Monday, July 20, 2009

Columbus, Trade, and the Moon

Today commemorates the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon mission. What's got me thinking about it is the invokations of how it compares with the "exploration spirit" of Christopher Columbus... or something. As an American who was brought up memorizing the "explorers" of the "New World" I want to say "hell yeah" and crack open a can of cheap beer. As a trade economist, I remember that many of these "explorers" never gave a hoot about finding anything new, or necessarily advancing knowledge. They wanted to find cheaper trade routes to Asia. So, really those things were mostly based on economic motives.

The moon missions were not motivated by economics or trade. As far as I know, no one believed there were little green men on the moon that we would want to trade with, or any strategic economic resources there that we could control. But, there were strategic reasons - we wanted to tout our technological superiority in order to taunt the Soviets and make them fear us.

Buzz Aldrin wants us on the Mars by 2035 so this generation can prove it's spirit for exploration. Why? What economic or strategic advantage would it serve, and at what cost would it be worth the trouble?

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