Was The Moon Worth It?

July 9, 2011 in Uncategorized

On The Space Program: Today the very last space shuttle launched from the Earth. Its mission will continue during the next couple of weeks and with Godspeed it shall return back to Earth and signal the end of an era in human flight. The first shuttle launched the year I was born and thus I have known it for the entirety of my life. The United States Space program has captivated me as far back as I have memory. It drove me to study physics in college and go on to study Aerospace Engineering in graduate school. Although I decide it was not for me once I was in the thick of the study, on days like this I often wish to revisit it. I don’t know what it is that is so inspiring about traveling beyond our planet. It is a hostile environment, perhaps the most unfriendly to human life within our reach, yet we have reached for it. To float above the Earth or visit other worlds is utterly inspiring to me. It must be due to an innate desire in man to explore the unknown. Something which seems to be, as I see it, deeply intertwined with man’s desire to be free. This inexplicable inborn desire which every human shares to be a sovereign over their own life combined with the innate curiosity of our surroundings makes us a fantastic explorers. After every great exploration in the history of mankind, whether exploration of ideas, land, sea or air have been carried out by men and women who decided that this is how they wished to spend their finite time on this planet, often facing much dejection, ridicule and even persecution from a society who wished them to conform to the norms of the day, wanting them to accept the finite views considered to be the ‘truth’ or the ‘consensus.’ Many times the explorers would fail, but their failures built the body of knowledge for the next generation to succeed. Inevitably an explorer, a free spirit, will show humanity that the limits it has perceived were merely self-imposed, not hard limits placed on us by a physical world but only obstacles to overcome in the human mind. Over the past few years much has changed for me and I have studied at length the issue of our innate desire to be free. We here in the U.S. celebrated this week the anniversary of a day over 230 years ago which we declared our freedom as a nation. I think it is interesting that we celebrate the day which we ‘declared’ our freedom as opposed to the day we won the war of independence which was September 3rd 1783. It is significant as once a man declares his freedom he will have all the strength he needs to fight for it. This is why we celebrate the declaration and not the inevitable victory for freedom as it is the declaration which opens the door for possibility much as Kennedy’s declaration to place a man on the moon by 1970 allowed people to understand and embrace that cause. However beloved the space program has been to me for my entire life in my study of this notion of personal freedom which is inborn, and as declared in 1776, “unalienable”, I must now take issue with Mr. Kennedy’s declaration and all that has come from it. There is an inherent problem with governmental exploration and that is that it clashes with personal freedom. Let us take pause and notice who drug us into the space race. It was the USSR. Their ventures for national glory far outweighed its interest in the liberty of its people (and I believe that is an understatement). So in kind we responded with a similar quest for national glory under the pretext of the cold war and also in kind sacrificed the liberties of those who formed that very nation. Most would abhor such a statement. After all, the space program is a great source of national pride and is a testament to human ingenuity and collaboration. However, there are many such examples of human ingenuity and collaboration in our history which did not involve extortion of funds from the public under coercion of law. The tax code of the United States has overstepped the bounds of the constitution and even the most elementary study of the founder’s intent and ratifying arguments show that such a system would have never been tolerated by that generation of men which is surely one of the greatest to have existed anywhere on the planet at any time in its history. A generation of warrior philosophers who, when given the reins of a nation, opted to tie the hands of its new government to only those privileges granted to it by its citizens. The power of the nation stemmed from the rights innate in every individual and the power of the government stemmed from the privileges it was granted by the people. The government was not to be a power unto itself; it was to derive its power from the people. However, just as a land owner can grant the privilege to someone to rent his land, if he does not check in from time to time to make sure that the renter in not abusing his property there is really no one to blame but the property owner if the property is destroyed. It is in our hands to ensure that the government we have granted certain privileges to does not run away with or take advantage of those privileges. So this is me checking in and seeing that, even though my renter has built a big, interesting, kind of weird yet at times magical structure on my land, it was not in our initial agreement that he even had the privilege to build anything at all. Even worse was when I asked how he paid for such a structure he responded “Well, I extorted it from the local population.” Needless to say I’m not particularly happy about this situation. This issue of tax on income is a whole can of worms and I want to try and keep it narrowed to the space program so I’m going to just sum up this portion by saying that landing a man on the moon was an outrageously expensive project. I won’t even put the numbers here because billions and even trillions of dollars don’t really seem to even bother anyone anymore. Along with the war in Vietnam and other governmental projects the portions of the space program which could not be funded with tax dollars were funded by expansion of the money supply via The Federal Reserve/Treasury/Fractional Reserve Banking mechanism. This monetary expansion paved the way for the inflation of the seventies which paved the way for 18% interest rates by the time the first shuttle launched into orbit. One of the most interesting things about government projects is that you can see the clear results of a man triumphantly landing on the moon what you cannot see is what robbing that capital from businesses and individuals has removed from the roster of achievements of mankind. Man’s first flights into the air were not aided by government subsidy let alone led by a governmental organization. One might argue that terrestrial flight is not nearly as expensive or complex as extra terrestrial flight so only large governmental organizations can achieve it but this very notion is eroding before our eyes as private space flight is becoming an ever growing reality. Here is a great article published just yesterday about the new space race in the Mohave, it even touched on the general disdain there for NASA’s lack of vision and waste. