Friday, July 08, 2011

Lost in Space

I was six years old on that hot day in July, 1969. We were outside playing - myself, my brother, and my two young uncles - when my grandmother called us in the house.

The men were going to walk on the moon.

We were lucky enough to be able to watch this amazing feat and to hear those historic words: "One giant leap for mankind." And so it was on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and his fellow astronauts stepped foot on another planet.

I was 23 years old in 1986 and driving down Interstate 581 on my way to my part-time job after taking a class at Virginia Western Community College. I was listening to the radio report of the launch of the Challenger, a space shuttle which would be taking a teacher into space.

I nearly wrecked the car as I heard the horror in the announcer's voice as he cried, "It's breaking up, it's breaking up! Oh my God!"

I was 40 years old and had the TV on while I was cleaning house. I wanted to watch the landing of Columbia, a space shuttle returning from a successful mission. I was horrified all over again as the shuttle disintegrated over Texas. I remember I called my brother to tell him to keep the nephew away from the TV so he wouldn't see the tragedy.

All of my life I have taken time to watch the rockets and space shuttles launch when they showed the events on TV - these three I remember best because thankfully, the others were quite routine. When I was young, I even though I might work for NASA, but fate had other plans. But I watched the space program with great pride and admiration.

The idea of it! Exploring the vast unknown. Moving through space and time in a way no other people ever have done before. Opening up the heavens to find - who knew what - and learning for sure that the moon was not made of green cheese. Seeing for sure that the earth is really a big, blue round ball orbiting the sun.

The space program moved the thinking of humanity forward like nothing else. It eliminated myths. It brought home the reality of how small and insignificant we really are. It gave us great inventions and changed the way we looked at ourselves as a nation and as a people.

Because of the space program, we have a progressive weather alert system complete with rather accurate and amazing radar that let's us see the thunderstorms heading our way. Because of the space program, we have water and air purification systems that allow people to breathe in small spaces and which cleanse the air in our homes and drink water from the sea if need be.

Because of the space program, we have GPS, heart pumps, better microwaves, KEVLAR, enriched baby formula, scratch and glare coatings, athletic shoes, helmets and padding, wireless stuff, video stabilization, heat protection, ... it's a long list. These and many other things came about because of the space program. They invented what they needed and then someone else took the applications and created a public use for the item. It's about as innovative as you can get.

The space program gives back about $8 for every $1 spent. The billions spent on the space program are merely pennies per person when it comes to tax dollars.

And yet there are folks who would end this program. Cut off the exploration, stop the inventions, cease the forward momentum. They do this in the name of money. Money, at this time in history, has become more precious than time, more precious than innovation, more important than life itself. Thank God this is not a morality I subscribe to.

While the space program isn't ending, this door closing sure feels like a final slam on the America I once knew. It's the feeling I get all over - let's close the doors, turn the lock, hide our faces so we can't see the reality of what we're facing, much less where we're going.

Today is the day of the last space shuttle launch. Godspeed to those on board. Thank you, NASA, for all you have given us.

3 comments:

  1. Meanwhile:

    House Passes $649B Defense Spending Bill

    (a 17 billion dollar increase, but less than what the Nobel Peace Prize President wanted)

    http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2011/07/08-3

    because killing people is just so much more important than extending human knowledge and achievement.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Briar, isn't it the Republicans who want to stop the space program?

    ReplyDelete
  3. I understand that to be the case, yes. There are some details here, and about other science related cuts (targeted at climate change research, clean energy etc too).

    http://www.eenews.net/public/climatewire/2011/02/14/2

    They're out to get the space observatory as well:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/jul/09/nasa-james-webb-space-telescope

    But it's not as though either side has anyone of passion to argue for such essential expressions of humanity's desire to learn and understand.

    ReplyDelete

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