I can not help not comment on the attention placed on the Space Shuttle Endevour’s so called “Victory Lap” last Friday around the state, and especially in Southern California. News commentators said it was a proud moment for our country and would inspire the next generation of young Americans to excel and “reach for the stars,” per se. This is nonsense. It was not a “Victory Lap,” it was a funeral procession.
Let me clarify, the Space Shuttle program still had a few years left as a viable method for the US to go into space, conduct research, go to the international space station, and do whatever it is we do in space. Instead, we shut it down, retired it. Half a century ago people were inspired by the Apollo missions and our adventures to the Moon, after that the Shuttle inspired people for decades (since 1981). Now what do we have? Nothing. What goal is the US striving to achieve? Nothing. What will inspire the next generation of young Americans to literally “reach for the heavens?” Nothing.
Actually, I apologize, we can watch our astronauts go to space. They will be hitching a ride on Russian and Chinese rockets to space. Yes, we, the United States of American and NASA (which put a man on the moon) have to hitch a ride from other nations in order for us to go to space. How inspirational. I can not wait to see a picture of our next astronaut in orbit, surrounded by Russian or Chinese cosmonauts, with the words “courtesy of the Russian Federation” or “brought to you by the People’s Republic of China.”
There is something wrong with our national mindset if being subjugated to seeing a retired space ship strapped onto an old 747 now inspires us. It was, and is, a proud achievement and should be celebrated, but without it leading to something better, how great are we? Look, I understand we have a budget crisis, and space exploration and travel is not an immediate priority with so many people out of work and our economy in recovery, but come on. In the middle of the Cold War, while facing the USSR and the threat of destruction, we strove to go to the moon in a decade; President Kennedy and the American heroes at NASA inspired us and we did it. Manned space exploration is worth the several billion dollars, a drop in the bucket, of our trillion dollar budgets. The work of NASA and our space agencies have spurned some of the best technology of the past century. The research and development has affected so many aspects of our daily lives and helped to boost our economy, not hurt it.
Now we have to wait a decade to see what, if anything, we will be using to go into space. We are turning to the private sector, which I can applaud, but the private sector does not marshal the collective resources of a nation. The private sector cannot, and will not, risk everything to make it happen if it is not economically feasible. Some things do not have a price tag; our national pride, inspiring a generation to greatness, being at the forefront of science and technology, setting an example for the rest of the world, exploring the heavens and understanding our world better. It is sad, so sad, that we are calling a funeral procession a victory lap. I may be a cynic, but I expect more, I can hope for better, and I can aspire for greater things for the US.