Monday, April 19, 2010

We Choose Not To Go To The Moon...or anywhere else

Last week, on tax day, President Obama went to Cape Canaveral and issued some proclamations about America's leadership in space and how committed he was to NASA blah, blah, blah.  Don't listen to the teleprompter, listen to the advice of some men who know: Astronauts Neil Armstrong, Gene Cernan and James Lovell.  These three heroes penned an open letter to Mr. Obama about his disastrous plan.  (Read the full text here.) Now the backdrop to all this is the fact that come September of this year, we will be retiring the space shuttle.  We will have no way to put Americans in space...period.  We will rely on the Russians to get personnel to the Space Station and back.  Ironic too that the nation that challenged us with Sputnik, will now provide our taxi service.  This is more than a tragedy, it is an embarrassment. 

Mind you, this is not Obama's fault.  This has been coming down the pike for a long time and both Bush and Clinton avoided dealing with the inevitable.  But the one program that was on track to at least put us back into space was the Constellation rocket system and now it has been defunded.  We have spent over $10 billion on the project and now we will have zip.  As the former Apollo astronauts put it:

For The United States, the leading space faring nation for nearly half a century, to be without carriage to low Earth orbit and with no human exploration capability to go beyond Earth orbit for an indeterminate time into the future, destines our nation to become one of second or even third rate stature.  While the President's plan envisages humans traveling away from Earth and perhaps toward Mars at some time in the future, the lack of developed rockets and spacecraft will assure that ability will not be available for many years.
Without the skill and experience that actual spacecraft operation provides, the USA is far too likely to be on a long downhill slide to mediocrity.  America must decide if it wishes to remain a leader in space. 

This is not only a matter of national character, which Obama truly despises, it is also about future safety. Let's be real, future wars will be fought in space whether we like it or not.  Our current methodology of combat relies very heavily on space based surveillance, command and control.  With no capability to fly to immediate Earth orbit, what chance do we have that those sensors will be rendered useless with no ability to replace and replenish?  Do you think the Russians will be eager to allow us to borrow a Soyuz or two to fix our spy satellites?

Readers of these pages know how hawkish I am on Federal spending, but the space program is exactly the kind of thing the government should be involved in: it's too big for private enterprise, it's essential for safety and it defines a nation.  We will never be able to quantify the number of kids that were inspired to become engineers and scientists because of the Apollo missions, but it ain't small.  I was at a dinner with seven alumni from my undergraduate institution (we were plotting our 30th reunion).  Of the group, there was a lawyer, a doctor, two business types, and three engineers.  I posed the question to my gear head friends about inspirations in their lives to go through the nightmare of engineering school and all three said "Apollo" somewhere in their answer. (I might add, one is actually working for guessed it, a real rocket scientist!) 

There is also a two-pronged multiplier to space exploration: technologies and people.  Technological advances are pretty obvious - hell, the Apollo folks had a hydrogen powered vehicle forty years ago.  The people part might not be so obvious.  Projects of this nature increase the interest in technology, increase the education of technology and end up attracting the "best and brightest" from around the world who want to be part of the great adventure.  The terrifying reality is that without a vibrant space program, that talent will migrate to Moscow, Beijing or who knows...Pyongyang or Tehran?

But back to this issue of character and the loathing hatred Obama and his ilk have for the American spirit.  I remember watching the moon landing in my grandfather's office and the incredible sense of pride I had in being an American.  It seemed perfectly natural to me that we were the ones doing this - Americans do things with bold brush strokes.  We are not just another country, our national character calls us to lead the world, but folks in this administration are embarrassed by that and seem to want to end this.  Their perception is that our leadership is a force for bad - you know, the standard pablum about "oppression," "racism," "imperialism." They do not believe in American exceptionalism, nay, they loath it and seem hell bent on ensuring it's fading away.  They believe they are in power to manage America's decline and this move on our space dominance is just one more sad confirmation.

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