Monday, June 09, 2008

When We Left Earth

Last night I watched first episode of the excellent Discovery Channel miniseries When We Left Earth, which documents NASA history in a compelling way. In many ways it is a personal history. When thousands lined the streets of Cocoa Beach to wave to John Glenn, I was there (only six years old, but I was there). I've seen the smoke of exploding rockets color the sky. I grew up in the shadow of Apollo. My grandfather worked at the Cape, as did my father, and the fathers of almost everyone I knew.

The photograph above is the Mecury memorial at the Space Walk of Fame in my hometown of Titusville, Florida, which "honors America's astronauts as well as the men and women behind the scenes who helped America lead the world in space exploration and accomplishments. " Sadly, that leadership has now passed to others. America has lost something important; the willingness to take take great risks for great rewards; the confidence to charge into the unknown.

In those days, Giants walked the earth. The boldness and audacity of the space pioneers was astounding, and so was as the vision of John F. Kennedy.

Those who came before us made certain that this country rode the first waves of the industrial revolutions, the first waves of modern invention, and the first wave of nuclear power, and this generation does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of space. We mean to be a part of it--we mean to lead it.

Contrast with today's sorry state of affairs.

PARIS (AP) — NASA encouraged Europe on Thursday to develop its own manned spaceship, which would give the world - and particularly the U.S. - another way of reaching the international space station.

Europe became "a full-fledged space power,'' the agency's administrator said, when flight controllers at a European Space Agency center guided an unmanned cargo ship to the International Space Station in April, successfully delivering food, water and clothes.

"It would be a small step'' to develop that technology into "an independent European human spaceflight capability,'' NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said.

"We welcome the development of independent European capabilities in space to provide redundant systems in the event of failure of any one partner's capabilities,'' he told a gathering of European researchers and space executives at the French parliament.

The space station will rely on these unmanned spacecraft for supplies, tools and science experiments when NASA's space shuttles stop flying in 2010. The next-generation U.S. spacecraft, the Orion capsule, won't be ready for manned flight until 2015. [RR- If we're extremely lucky]

In the interim, NASA will have to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to Russia for a lift to the space station.

What would JFK think about begging Europe to develop a manned spacecraft so we wouldn't have to buy rides from Russia? How far have we fallen? And if Obama is elected, how much farther will we fall?

Sorry John. We've let your dream die. As you noted, space exploration will continue regardless of what America does - but at our peril.
The exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join in it or not, and it is one of the great adventures of all time, and no nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in the race for space.

No comments: