Friday, July 8, 2011

Fly Me to the Moon....

I interrupt the normal programming of this blog to bring you this special announcement.

The United States space program ended today.

Today has left a large hole in my heart.  And perhaps one in our country's heart.

I was a child of the Space Race.  In October of 1957, Sputnik 1 was launched.  Ever hear of it? Or the Soviet Union?  Well...

The Soviet Union was a "union" of Russia and a number of other nearby countries.  Their government was "communist", committed to the destruction of the capitalist system - and our country.  Or, so we were told.  Those were scary times.  When I was a toddler, being called a Communist could be enough to cause someone to lose their job.  There were special congressional hearings.  Blacklists.

The Soviets had "The Bomb".   We and they fought what was called the "Cold War".  If they won and took us over, all would be lost.  The Soviets were totally evil- that is what I was taught, as a schoolchild growing up in the 1950's and early 60's.

When the Soviets launched the first satellite in October of 1957, our country was thrown into a panic.  We needed to get our children educated in the sciences, and quickly, so we could get into space with our satellite before the Communists took space over.   This drive accelerated even more quickly when the Soviets put the first man into space in 1961.

We as a country committed ourselves to reach the moon in a speech given by President Kennedy in May of 1961. 

50 years ago, we decided to go to the moon.  We would beat the Soviets there.  We knew they were trying to get there, too.

Competition is the heart of the capitalist system.

I saw some of the various launches in school.  Others, on our black and white TV at home.  First, we blasted one man into sub-orbit.  Then, one man into orbit.  Then, into many orbits.

And then, the Soviets took a walk in space. So we had to also.

To make a long story short, we made it to the moon first.  Several more missions got to the moon and then in the 1970's we totally changed direction.  We decided to have a program with partially disposable space crafts.  We haven't been to the moon since that decision and, in fact, no one else has been, either.

In the middle of all this, the Soviet Union ceased to exist.  Probably a lot of the urgency disappeared with the Soviets.  We no longer had an enemy to compete with.

And then we realized it was way too expensive for the government to keep up the space program.  Private industry would have to take over, and that is part of the reason for what happened today.  The entire story is complicated, and this is a very shallow telling of the tale.

Today, several generations know of the space program mainly for Tang, and freeze dried ice cream.  But, in reality, it enriched our lives in so many ways we can't even imagine - everything from MRI technology to cell phones (have you ever seen the first Star Trek series?) to - well, there is an entire NASA Spinoff website that explains this.

Think about this.  We won the space race, right?  And now -we won't have a way to get into space on our own, for now.  We will have to depend on....

The Russians.

Now, that's irony.

We can ask  "so who cares?  Why is it important to keep exploring space?  (No, the answer isn't going to be to fight the space aliens traveling right now to our planet to conquer us....but who knows, maybe they are.)  No, the answer is not about being able to resist our future space overlords.  (Or...just think of this nightmarish thought - terrorists launch a satellite....)

It has a lot to do with the human spirit.  Humans are explorers.  The drive is built into us.  In every generation are born people without fear (or maybe, people without common sense).  The wider our horizons, the wider our thinking.  Our acceptance of new ideas, our flexibility, our ability to roll with change, depends on this. 

Will we lose our spirit?  If we do, our country is lost.

I fear this has already happened to our country, and we must fight it.

I rarely write serious blog posts, but this is one of them.

Be it by government, or be it by private industry, we can't give up space.

LATE BREAKING ADDITION:  After posting this, I read an awesome post on the subject.  I am linking to it, so you can read it too.

1 comment:

  1. Beautifully said. I hate to think my kids will never see this. I remember vividly the Challenger explosion when I was in high school. But I also remember the hope and pride of all the successful launches. (and I loved your opening sentence, way to grab!)

    ReplyDelete

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