Aug 10, 2005

The Space Program

You know, I've been thinking, why the hell are we wasting our money on NASA when it's not accomplishing anything? It seems we've lost interest, as a nation, in the vast unexplored territories of space. The very thing that made America what it is, our wanderlust, has been lost in the space program. It's become more about low orbit, scientific missions. The astronauts aboard the space shuttle have become mere high tech babysitters. We have seen it fit to cut the NASA budget so much, that, were we to want to go to the moon tommorrow, we would be unable. Well, how do we as a nation, set about to pull the space program out of the rut it is in?

Well, first off, spend more money. The budget needs to be expanded if any gains are to be made. The money just simply isn't there to improve the situation, whether it is due to political infighting or just apathy. Before any other changes can be made, the neccessary funds must be provided. This is the biggest test of loyalty for the American people. If they are willing to put up the cash, then maybe, just maybe, there might be hope. For a couple decades now, we Americans have been trying to stay partially committed in space travel, an endeavour that requires total committment. We must decide whether we are willing to accept the risks involved, and if we are, completely commit ourselves, if not, cut ourselves loose and shut it down completely.

Second, the space shuttle has to go! It is severely outdated, and we must update and take full advantage of all the technology that has been developed from the shuttle program. It has had a successful run, and now its time has passed. There needs to be new, cheaper methods of space travel. Many projects that showed immense promise were scrapped, due to lack of money. Experimental aircraft testing needs to start back up. There are too many things that we can benefit from it. If we can develop an easy way to achieve hypersonic flight, then we can come that much closer to more practical spaceflight. Also, the private and commercial area is going to end up providing radical innovations like they always do. I think if we can have both operating easily, it would be beneficial to everybody. The private arena can revolutionize low orbit stuff, and astro-tourism, while NASA can focus on the scientific end of the spectrum.

And finally, whatever happened to the badass astronauts and balls-to-the-wall flying? Honestly, space flight has become boring. I no longer care when the shuttle launches and when it lands and what it does in between. I was more excited to learn about the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs in school than I was to learn about spiders in zero-g. We need someone like JFK to set lofty goals in a set deadline, as that is the only way things will get done. We need something that will force us to move forward, and break us free of this post Space Race malaise. As much as I hate to sound cliche, we need to go to Mars and we need to return to the moon. The benefits far exceed the risks. I'll leave you with the words of the man who got us into the whole space exploration business in the first place.

No man can fully grasp how far and how fast we have come, but condense, if you will, the 50,000 years of man's recorded history in a time span of but a half century. Stated in these terms, we know very little about the first 40 years, except at the end of them advanced man had learned to use the skins of animals to cover them. Then about 10 years ago, under this standard, man emerged from his caves to construct other kinds of shelter. Only 5 years ago man learned to write and use a cart with wheels. Christianity began less than 2 years ago. The printing press came this year, and then less than 2 months ago, during this whole 50-year span of human history, the steam engine provided a new source of power.

Newton explored the meaning of gravity. Last month electric lights and telephones and automobiles and airplanes became available. Only last week did we develop penicillin and television and nuclear power, and now if America's new spacecraft succeeds in reaching Venus, we will have literally reached the stars before midnight tonight.

This is a breathtaking pace, and such a pace cannot help but create new ills as it dispels old, new ignorance, new problems, new dangers. Surely the opening vistas of space promise high costs and hardships, as well as high reward.

So it is not surprising that some would have us stay where we are a little longer to rest, to wait. But this city of Houston, this State of Texas, this country of the United States was not built by those who waited and rested and wished to look behind them. This country was conquered by those who moved forward-and so will space.

William Bradford, speaking in 1630 of the founding of the Plymouth Bay Colony, said that all great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and both must be enterprised and overcome with answerable courage.

If this capsule history of our progress teaches us anything, it is that man, in his quest for knowledge and progress, is determined and cannot be deterred. 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 this race for space.

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. For the eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond, and we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace. We have vowed that we shall not see space filled with weapons of mass destruction, but with instruments of knowledge and understanding.

Yet the vows of this Nation can only be fulfilled if we in this Nation are first, and, therefore, we intend to be first. In short, our leadership in science and in industry, our hopes for peace and security, our obligations to ourselves as well as others, all require us to make this effort, to solve these mysteries, to solve them for the good of all men, and to become the world's leading space-faring nation.

We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war. I do not say that we should or will go unprotected against the hostile misuse of space any more than we go unprotected against the hostile use of land or sea, but I do say that space can be explored and mastered without feeding the fires of war, without repeating the mistakes that man has made in extending his writ around this globe of ours.
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We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

-- John Fitzgerald Kennedy

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