July 8, 2011

The Space Race That Isn't

Published on community page at doesthismakessense.com July 8, 2011.

While doing Friday errands, I listened to the last Space Shuttle launch on the radio. I have to admit I got a little emotional, and I'm not exactly sure why. I don't even remember the first Space Shuttle launch -- it just wasn't "on my radar," so to speak. I do remember Sally Ride going up in space, that was a huge deal for women and now is just commonplace.

As I listened I thought about how the presence of NASA has changed all of our lives. President John F. Kennedy said "we shall go to the moon" and the country changed.

We mobilized into the "space race" as a result of Kennedy's urging as well as the Cold War battle started by Sputnik a few years early. I was three months old when Sputnik made its first wobbly, elliptical trip around Mother Earth. I spent much of elementary school building Saturn V rockets for science fairs, and putting tiny pieces of the lunar module together with airplane glue.

I'm sure the media will mourn the passing of US Manned Space flight. There's a list of benefits we as a society gained, from the sophisticated robot circuitry to medical mesh.

And of course Velcro and Tang. What story about space doesn't mention the sandy, awful drink of the 1960s?

As I wax nostalgic about the program and its benefits, I mourn its end in the present form with mixed emotion. We cannot afford the program anymore. I do not think the benefits outweigh the cost. We no longer have the luxury of climbing Mt. Everest, as Sir Edmund Hillary said, "because it is there."

Everyone reading this knows all the economy woes we share, and a sluggish jobs report this morning underscored as Professor Harold Hill said in the Music Man, "We got trouble right here in River City." I know the end of the shuttle program means the loss of jobs. Can't we use all the engineering knowledge in a new "space race" to solve our dependence on foreign oil?

I'm just sayin'.