President Obama defaults on space....
Political satirist P. J. O'Rourke examines a serious subject in a recent article: how America is surrendering its position as space technology leader. After listing economic and societal benefits derived from the space program over the past half century, P.J. sums up the post-Shuttle era in one neat paragraph:
The new Space Launch System or SLS, the heavy launch vehicle that will replace Constellation’s Ares I and Ares V rockets, won’t be ready for a manned flight until at least 2021. Where the SLS will go is, as it were, up in the air. Lunar orbit? Asteroid? Lagrange point? (A Lagrange point is the place between two gravitational bodies where an object is held stationary in perfect equilibrium.) What if Jack Kennedy had declared we were going to put a man on a Lagrange point by the end of the decade? The nation would have been inspired to watch ballet in a suburb of Chicago.
Nor, he writes are GOP candidates offering anything better. P.J. ends his 3-pager by recounting an exchange he had with a space engineer:
"If Obama is reelected, “He’ll kill the SLS,” the engineer said. “He’ll kill the manned space program. He’ll finish what he set out to do.”
Then the engineer asked me a question. “What message will it send in 2023 or so when China can put a man on the moon and we can’t put one in low Earth orbit?”
Not to offend any sensitivities, but I believe the answer is “rots of ruck.”
“Our government needs to be in space,” the engineer said. “I don’t see another tool large enough to accomplish the task. U.S. leadership—I look at it as job one for space policy. It’s not just the military or tech benefits and all that. People look up to the United States.”
But if these people keep looking up for long, there won’t be any United States to see among the stars.
Project Apollo lifted America aloft in the 1960s, as JFK's famous May 25, 1961 promise to put a man on the Moon before decade's end was realized July 20, 1969. JFK exuded a "can-do" spirit that continued into the 1960s Apollo mission to the moon. As JFK said on September 12, 1962: "We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard." Not for him a shrinking America, leading from behind, ceding global leadership.
Apollo was, unlike the Manhattan Project, largely done in public, with excruciatingly careful management--doing things one step at a time, not by leaps and bounds--yet it moved overall with astonishing speed. As in 1959 a Soviet rocket had crashed into the Moon, that a landing was possible was generally accepted. Still, when it happened the world's collective breath was taken away. A sense of wonder and the triumph of great adventure intrepidly undertaken and carried to journey's end made America synonymous with progress.
As the engineer said to P. J., our real national loss is in giving up on space adventure. When not only China but India as well lands men on the Moon in the 2020s, while the US hitches rides on Russian rockets and with the triumphant US Moon landing more than a half-century in history's rear-view mirror, America will lose its status as world leader.
Bottom Line. If America is to regain space leadership it will require positive regime change in the White House. It will require a willingness to seed grand projects now, during times of economic constraint, so as to yield dividends later. Leading from behind, stating that all countries think themselves exceptional, is a recipe for failure and retreat. An American president must believe in progress, and America as un-excelled global leader, to restore American greatness.
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