A few weeks ago I went on at some length about why the space program is not living up to my expectations in my Why Mars Makes Me Sad entry. Well I was reading an article in the NY Times last night about Newt Gingrich’s fixation with EMPs (Electromagnetic Pulse). I was mildly interested in the article until I came across a quote from Mitt Romney. He was asked about the differences between he and Gingrich and said this: “We could start with his idea to have a lunar colony that would mine minerals from the moon.”
You can feel the derision dripping off of Romney’s tongue. I read that and laughed out loud. You see, that very closely mirrors one of central points of THE THIRD AGE. Below is an excerpt from my book. The dialogue takes places between the main character, Jake West, who is an astronaut for a private space company (Quantum Engineering owned by James Sterling) that is trying to beat China to the moon (to exploit its resources) and Secretary of State Ian Lyndon.
Lyndon waded up the towel and threw it in a perfect arc into the receptacle. “What if you are wrong Mr. West? What if this grand act of yours does nothing for this country? What if there is no money to be made in space like James Sterling claims? Have you stopped to think about that? If you win, you jeopardize everything. If Quantum Engineering beats China to the moon you take away tens of thousands of jobs that we would gain. Are you so confident in your idea of the future that you’re willing to risk that many jobs? I can guarantee you this, because China has told us point blank that if you win, the United States loses. They will take all the jobs that they would ship here and move them to Brazil, or Venezuela or the Philippines. It would actually be cheaper for their companies to do so. The Chinese government though, is willing to make it worth while for their companies to send jobs here, but only if we sign a free trade agreement.”
Jake dried his own hands, wadding the towels in his fist. He looked Lyndon directly in the eyes. “Am I certain? No. Neither should you be. What if those jobs never come? Then we’ve sacrificed our future for a few promises.”
“Promises are better than a handful of magic beans. What you’re doing is fiction, nothing more. Money in space?” Lyndon gave a sharp bark of laughter. “Solar power from the moon? You are wagering our future on untested concepts. Does James Sterling carrying out his nerd fantasies put food on someone’s table? Maybe it does in thirty, or even fifty years. Right now we have almost a third of our population without jobs. They have no way to feed their children. What do you want me to say to them Mr. West? Do you want me to say that we can’t give them jobs because we decided to wager their lives on magic beans?”
The bathroom door opened and a secret service agent stuck his head in to check on Lyndon. The Secretary waved him back out of the room.
“This isn’t about magic beans. The Chinese have the technology for the solar power. They have the technology to spread out into the solar system.”
“So what?” Lyndon asked. “So what if they do? Neither the President nor I care about what they might do. We care about fixing this country. I will tell you this one more time Mr. West. Quantum Engineering cannot win this race to the moon. The welfare of this country is too important.”
Lyndon turned to go.
“Mr. Secretary,” Jake stopped him. “You’re right the welfare of this country is important. So is the future though. What good is giving some people jobs now, if ten or twenty years from now we are all nothing more than vassal states of a repressive government? You know what? I’ll take my magic beans, because you seem to forget what was at the top of the beanstalk.”
Jake walked past Secretary Lyndon.
“A giant Mr. West. A giant was at the top.”
Jake turned back for a second. “True, but there was also a goose. Have a good night Mr. Secretary.”
I get the sense that Romney’s response was a direct match to what Ian Lyndon is saying. There is this short sighted view amongst many politicians, like Romney, that can’t see past the next five seconds. They view things like a moon colony as science fiction and what is science fiction to them? Nerd dreams with no basis for fact in their reality. They love their cell phones, telecommunications, microwaves and thousands of other products that have come as the result of nerd dreams and science fiction ramblings. They lack the imagination to understand the future. I was watching a Ted segment in which Brian Cox discusses why we need space explorers. In that segment he mentions that studies were performed on the original Mercury/Apollo programs to see what kind of impact they had on the economy. One study found that the space program generated $14 for every $1 spent. I would call that a good return on investment.
Politicians like Romney just don’t understand. Now, I don’t like either Gingrich or Romney, but it does seem that at least Gingrich might have a tiny sliver of a clue. The short sigthedness of Romney’s comment strikes me as a very popular view amongst Americans otherwise he would not have used it as a slight against Gingrich. That makes me sad. Maybe we just need a reality show about going to the moon (think the Right Stuff meets American Idol) to drum up public interest in giving humanity a future.
Sad, but most likely true.