Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Looking back, Looking ahead

Forty-two years ago today, when I was 11 years old, our family was gathered around the TV,  transfixed like billions of others by the crude, flickering images of the first human footsteps on another world. Weeks before, I'd seen the monstrous Saturn V, the largest and most powerful launcher ever built, gleaming in the intense beams of powerful searchlights as it waited for it's date with history. Only few days earlier I'd watched the beginning of Mankind's greatest adventure as Apollo 11 ascended on a pillar of fire, smoke and thunder. While Neil and Buzz made their first tentative steps on the Moon, I was already dreaming of where we would go next.

I would have never believed back then that after a few more lunar voyages, we we would abandon the Moon and spend the next 40 years in Low Earth Orbit. No lunar bases, no expeditions to Mars. No expansion of human experience into the solar system. Progress has been made, but we're still in Earth orbit. We've learned how to conduct long-duration spaceflight; how to assemble and maintain large structures in space; how to coordinate major projects with international partners. Although these achievements are laudable and will be invaluable when we at last journey into deep space, they've delayed our destiny. The time has come to leave Earth again. This is now NASA's stated goal, and I hope I live to see it again.

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