Sunday, April 1, 2012

We Can Afford Not to be Great

Once this country did great things, inspiring things. Apparently, we can’t afford to continue that tradition. That’s lucky because we also seem incapable of training our children to become the engineers and scientists who make great, inspiring things possible. It’s easier, and much more profitable, to become consultants and investment bankers.

While on spring break with my kids, I was trying to come up with a joke to continue this blog’s tradition of an April Fools post. The joke came to me while touring the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Our tour guides spoke in past tense: this is where this used to happen, this is where we used to do this.
Launch Pad 39A where we used to launch the Shuttle and, before that, Apollo

I’m of an age that astronauts were my first heros; I knew their names and backgrounds like other kids knew baseball players. Growing up in an Air Force family, I was fortunate that one of my Dad’s stations was at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, where NASA was born. We lived almost in the shadow of the huge gantry where moon landings were practiced. It got even better when I married the daughter of a NASA engineer and heard first-hand stories of the sacrifices, but ultimately the inspirations, of the Space Race.

The business end of a Saturn V, the moon rocket.

But we won’t be hearing those stories anymore because America’s not up to the challenge. I know we are engaged in unmanned space exploration, and Colorado’s United Launch Alliance is working on Orion, the next generation of space craft for humans, but actual human space exploration won’t happen in this decade (or ever, given our history of dropping programs); that’s too hard, too expensive. We have other priorities, we can afford not to be great.

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.    --President John Kennedy, September 12, 1962  

A LEM, Lunar Excursion Module.  Apollo 11's landed on the moon on July 20, 1969

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