Last Spring, I had the opportunity to accompany my youngest child to the US Space and Rocket Center (aka Space Camp) in Huntsville, Alabama; my third trip in six years. Each time I’ve been, the program there has become more impressive. With the restoration of their Saturn V several years ago (one of the three built, but never used, for Apollo missions XVIII-XX), and the construction of a huge building to house it, Space Camp has become a fantastic tribute to the US space program (even if I did have to put up with a bunch of knot-headed sixth-graders to go there).
There are detailed exhibits, describing each of America’s individual manned and unmanned programs – Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and the Space Shuttle. Even Skylab occupies a place in the museum. There are space suits, capsules, instruments, and other paraphernalia from each program. There’s even a Tang dispenser in the cafeteria.
I remember each of those programs vividly, since I used to get up before sunrise any time there was to be a launch. I laid on the sofa in front of a tiny black-and-white TV and waited for liftoff. I could tell you what was happening at the various checkpoints before launch – even to the point of being able to recite the flight controller’s monologue during the final seconds of the countdown.
On this trip to Space Camp, the program focused almost exclusively on the Space Transport System (STS), more commonly known as the Space Shuttle. We even “trained for” and “executed” a Space Shuttle mission. My son and I were on Team Armstrong, and we were so good that we won Best Mission out of six teams (no brag, just fact).
Our counselor lectured and drilled us on all aspects of the STS program. She spoke of it proudly as “our” shuttle program, which it certainly is (or more accurately, “was”). And, she spoke of it in terms such as “the Shuttle does this …” and “the robotic arm does that …”
It may seem insignificant to you, but her choice of tense bothered me. You see, the Shuttle DID (past tense) some amazing things, and the robotic arm WAS ABLE TO (past tense) perform wonders. But they don’t do it any more, because there is lo longer an STS program. All of the shuttles, as impressive as they were, have been decommissioned, and now sit idle in museums.
For the first time in my lifetime, America has no space program.
Oh sure, there’s the International Space Station (ISS), but it’s not really an American space program. It’s an international program. We built a module. The Russians built a module. The European Union built a module. And so on. I’m all for cooperation, but I’m also for doing what America does best: blazing new trails.
From my perspective, the ISS isn’t really exploring anything. They’re merely doing science experiments in a laboratory orbiting the Earth. They’ve made some exciting discoveries, I’m sure, but they’re not blazing any trails.
And you know how we get American astronauts to and from the ISS? We pay the Russians to carry us up and down. The Russians, of all people! The ones we spent nearly 50 years defending ourselves against in the Cold War. The ones who just bullied their way into Crimea. The ones who are threatening Ukraine at this very moment.
China, Russia and the European Union all have stronger space programs than we do at present. Talk about the ultimate insult to those of us Americans who once were proud to be the world leaders in space exploration and technology.
We do have unmanned trips to Mars, and that’s pretty cool. But we don’t have live footage of Americans (people) doing outstanding things on Mars. We have delayed images of what the robotic rover saw as it trolls about the Martian surface.
Do you know why we don’t have a space program? We simply lost the will.
Folks said: “Why go back to the moon? We’ve already been there.”
Well, it’s a good thing that explorers came back to the Americas after Christopher Columbus came over the first time. After all, he had already been here. Why in the world would anybody have a reason to go back?
Because there was more to explore, more to discover, more to learn by repeated trips to the Americas. And ultimately the greatest nation ever to exist on the face of the Earth came from those efforts.
Folks will tell you that a space program isn’t necessary, or that it costs too much, or that the money would be better spent on public assistance programs (i.e. food stamps).
Well, we’ve had decades of experience at shifting our space program dollars into public assistance programs. And all we’ve seen from that is more people on public assistance programs, dependent on the Government to meet their every need. But I digress …
It’s been estimated that for every $1 invested in America’s manned space program, society received approximately $7 in benefit.
The space program not only gave America a tremendous sense of national pride at being the first nation to really conquer space, it also gave us tangible things like: flame-resistant fabrics, robotic arms, advanced ceramics, insulating materials, special-purpose metals, water-purification techniques, the DustBuster cordless vacuum, solar cells, scratch-resistant lenses, advances in lubricants, food preservation techniques … and the list goes on and on.
Sounds like a better investment than most things our Government spends money on.
Would these things have come along without the space program? Probably. But the urgency of being the first to the Moon accelerated the pace of the research and brought those benefits much sooner.
So why don’t we have a manned space program driving research and innovation today? IMHO, America simply lost the will to lead. Little by little, we’ve pandered away our place as a superpower by giving millions to nations around the world who hate America and all that we stand for. We’ve turned to placating petty dictators with promises of aid instead of removing their kind from power. We’ve let political correctness overrule the sense of honor that came from living in the Greatest Republic that has ever existed on the planet.
And now we dance around thugs like Vladimir Putin. But I digress …
I long for a day when America again takes the lead … not only in manned space programs and space exploration, but in doing the hard things. Things that take a lot of hard work, ingenuity, dedication, and sacrifice. Things that will put America back on the road to representing all that is good in the world: leadership, freedom, fairness, respect, and honor.
I hope I live to see such a change.