On the Moral Responsibilities of Scientists
- “To Young Scientists” (An article by Ayn Rand in The Voice of Reason, available for purchase from the Ayn Rand Bookstore)
Is it proper for the government to engage in space projects? No, it is not—except insofar as space projects involve military aspects, in which case, and to that extent, it is not merely proper, but mandatory. Scientific research as such, however, is not the proper province of the government.
But this is a political issue; it pertains to the money behind the lunar mission or to the method of obtaining that money, and to the project’s administration; it does not affect the nature of the mission as such, it does not alter the fact that this was a superlative technological achievement.
In judging the effectiveness of the various elements involved in any large-scale undertaking of a mixed economy, one must be guided by the question: which elements were the result of coercion and which the result of freedom? It is not coercion, not the physical force or threat of a gun, that created Apollo 11. The scientists, the technologists, the engineers, the astronauts were free men acting of their own choice. The various parts of the spacecraft were produced by private industrial concerns. Of all human activities, science is the field least amenable to force: the facts of reality do not take orders. (This is one of the reasons why science perishes under dictatorships, though technology may survive for a short while.)
It is said that without the “unlimited” resources of the government, such an enormous project would not have been undertaken. No, it would not have been—at this time. But it would have been, when the economy was ready for it. There is a precedent for this situation. The first transcontinental railroad of the United States was built by order of the government, on government subsidies. It was hailed as a great achievement (which, in some respects, it was). But it caused economic dislocations and political evils, for the consequences of which we are paying to this day in many forms.