Sunday, July 19, 2009

Under-Philosophized Space

Tom Wolfe describes the Apollo program, born of desperation in what was perceived as lagging military competition with the Soviets, as having ended in aimlessness the moment Armstrong set foot on the moon assuring "victory" for the US. What the program really needed, Wolfe suggests, was a "philosopher corps," or a more sophisticated examination and articulation of purpose and meaning which remains absent to date:

NASA’s annual budget sank like a stone from $5 billion in the mid-1960s to $3 billion in the mid-1970s. It was at this point that NASA’s lack of a philosopher corps became a real problem. The fact was, NASA had only one philosopher, Wernher von Braun. Toward the end of his life, von Braun knew he was dying of cancer and became very contemplative. I happened to hear him speak at a dinner in his honor in San Francisco. He raised the question of what the space program was really all about.

It’s been a long time, but I remember him saying something like this: Here on Earth we live on a planet that is in orbit around the Sun. The Sun itself is a star that is on fire and will someday burn up, leaving our solar system uninhabitable. Therefore we must build a bridge to the stars, because as far as we know, we are the only sentient creatures in the entire universe. When do we start building that bridge to the stars? We begin as soon as we are able, and this is that time. We must not fail in this obligation we have to keep alive the only meaningful life we know of.

Unfortunately, NASA couldn’t present as its spokesman and great philosopher a former high-ranking member of the Nazi Wehrmacht with a heavy German accent.


MT said...

Especially not to urge the need for "Lebensraum"

Anonymous said...

Who's the fascist threat?
Probably those who choose to outlaw guns.
Probably those who advocate greater government control over people's lives, like limiting energy use and telling doctors how they can care for patients.
"The most foolish mistake we could possibly make would be to allow the subject races to possess arms. History shows that all conquerors who have allowed their subject races to carry arms have prepared their own downfall by so doing. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the supply of arms to the underdogs is a sine qua non for the overthrow of any sovereignty. So let's not have any native militia or native police. German troops alone will bear the sole responsibility for the maintenance of law and order throughout the occupied Russian territories, and a system of military strong-points must be evolved to cover the entire occupied country." --Adolf Hitler, dinner talk on April 11, 1942, quoted in Hitler's Table Talk 1941-44: His Private Conversations, Second Edition (1973), Pg. 425-426. Translated by Norman Cameron and R. H. Stevens. Introduced and with a new preface by H. R. Trevor-Roper. The original German papers were known as Bormann-Vermerke.

helmut said...

Oh, good grief. No one wants to take away your guns or limit energy use or tell your doctors what to do. Those are all strawmen designed to rally the troops rather than sound bases for proposed policies.

The actual policy people thinking about these issues ask questions about things like the reasonable limits of gun use. I mean, should I be allowed to bring my bazooka to kindergarten? Of course not. But now we're already on your alleged slippery slope to an absolute ban on guns.

They ask about how to manage Americans' insatiable thirst for energy in a world in which there are other competing problems that need to be balanced with massive energy use. One way to tackle these issues is to rethink them and one central question is then how we might develop new energy technologies while finding more ways to be more efficient with the ones we've got.

And on healthcare, well, whatever. Even the AMA strongly supports serious healthcare reform. Do you mean to tell doctors that they're wrong in how to think about healthcare reform?

None of this has anything to do with the historical reality or ideology or spirit of Hitler. To say otherwise shows a complete lack of understanding of real policy discussions on these issues.

helmut said...

These comments are on the wrong post, by the way....