What would you do with the money we’d save if we’d stop funding NASA? Well, we could improve the health care system, make sure everybody got decent housing with toilets and without rats, there’s no money for anything and what we pay in taxes doesn’t go to health care system but into putting a white man on the moon.

That’s the message in Gil Scott-Heron’s 1970 song, Whitey on the Moon. Heron’s lyrics are razor sharp as always, as the following verse demonstrates.

The man jus’ upped my rent las’ night.
(’cause Whitey’s on the moon)
No hot water, no toilets, no lights.
(but Whitey’s on the moon)

Yet I must admit that despite strong lyrics and in many ways sharp arguments I don’t think Heron is picking the right target here. There was also a war in Vietnam during the same time – that was a real waste of tax payer money. I suspect going to the moon was in the end beneficial to mankind, or rather, the attempt to go there. The aspiration. Because we are at our best as a species when we allow ourselves to dream and it’s often the most impractical and dreamlike goals (to write a novel, to make a film, to record an album, to put a man on the moon) that really matter in the end.

Aspiration is built into the species – and it’s mostly a positive force when it’s about achievements, going further, doing something new, be the best at something. The other (related) side is more dangerous, the greed, the thirst for revenge or to dominate others. But what’s the value of the moon, that is certainly a tough question.

Yet this is actually a good reason to check ourselves: many of mankind’s major achievements were the result of some kind of slavery or oppression. Perhaps that’s why we’d like to think the aliens built the pyramids, because we don’t really want to think of the suffering it otherwise did cost.

Text: Ásgeir H Ingólfsson