Listen To You Tell Me Texas Friday 11/14/14
My daughter texted me Wednesday and exulted, “We landed a spaceship on a comet. Space is so cool.” I texted back, “But it wasn’t us. It was the Europeans.” She said, “Oh, it was the Europeans? That’s poopy.”
I completely agree (choice of adjective notwithstanding). It’s one more sad commentary on America’s declining stature.
At one time in the not-too-distant past, most of the significant accomplishments in space sported a NASA logo. Coming from behind to eclipse the Russians in the race to put men on the moon, NASA’s Apollo lunar landing program saved the otherwise miserable 1960s. But for ‘one small step’, the 1960s in America would be remembered only for race riots, anti-war protests and assassinations.
Traceable directly to Apollo, America assumed world leadership in technology. From computers in every office cubicle to smart phones in every purse and pocket to 3-D medical imaging to the ability to snap a photo of your kids and send it instantly to the grandparents – America has led the way in large measure as a result of the dividends paid by its space program.
The Apollo lunar landings were followed by many triumphs. Pioneer 10 launched in 1972 and sent back the first high-resolution images of Jupiter. Two Voyager missions left Earth in 1977 and took advantage of favorable planetary alignment so as to provide stunning images and data on Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and their hitherto completely mysterious moons.
Beginning in 1975, NASA began landing unmanned probes on Mars, including four roving vehicles that have greatly exceeded their original goals.
1990 saw the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope. 1993 saw the Space Shuttle mission to correct a flaw in Hubble’s optical system. Hubble has looked deeper into space, and thus farther back in time, than ever before imaginable – resulting in a greater understanding of the universe.
Speaking of the Space Shuttle, it was, until its termination by the Obama administration in 2011, the world’s only reusable spacecraft. When the last shuttle mission ended in July 2011, so did America’s ability to put humans in space.
In 2010, President Obama promised that America would have a leadership role in space. Since then, he has effectively gutted NASA. He cancelled the Constellation program that would have returned Americans to the moon, slashed NASA’s interplanetary exploration program and cut unmanned probes to Mars in 2016 and 2018.
Resistance from Congress has been the only thing saving NASA from budgetary evisceration.
None of this is lost on the Chinese, who are now working on their own manned lunar program as their children – not coincidentally – outperform ours in science, technology, engineering and math.
John Kennedy saw the danger in letting the Soviets eclipse America in space. He understood that for a nation to be great, it must be a leader in scientific exploration. Barack Obama has no such clarity.
Four of the 12 Americans who walked on the moon are now dead. The remaining eight are old men. At the current rate, America’s leadership in space will pass away even before they do.
We will regret the passing.