Charles Krauthammer

Nor is it true that there is nothing of use or even of interest on the moon. There are all kinds of materials to be exploited, observations of the cosmos to be made, and knowledge to be gained on how best to live off the land away from Earth.

A century ago there seemed to be nothing in Antarctica too. We went there first for adventure, then for discovery. The concrete scientific advances Antarctica has yielded (regarding climate change and the ozone layer, for example) have been as important as they were unexpected.

A more serious critique of returning to the moon comes not from the Luddites but the purists. They want science, and they are right that robotic exploration is a more cost-effective way to get it. The science yielded by unmanned vehicles, such as past and future probes of the ice surface of Europa and the hydrocarbon lakes of Titan, is indeed thrilling. And pound for pound, dollar for dollar, manned exploration does bring back less science than robots.

But it still brings back science. Humans can discover things through intuition and pattern recognition that machines thinking in algorithms cannot. Imagine the scientific possibilities if today we had humans patrolling Mars rather than the brilliantly programmed but still limited golf carts now roaming the surface.

And then there's the glory. If you find any value, any lift of the spirit in a beautiful mathematical proof, in an elegant balletic turn, in any of the myriad human endeavors that have no utility but only breathtaking beauty, then you should feel something when our little species succeeds in establishing new life in a void that for all eternity had been the province of the gods. If you don't feel that, you are -- don't take this personally -- deaf to the music of our time.

Charles Krauthammer

Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.

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