another fact: if we are really planning to leave our solar system and travel to other worlds, the nearest star is Alpha Centauri, which is four light years away from earth. In other words, you would have to travel at the speed of light for four years to reach it. Even if it were possible to make such a voyage, the odds of finding life there is slim to none, based on what we currently know.
In truth, there is no reason to send human beings into space at all. Everything that we wish to accomplish can be done by robots with far less risk and at far less cost. There is no compelling reason for manned space exploration. Yes, it was cool watching Neil Armstrong hit a golf ball on the lunar surface, but was it really worth the pricetag? As Christians, we should take a strong stand against this NASA boondoggle. Instead of spending hundreds of billions to put a human being on mars, we should attend to the urgent needs on our own planet. We will not escape our real problems on earth by flying to the moon.
Peter Larson is pastor of Lebanon Presbyterian Church in Lebanon, Ohio, and a contributing editor to PRISM.