The time span from the first powered human flight, the Wright Brothers in 1903, to the first human flight to the moon was just under 66 years. The time span from an American President’s challenge to send men to the moon and return them safely to earth to the day that actually happened was just over 7 years. The time span from the first to the last lunar flight was only 3 and 1/2 years and it has been more than 38 years from the last moon flight to today. The last American space shuttle flight is scheduled for 7 months from now; after that, American astronauts will have to hitch a ride to the International Space Station on Russian spacecraft.
These numbers aren’t adding up for me.
Humans are explorers, constantly seeking the new, boldly trying to go where no one has gone before (sound familiar?). Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were sort of like the Columbus of their day, taking a chance on geographic exploration that most people thought was impossible. The motivations of the two crews in my example were vastly different, but the idea of an exploratory challenge is similar.
Part of the race to the moon in the 1960s was based on ego and national security, American pride in seeking to be the first at everything and a massive attempt to reduce the possibility that another nation, specifically Russia, could set up military operations on the lunar surface. Without Kennedy’s challenge and our own fear, it might have taken decades to reach the moon; it might not have happened at all. Funny how the future American trips into space will be with the Russians
There has been talk of sending people to Mars. George W. Bush, the least visionary President in my lifetime, spelled out a great vision for sending humans to Mars. So far, Barrack Obama, one of the most visionary Presidents in my lifetime, has halted that dream.
I get it and I don’t.
On one side of the argument, the race to the moon led to significant scientific advances that we benefit from to this day … computer technology, satellites, portability of food, fuel economy, health research, lightweight metals, miniaturized communication devices. And a general interest in science among a generation of students. And significant national pride.
On the other side of the argument, is spending money on space flight justifiable when we have poverty, security and education issues to finance?
Maybe the most significant thing I learned from watching astronaut adventures as a kid is that every dream is possible. That lesson will stay with me till the day I die.