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/newsnight/9531950.stm This new space industry has been hampered repeatedly by NASA and now more than ever by a slumping economy which is due solely to the general acceptance and practice that the government can centrally plan our economy. If you want to argue that this collapse is due to greedy businessmen, you are correct. There is a caveat to your argument though. Greed, in a free market (a real free market), has a natural check. That is that to make greater profits one must accept greater risk. Those risks are always present when a profit is made and so a shrewd person finds their happy balance of risk to profits. On the other hand… if you remove the risk from the equation of the quest for profits you get what is called “big greedy capitalists”. The irony here is that if the risk is removed from the “capitalists” and forced upon the taxpayer what you get is not a “free market” or “capitalism” at all. What you get is moral hazard where people will reach for more and more risk free profits until the risk buck just cannot be passed anymore and you get a collapse. Example: Fannie Mae buying up almost every mortgage in America and packaging them as investments for Wall Street AKA Mortgage Backed Securities. Result: Mortgage originators no longer cared if the loan was repaid because they almost instantly sold the mortgage leading to extremely relaxed lending requirements as the profits increased as the number of new loans increased. All the while the originator was facing no risk if the loan defaulted eventually. The government’s role in the current crisis is daunting and continues to be as they continue to make gross errors in attempting to centrally manage the economy. This current weak economy, like the stagflation of the 1970’s, is due to overspending by the government, loose monetary policy and most of all a flawed economic ideology with respect to the government’s role in the economy. So if NASA had never existed it is true that we would not have landed on the moon or had the Voyager missions (my personal favorites) YET! But look at where we are now… we have not been to the moon in 40 years! Why? Most would say because the bureaucrats in Washington are too concerned with bailing out Wall Street and not with human exploration. That’s true to an extent but what I believe the REAL truth of it is, and this is quite clear, it was an unsustainable mission just as the housing boom was unsustainable. You cannot build houses forever and have the price of houses increasing forever. Eventually the market will take hold from the planners and say: “This was a misallocation of resources and it must be corrected!” The moon mission was a misallocation of resources which diverted tremendous energy from the market place and the American public in the form of manpower, raw materials, taxation and devaluation of the currency. The shuttle mission was designed to create a less wasteful, more sustainable way to visit and explore the universe beyond our atmosphere. Our government- run space program as well as similar programs and wars were made possible by and most likely at the expense of the great economic prosperity The United States cultivated over the prior 150 years of economic freedom. Now as a new breed of space travelers developing actual sustainable ways to travel into space their efforts may be destroyed by the economic mayhem that has beset us at the hands of the collectivists in government. Along with the gradual erosion of liberty which has been followed by the erosion of the economy over the past half century the new sustainable space travelers may be set back decades. If that is the case then in the big picture of human exploration was it the right call to spend trillions in tax and inflated dollars on space exploration? Watch this documentary and tell me that this amount of free human will, investment, risk and ingenuity is not at least on par if not exceeding that of NASA. http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=B06E0E57D703A4F3 But little did we know that this beautiful vision of a space faring humankind could be crushed because “we choose to go to the moon and do the other things”. We’ve now lost more freedom and bankrupted our country. In the short term they are great accomplishments, going to the moon, reaching for the stars. But in the long view of history we might come to find it to have signaled the beginning of the end of our ability to reach into space, at least for the foreseeable future. The excesses of the past will lead to inevitable budget cuts at NASA and possibly the near evaporation of its mission in addition we are left with a horrid economic environment for the infant private human spaceflight firms. Please do not misconstrue this as me being against space exploration. Quite the contrary, I am against how we went about doing it. More and more I realize that it is the process of reaching one’s goals that shows the real meddle of an individual or multiple individuals working together. Even the communists wanted to create a society for people where they’d be without want and happy. That is also the aim in our declaration of independence (roughly). It should be quite apparent that how we chose to get to that common destination made all of the difference. Likewise in going to the moon and beyond, mankind will get there, just let those who are interested in doing so dream and work toward it. Don’t extort money from uninterested parties at the expense of the overall economy. Allow true freedom to reign and let that human potential in all of its forms flourish and resonate and you’ll have your weekend trips to the moon. The only way we can have it though is to realize that freedom is the best way to have the most prosperous world for everyone and only the most prosperous world will have the ability to reach for the stars.