The manned space programme and human vanity

Those who doubt that we should continue sending people into space have a point – but only in the short term. As soon as you stretch the time scale out beyond, say, fifty years it becomes clear: freezing the manned space programme now would be an enormous vanity, a betrayal of future generations on a grand scale – and each missed year of progress would amplify the damage, making it harder and harder for our descendants to restart.

We (I mean human beings, of course, not Britons or Americans or Russians) must continue with the manned space programme. Refusing to do so would be a bit like the chimps getting together and deciding not to bother with the tools (“Listen. Don’t get me wrong. I love tool-making as much as the next monkey but be honest. What can you do with a sharp stone that you can’t do with an opposable thumb?”).

At long time scales (hundreds of years) even the hideous cost of the programme shrinks to the kind of small change only a term-limited politician can worry about and at really long time scales (thousands of years and more), of course, it’s going to be a matter of survival. As Duncan Steel from the University of Salford says “the dinosaurs did not have a space program. That’s why they died.”

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