Opinion: It’s Not About Being First

An interesting perspective on space exploration and to me a reason why the Mars hype is just that hype.

Aiming Higher


I’m about to say something that seems at odds with the space community-

It’s not about being first.

There is a curious preoccupation with people associated with space exploration and human spaceflight.  That’s the idea of “being first”. First in space, first to orbit, first on the Moon.  First of a gender or ethnicity. First to do “X’.

The media feed off the notion of “first”.  It’s headline ready, easy to report, and doesn’t require any investigation.  Public attentions span being what it is, the notion of “first” fits easily into a sound-byte and sates the Nationalist agenda so many would-be leaders feel necessary to to trumpet.

That said, I don’t mean to imply there is no merit in the accomplishments of the pioneers.  Gagarin and Armstrong will forever be enshrined on the podium of human history.  Nothing can or should diminish the struggle of the minorities who overcome injustices…

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2 thoughts on “Opinion: It’s Not About Being First

  1. It is true that ultimately we are aiming for sustainability and permanency. So, yes, if our only goal is to check off a box then we can expend a great deal of effort, money, and risk to achieve a first and then sink into decades-long delays in which we don’t build upon the initial accomplishments.

    That said, I think that, if done correctly, firsts can powerfully help a program which seeks to establish permanent infrastructure. It is not necessarily one or the other.

    In the context of lunar development, it’s the things related to HSF which make up much of the headlines-getting firsts. First woman on the Moon, the first couple, the first dog in the Moon, first Thanksgiving, first dance, first puppy, etc. So there can be a whole series of firsts which provides the excitement, prestige, and inspiration desired by so many space advocates and congressional representatives.

    The excitement of the human element can also infuse significance in the lead-up steps. A prospecting rover characterizing the ice is characterizing water that the crew will need to drink and breathe. The larger landers delivering ice-harvesting hardware could be the same landers which will later deliver crew. The lander will also deliver the habitat and supplies needed for the crew to survive and live in the base, etc. It turns logistics into a human interest story. And the “boring” logistics parts gets supported because the public and hence their representatives care more about people living on the Moon than resource development or orbital servicing.

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