Sunday, August 05, 2012


One of my most exciting memories from my college years was paying a visit to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, home of the unmanned space exploration program for the United States. There I watched a live feed of images of the Saturn system photographed during the flyby of Voyager 1 spacecraft. Exciting times! The spontaneous cheers which arose from the crowd — students and scientists alike —  expressed a great joy.

The animation of the landing of the Mars rover "Curiosity,"seen above, is quite dramatic and exciting in itself, and I'm sure that most of us hope that it goes well.

There are some who think that the space program is expensive and wasteful, spending money that is better spent elsewhere, such as on social services — this despite the fact that many Ph.D.s would be homeless were it not for the space program. While the space program often has been wasteful, there have also been crowning moments of awe, like the Apollo 11 moon landing. But what the critics may not realize is that an even greater virtue than liberality is the virtue of magnificence, which exhibits great courage and great honor, found in the best achievements of the space program. I wrote more about magnificence and the space program here.


  1. While I agree completely with the worth of NASA to our nation. It is in fact a jobs program for Scientists......ah when a government program is on the other foot?!

  2. I'd rather say that the space shuttle program was more of a jobs program: creating busy work that really didn't need to be done. The international space station did have a greater purpose in keeping former Soviet aerospace scientists working on peaceful projects.

  3. Disguise it however you wish,the "Race into Space" created a huge number of jobs from top to bottom. So much for government not "creating jobs". The twist that the ISS kept Soviet scientists busy on peaceful projects is very plausible. Now we are going to see if private industry will keep as many Ph.Ds employed as NASA once did? As a child of the 60s I don't get the thrill as I once did when we were glued to the television in anticipation of the count down and launch!

  4. As Nixon said, “We are all Keynesians now,” and so you have left Keynesians who like to spend other people’s money on social services and infrastructure, and right Keynesians who like to do the same with military and R&D. It’s best if this sort of thing is done in moderation and not wasted on busy work. Keeping taxes low is also a social justice issue, according to Catholic social teaching, allowing the people themselves to build a better life.

    Spending on magnificent things is better than wasting the same amount. We can’t get excited as much these days because we are old, and it is bad for our blood pressure; kids today can get just as excited as when we were young.

  5. would categorize someone who prefers Scientific Research, Modern Roads and Bridges, Mass Transit, 21st Century Energy projects, Improved urban infrastucture and Environmental preservation/restoration projects?