BE honest, if you had $319 billion dollars what would you rather spend it on?
A shiny fleet of spaceships and an orbiting space station, or picking up the bad debts of a bankrupt nation?
That's the water-cooler question posed by the fact that demise of the USA's Space Shuttle program happened to coincide with the announcement that Europe is to bail out Greece AGAIN – and both cost exactly $319 billion.
Of course in real life it's not really a simple either/or, and the issues aren't really connected.
But it's interesting that on the day Atlantis, the last ever Space Shuttle, was garaged forever (and the mealy-mouthed critics' attacks started in earnest), that over here in Europe we were all told we would be bailing out the Greeks - to save a currency no-one can afford, administered by a bureaucracy no-one wants.
So how did we get here?
Well, in the last years of the 20th century lots of people in the USA wanted to continue the earth-shattering progress made by the (admittedly rather expensive) Apollo missions and see how far they could push the boundaries of mankind.
So they built the Space Shuttle.
And in the last years of the 20th century lots of people in Greece wanted to spend way way more than they earned and see how far they could push the boundaries of economic stupidity.
So they built a crippling debt mountain.
Both have been accused of reckless spending and there is some merit to that debate – but let's see what the people stumping up the cash got for their money.
Thanks to the last few years of NASA we famously got Velcro and non-stick pans, but how about cordless power tools, LED's, smoke detectors, artificial limbs, digital imaging, mammograms, and spookily accurate golfballs, to name just a handful from a list which runs to thousands.
Oh, and the little matter of a monumentally greater understanding of the cosmos (especially nearby planets) which leads in turn to some pretty epoch-making philosophical developments.
And thanks to the last few years of Greece we have, er, cheap package holidays and retsina.
I know where I'd rather my money was spent.
Lawrence Krauss, a scientist who ought to know better, writes in the Guardian: “Not only has the shuttle programme been costly, it has been boring. A generation that grew up with Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey had hoped that by the dawn of the new millennium we would be regularly vacationing in space, and routinely sending astronauts to boldly go where no man or woman had gone before.
“Instead we were treated to regular images of the shuttle visiting a $100bn boondoggle orbiting in space closer to Earth than Washington DC is to New York. No one except a billionaire or two has ever vacationed in space, and their "hotel" was a cramped, stuffy and at times smelly white elephant.”
Yes, and apparently the Model T Ford was a bit crap too.
But it doesn't take a genius to work out that without the Model T there would be no Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano.
Or, try this.
The first colony at Plymouth Rock was not exactly five-star. But take a look at New York City and you'd be hard pushed to disagree that America shaped-up pretty well it's first attempts at a settlement. (And before you think I'm getting all Stars and Stripes about this, remember those first 'Americans' were just persecuted chaps from Cambridgeshire and Leicestershire.)
It's our job to explore and push the boundaries of humanity. And it just happens that the USA has led the way in this stuff for the last 50 years.
But don't worry, India and China will be doing their best to catch up in the next 50.
The Greek space program is a little more uncertain.
And while I'm on topic, yes, I know there's a famine in Sudan.
But why is that NASA's problem? Why should the Space Program any more responsible for that than, say, Lehman Brothers Bank?
No one ever screamed that Lehman Brothers should pay to feed the world's starving?
And yet we seems have coped reasonably well in a world without the Lehman's dodgy accounting practices – whereas a world without the Space Shuttle is a world with just a little less wonder in it.
And a world with a little less wonder in it is a poorer place.