In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the first US moon landing, there has been a lot of wonderful television programming — retrospectives of that time, with film footage never seen before and details previously unknown or long forgotten.
Once again I’ve watched that mighty Saturn V rocket rise slowly — so very slowly — from the fireball its engines created. Knowing full well what was going to happen, I still urged it to MOVE, to get up and out of that inferno, to rise straight and true. And finally it did, gaining speed and altitude as it raced to its destiny and into our history books.
History books. Writings about past triumphs and tragedies. Things that happened long ago. While the world watched and cheered, the US put men on the moon — on the moon! — half a century ago … and yet, after six very brief visits, we never went back. We never established a base there.
How can we dream of establishing a base on Mars if we can’t or won’t even put one on the moon? It would have been far easier and cheaper to build on the moon, to learn how to live there, to learn how to communicate with and supply that base, to perfect transport and passenger flights and the technologies needed to explore and settle Mars and beyond. Space-age baby steps. Never taken.
Then in 2012, we put our last shuttle in a museum and closed the door.
There is more symbolism than I care to contemplate in the shelving of our space shuttles at the same time our government has reached a low point in its ability to function and in the respect of the American people. Where once we reached for the stars and no challenge was too great, we now sit flightless, locked in an internecine struggle for dominance in a system already broken. I grieve for the nation I once knew. 1
What we have lost is the sense of unity and pride in what we could accomplish, the sense of awe and wonder brought by exploring something beyond Earth, a magnificent perspective on mankind and our planet and the relative pettiness of our differences, and the inspiration to all of us, especially the children, to dream and strive and pursue and literally to reach for the stars. The government said NASA and the space program were too expensive. I say they were priceless.2
Yes, we’ve had the International Space Station, and we’ve learned to live there and use the space shuttles of other nations and private enterprise to travel back and forth with relative ease. But that’s not the same as a national commitment to build a permanent base on another planet, create and maintain its atmosphere, generate energy, develop food sources, and become fully self-sufficient.
Today our president and NASA talk of returning to the moon in 2024 and then going on to Mars, while at the same time we are destroying our environment here at a rate scientists say could become irreversible in as few as 12 years. Not to mention our apparent determination to destroy each other.
Reaching for the stars? We touched them 50 years ago and then turned our backs. To achieve those heights again we must first reach beyond our own microaggressions, insults, and gun barrels.
July 19: In fairness to NASA, there is work in progress. See NASA’s plan to return to the Moon with Project Artemis.