Think quick: What tasks would the president of the United States charge the head of NASA with performing: Going to Mars? Returning to the moon? Finding a replacement for the Space Shuttle? Enhancing U.S. technology?
Charles Krauthammer has an excellent piece this morning about Obama's decision to kill NASA's Constellation program, leaving America completely out of the low-Earth orbit game: "For the first time since John Glenn flew in 1962, the U.S. will have no access of its own for humans into space -- and no prospect of getting there in the foreseeable future."
In the president's proposed budget, the Obama administration zeroed out funding for NASA’s Constellation launch vehicle program. I think this decision is both irresponsible and short-sighted. “We certainly don't need to go back to the moon,” one administration official is quoted in the Orlando Sentinel as saying, but without explaining why this is a valid value judgment. Another stated that the budget is intended to “send a message that it's time members of Congress recognize that NASA can't design space programs to create jobs in their districts. That's the view of the president.”
So, the entire argument for canning the Constellation appears to be a tired re-run of the Luddite lambasting of the Apollo missions. A complete waste, we were told back then. A useless exercise to collect moon rocks, hit golf balls in space, and funnel money to fat-cat aerospace companies. Obama’s advisers seem to forget the endless list of consumer items we now use every day of our lives that have their genesis in the technologies developed for the Apollo program.
Last night the moon was not only full, but it was about as close to the Earth as it will be all year. Looking up at its magnificence in the night sky, one cannot help but feel a sense of loss in knowing that President Obama does not want us to go back there.
Word has leaked out that Obama's budget will call for scrapping plans to go back to the moon or on to Mars. As I have written elsewhere, this shows President Obama's horizons aren't very high.
KIDS ARE DOING EVERYTHING earlier these days. That's not a fresh thought, to say the least. You have to figure that every generation of parents in history has said the same thing. Go back a thousand years to the Norman conquest, or two thousand years to the life of Jesus, or three thousand years to the building of Jerusalem by King David, or four thousand years to Pharoah seeing the Jews walk through the Red Sea and saying, "If they can do it, we can do it.
THE REMEMBRANCES of the Columbia astronauts were deeply moving, dignified in their restraint. The president's eulogy at the Johnson Space Center recalled each of them individually, gave the simple reassurance that "America's space program will go on," and modestly offered the "respect and gratitude of the people of the United States."
The mood of grief felt so keenly upon hearing the news passed far more quickly than one would have expected--and far more quickly than it did after the Challenger accident.
RETURN TO THE END of the Gulf War, when we did not go to Baghdad. The wave was taking us there, but we stepped off. To go on would have offended our coalition partners, and contradicted our original plans. So we stopped short. Stepped off history's rolling breaker. Have regretted it ever since.
Which takes us back to spring 1945, another time we stepped off the wave instead of riding it in. The Allied armies were pushing into Germany. Churchill begged the high command not to stop short; to move forward and take Berlin. He saw the Cold War coming.
THE COLUMBIA IS LOST, but what remains are all the things that make us human: our grief, our sympathy for the families of the astronauts and the larger family of NASA--and our darker impulses as well. It never takes long for shallow souls to use such an event to promote their own agendas. Already we hear some voices clamoring to blame Congress or the Bush administration for denying NASA adequate funding, while others are saying we should just get blunderbuss government out of all this and privatize space exploration completely.
If you were to say to a physicist in 1899 that in 1999, a hundred years later . . . bombs of unimaginable power would threaten the species; . . . that millions of people would take to the air every hour in aircraft capable of taking off and landing without human touch; . . . that humankind would travel to the moon, and then lose interest . . . the physicist would almost certainly pronounce you mad.
WHAT MANNER OF CREATURE ARE WE? It took 100,000 years for humans to get inches off the ground.