A Sad, Sad, Day

February 24, 2011

...and only getting sadder.

As a libertarian, there are very few things I think our government does well.  I can only name two off the top of my head – and we still could do both better.  The first is field a military and the second is putting stuff into space.  We’re giving up one of those.

In the era where we have MULTIPLE useless bailouts that wastes trillions and give $787 BILLION dollars to the exact same banks and institutions that put our country on the brink of economic collapse, the books are already cooked.  We go further into debt by trillions of dollars every year with the interest payments alone to our debtors reaching into the hundreds of billions.  We’re not doing the basics like fixing the tax code, health-care, and social security programs…I think we can at least afford to give NASA a few billion dollars more.  God knows, it’s a better way to spend tax-payer money.  At least you get jobs, science, technology, and achievement in return.

To that end, and to get to my point, the space shuttle Discovery made its final launch today – the 39th of its own and the 133rd of the space shuttle program.  For all of the life I can remember, (I’m 30) the space shuttle program has been there.  The first impression it made on me was when I was 5 years old and Challenger blew up.  I really didn’t fully understand what was going on – but I remember that ‘our’ spaceship blew up and that I was sad because everyone around me was sad.  As sad as that day was, I bet those 7 souls are sad because much of their legacy is ending with no real next step in sight.  Our solution now is to use antiquated Russian junk to haul our best to merely low earth orbit at the International Space Station.

   Funding for NASA is one of FEW things I truly believe that government needs to take an active role in.  Yes, it may go against every libertarian fiber in my body, but hear me out…just like our national defense…there are no other entities that can provide the resources to do the job adequately and this is a quest just as American as our guns and apple pie.  It is literally in our history and our DNA as Americans.  It was manifest destiny for our forefathers to head west and forge new lives on the frontier – NASA ia the embodiment of leading the way to do the same on the next frontiers and create tomorrow’s tomorrow jobs and technology.

 The Apollo Project was the greatest feat in the history of man-kind; its crowning achievement – putting a man on the moon, victoriously accomplished as President Kennedy wished before the end of the 1960’s.  Those were the glory years.  Today, we have cancelled multiple next-generation programs that were supposed to replace American space flight after the space shuttles retired.  I can name two – the X33, the real next step as a reusable space plane that looked somewhat like the space shuttle, and the Orion spacecraft – a 21st century rehash of Apollo.  Instead we have neither with no plan, money, or program to fill a hole for what looks like to be a decade or more because we see NASA’s budget cut back year after year.  Even with the space shuttle and our currently technology of today, we couldn’t go back to the moon even if we wanted.  Tha was what the Orion spacecraft was supposed to be for – to build a modern version of the technology that we had 42 years ago!  We used vacuum tubes to get to the moon and we didn’t develop the technology further.  You can have every self-parking Lexus, iPhone, and flat panel HDTV that you want – but that crap doesn’t get you to the moon.  We have done nothing in that nearly half century span of time to move mankind forward for its next feat…and our best chance, NASA, keeps getting cut off at the knees.

Look at how the space race via the Apollo Project changed our lives by changing our outlook on the Cold War and gave us new technologies never dreamed of.  All done on a wish to beat the Russians, so the US government spent the money to invent these new technologies so that we could get to the moon.  The Apollo Project was materially expensive, but what we paid was an investment for this country’s future – it was money well spent.  All I am asking is to reward such success.

Yes, this country is broke.  Yes, there are too damn many things wrong out there that take precedence…but they are easily fixed by a capable government and a disciplined populace.  Unfortunately we have neither.  However, that is no excuse to throw the good out with the bad.  I truly believe that the expense and budget it would take to make a true 21st century space vehicle, return to the moon, and then go to Mars and beyond would follow the exact same formula of being materially expensive, but have an amazing return on investment…and the catch is, it wouldn’t even be an extra $10 billion a year – a drop in the bucket compared to the trillions of dollars our government wastes every year.  What we could learn, invent, and discover as a nation (and species) would be far greater than we realize.  Its a nearly infinite universe out there – but we would have to take the second step to start tobegin to truly tap the knowledge that could be made out there. 

Maybe I’m a dreamer.  Maybe I believe in a better United States of America where we fund great projects not because they’re easy, but because they’re hard and that makes them worth doing.

– G.S.