Putting a price on dreams

Earthrise -- Photo taken by the Apollo 8 crew in December 1968, showing Earth for the first time as it appears from deep space

I suppose one day President Obama might seem like a geniusif the U.S. space program succeeds in landing men on Mars in the 2030s. If we still have a space program then.

In the meantime, I’d much prefer he didn’t mess with NASA. Not with NASA’s plans, or projects, or jobs, or budget (unless to increase it). Why, especially in these lean economic times, would you eliminate any jobs, particularly those of our highly trained, uniquely experienced space engineers and scientists? Why would you risk losing, much less dump, anyone who has helped develop and advance the U.S. space program? As for manned flights to asteroids and Mars, shouldn’t we first be able to safely and reliably get to and from the space station, and to and from the moon? Maybe we should even establish a base on the moon before trying to move beyond it. Wouldn’t this be the logical next step toward manned deep space exploration?

And, as important as our space program has been and may in the future be to our defense, why would you abandon large portions of it to other nations and to private enterprise? Other nations may not always feel as cooperative and benevolent toward us as they do today. And private enterprise will only stay interested as long as there is profit to be made. The program needs to be funded regardless of profit.

But those are just some of the logical, practical considerations.

The U.S. space program, quite simply, has been and continues to be the most aspirational and inspirational endeavor of our nation in my lifetime. Nothing else has caused so many Americans, and people around the world, to look to the night sky with so much awe and wonder and hope. No other single thing has brought more bright, young, eager minds to the fields of science and math — the very fields President Obama promised to reinvigorate.

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced that the United States “should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” And we did just that in 1969.

Today people still flock to Florida to marvel at the launch of U.S. space flights. My neighbors still gather in the street at night to watch when the International Space Station passes high overhead. I still gaze at a bright full moon and marvel that men have actually walked there — while I watched on live television.

Sure, it’s an emotional response. That’s the point. You can’t put a price on things like that. You shouldn’t even try.

The Blue Marble

2 comments

  1. Nearing midnight on July 20, 1969 my two very young sons and I sat watching a black and white screen receiving the first images of a man on the Moon. Everyone it seemed had an emotional investment as well as a financial investment in the success of this national goal. Remembering that we (as a nation) were still in a struggle for survival with another super power nation whose expertise in space equaled or surpassed our own helps me understand how and why we loved the challenge and reveled in the success. It was a rational, constitutionally authorized step in pursuit of national defense. I had (and still have) the same emotional attachment to space exploration, but…

    There is almost no comparison between going to the Moon and going to Mars.

    We are no longer in a struggle for scientific supremacy with another super power.
    The lack of a national imperative (defense) will reduce the number of voluntarily stakeholders.
    Without constitutional authority, NASA is a merely another funnel for corporate welfare.
    The cost for a Mars expedition is orders of magnitude greater than the Moon program.
    The USA is bankrupt.
    There are better ways of accomplishing the same thing, except that;
    By law, the US Govt has a monopoly on space exploration over US citizens

    Remember during WWII how War Bonds were sold to (help) finance the war? The owners of those bonds were invested voluntarily in a war effort whose outcome was always in doubt up until the last year and a half. They became stakeholders. Voluntary stakeholders. I’d prefer a variant of that same philosophy to fund an expedition to Mars.

    I have personal friends who still work for and have retired from NASA, as well as, friends who are employed by NASA contractors. I’ve always been a supporter of it’s goals, but I’ve never been blind to the fact that it’s funding and eventual demise would mirror the failures of other government programs kept alive after their constitutional authority expired.

    In the same way that I used to donate heavily (for me) to the first public funded TV station at the University of Houston (KUHT) and how I stopped donating when PBS forced them all to take involuntarily confiscated government taxes… Even knowing that I won’t be alive to see the outcome, I’d buy as many Mars Bonds as I could afford.

    Call me a curmudgeon. I’ve been called worse.
    ____________
    As I said, mine was an emotional response. I, too, had an infant son with me as I watched that first moon landing. What an era he was born into. Obama would have been about 8 years old at the time. I wonder how much of it he remembers?

    Curmudgeon, eh? At our ages we’ve earned the title.

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