A Sad Day for the United States

Posted: July 22, 2011 in Cool Stuff Related to Games or Silliness, Uncategorized

I know many, many people are writing about the end of the Space Shuttle program and expressing nostalgia, disappointment, anger or even joy in some cases.

For me, it is simply a sad day.

As a kid, I grew up watching the Gemini and Apollo missions. The men who flew them were my heroes. My original “I wanna be when I grow up” career was astronaut and continued to be that until I was diagnosed with diabetes in my late teens. I pushed myself and graduated at the top of my high school class with my head full of the stars and my heart full of the joy of exploration. I actually spent one year in college in Astrophysics at the University of Illinois, thinking that I would eventually work for the space program and NASA in some way.  I was not alone. Thousands if not tens of thousands of  people felt as I did; the future was space. The truth is, the manned space program of the United States was a catalyst for positive change and set difficult, but attainable goals for several generations of young men and women.

Now? Now we hitch rides on the resurgent Russian space program.

Don’t get me wrong…the Space Shuttles are getting long in the tooth. They probably should be retired. But what have we done as a nation to replace them? Where is the plan for the next challenge? How will we keep pace with the rapidly growing technological competition posed by other countries who are no longer shying away from space, but accelerating their efforts to move beyond the current levels of achievement.

What has happened to our nation that we are no longer focused on the hard, the impossible, the aspirational, but are simply mired in the mundane. Before you get up on your high horses about the economics of manned space flight and the US deficit/budget crisis, the bad economy, etc., the benefits of our manned space program have more than paid for themselves several times over in breakthroughs in medicine, engineering, computing, miniaturization and other practical technologies. The very challenges of space force innovation…and that innovation pays enormous dividends for those of us stuck at the bottom of the gravity well. The problem is, when you launch a mission, there isn’t an immediate return on investment. Wall Street doesn’t gain 10%. Corporate coffers are not enriched immediately. Politicians don’t go up in the polls the same day. The benefits manifest themselves over months, years, even decades.

What the systemic dismantlement of NASA by the past three administrations has done has underlined a horrible, horrible trait of the present United States government and culture; namely, we can’t engage in long-term planning and vision. The words of John F. Kennedy still echo to me  from long ago:

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too. “

How far, how very far we have fallen. God help us all if we can no longer aspire.

  1. Vincent says:

    You nailed it. When I grew up I just assumed that if I was into science and really worked hard I could one day live & work in space. Now my daughter is just the age that I was then… and what is she supposed to dream about? That smoking will finally die the death of a thousand legislative cuts? That she will live & work close to plentiful bike paths? And mankind’s destiny for the 21st century? Reduced carbon emissions.

    I am broken-hearted.

  2. The end of a dream, a sad day indeed. The dream to go and explore the Solar system and one day the stars, but perhaps this is just a delay and that day will come, but apparently not in my lifetime.

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