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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
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