One giant leap backward

On the Moon

SEE UPDATE BELOW

One of my earliest memories is of a board game that came on the back of some cereal box. The objective of the game, if my hazy recollection is correct, was to be the first to get to the moon. This was in the early 1960s, as the United States had just begun to engage the Soviet Union in the space race. As a five-year-old, I didn’t understand anything about the politics going on. I just knew that there were these heroes called astronauts, and they we flying off into space, modern explorers.

The 1960s was a terrible decade in many ways. Our leaders kept falling to insane gunmen; a growing stream of young soldiers were shipped home from Vietnam in body bags; social unrest led to riots in cities and on college campuses; and it all happened under the threat of nuclear destruction. There were good things that happened in the 1960s, of course. But as a child I was only aware of what I saw on TV and that was mostly pretty scary.

But the one great thing I was aware of was that America was leading the world to the Moon. We built amazing rockets, and our brave astronauts rode them into outer space. Every year a step closer to the goal. And it culminated in July of 1969 when we joined the rest of the planet watching the fuzzy images of Neil Armstrong stepping onto the surface of another world. I suppose that was the apex of my pride in the United States. As a nation we had completed this most daring task. It seemed as if anything was possible if we were determined to do it.

Let me say this again: WE PUT HUMAN BEINGS ON THE MOON! Just 60 years after mankind learned to fly, we had stepped upon a different world.

Unfortunately, however, doing great things takes great thinkers, nerve and determination, attributes that have leached out of our political leaders in the 40-plus years since that great day. And now, for the first time in my living memory, the United States no longer has its own way into space.

The Atlantis space shuttle touched down yesterday, the final flight of the last of the shuttles. The United States no longer has the ability to send its own astronauts into orbit or beyond. Our bold adventurers will have to hitch rides with the Russians and private contractors. This wasn’t the case two years ago. Project Constellation, powered by the new Ares rocket, was under full development, but President Obama has killed that endeavor. Now, when you view the NASA web site pages devoted to the Constellation program, you only see this sorry notice:

NASA Constellation

From where are fathers boldly went, we have cowardly retreated.

UPDATE: Just as a point of perspective and comparison, the Pentagon’s budget in 2010 was $691 billion. In 2008, NASA requested $3.5 billion for continuing Project Constellation in 2009. There’s plenty of money being spent. It all just depends upon your priorities. I for one think space exploration is worth a military budget decrease of one half of one percent.

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10 comments

  1. Atlantis can only go so deep into space. NASA wants to go further, explore new frontiers. We have been to the moon a few times, there is nothing there for us so why keep revisiting? I think that space exploration can be put on hold for a little while – America has bigger fish to fry these days.

  2. There is plenty to learn from the moon still. Other nations, notably China, will be going there, and we’ll just watch. Without our own launch vehicles, we’re just bystanders. The Apollo Program contributed a lot of technology to our economy, as well as being inspirational. The NASA as envisioned by Obama is going to wither away, I’m afraid, because we are always going to have “bigger fish to fry.” (And, by the way, I don’t see any real progress frying those fish. Just a lot of B.S.)

    1. Yes, China will be going to the moon soon. To do what? Float around? I am all for exploring the unknown, but when it comes to the moon it’s a been there done that kind of place. We can’t live there, get energy from there, or make use of the place so let’s move on.

  3. Private enterprise achievements in space will reveal that NASA was just another profligate government bureaucracy. Space will explored by entrepreneurs, with far less burden to the taxpayer. This is progress.

    1. Private enterprise can do for space what Wall Street did for banking and Enron did for energy. Looking forward to it.

      1. Let the Chinese Communist rulers squander their subjects’ wealth in jingoistic displays of rocket-fuel. The American way is exemplified by the X-prize. That’s the way to do it. Free people choose individually what’s worth their labor, and how much of it. Your ostensible counter-examples proves too much. Banking and energy are two of the most heavily regulated, government dominated industries. FDIC insurance, for example, destroys my incentive to shop for a well-run bank. I can just choose the one that pays the highest interest to me, even though I know that it probably can do so because it practices lax lending. Politics aside, I do enjoy your blog, your reviews and your insightful contributions to the Outliner Forum. Thanks for those

  4. Let the Chinese Communist rulers squander their subjects’ wealth in jingoistic displays of rocket-fuel. The American way is exemplified by the X-prize. That’s the way to do it. Free people choose individually what’s worth their labor, and how much of it. Your counter-examples prove too much. Banking and energy are two of the most heavily regulated, government dominated industries. FDIC insurance, for example, destroys my incentive to shop for a well-run bank. I can just choose the one that pays the highest interest to me, even though I know that it probably can do so because it practices lax lending. Politics aside, I do enjoy your blog, your reviews and your insightful contributions to the Outliner Forum. Thanks for those

    1. Since we’re not going to agree on the politics, no point pushing it further. Thank you for your nice comments about the blog and my outlinersoftware.com comments.

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