How many kids specially little boys, at some point while there growing up dream of being an astronaut when they get older. I personally had less of an interest in going to into space but liked to design or draw rockets and spaceships….well maybe I did want to go into space a little too I cant lie. I remember the challenger explosion like it was yesterday and I remember how it made me feel inside, which was sad and empty a little. And even though I grew up in Michigan and not in Florida ,Texas or Alabama, the town I’m from had the early roots of space flight and exploration in it. Roger b Chaffee who was an astronaut that died in a test flight for Apollo 1 in 1967 was from Grand Rapids, we have a street and planetarium named after him. He was hero in our state, in our national and maybe in the world also, just as many other astronauts were during my life and before I was born.
Downtown grand rapids has a life size statue of an astronaut and I remember seeing it for the first time when I was there on field trip all those years ago as young boy and thinking how cool the suit looked and how cool space must be. I remember getting odyssey space magazines every month and as soon as it came I poured threw them as fast as I could, anxious to learn more about NASA, the solar system and the universe and to read the exploits of the famed NASA astronauts.
And when I was 8 or 9 and was I believe in 2nd grade I went to The Kennedy space center in Florida when I was there on vacation with my family. I saw a space shuttle for the first time, stood in front of and was dwarfed by a Saturn V rocket used during the Apollo missions, held a moon rock in my hands, sort of wore a space suit, and met an actual mission commander and an astronaut, I was at the center of the USA space program and I thought it was the best place ever. I saw the magic, felt the inspiration and was in awe of what I saw there. I was around at the beginning of the life of the space shuttle program, the early days when it was still new and fresh and exciting. The adventure and mystic of NASA and of outer space was right there for me to see, touch and feel. I saw what became of peoples hopes, dreams, imaginations and ideas and saw what inspired those same hopes, dreams and ideas in kids like me….I was at the beginning of the road for many people that one day dreamed of being apart of something truly exciting. As captain Kirk of the enterprise said…”space…the final frontier”. And for me and other young kids and many many adults it was truly just that.
The great success of the NASA space program and its downfalls were still somewhat fresh in American minds in the spirit of America as whole. Our success’s in the “race to space” during the middle and end of the last century helped us as a nation and as a people take our minds off a potential nuclear war with Russia. As well as the Korean war, Vietnam war and various terrorist threats at that time and economical stresses. The cold war bringing on the PUSH, the FIGHT and the URGE to go farther, faster and better than the USSR…we could not be out done. Back then…. all those years ago even in the 1980’s when I was still a child Space travel and NASA were still seen as an adventure, mysterious and worth doing…worth the dream and effort.
But now in just a few short months a part of those dreams and hopes will come to an end with the Last flight of and the closing of the space shuttle program. It makes me sad in many ways, to see the death of something I saw the birth of. And I wonder if my parents or people there age felt the same way with the last Apollo mission in the 1970’s. The space shuttle program was and is a money hog this I will admit, but then I think of all the medical and science breakthroughs we had because of the shuttle program. And I am left to wonder what things we will miss out on discovering once the shuttles are gone.
The president of the united states in all his morbidly twisted wisdom has decided to dump the constellation program, which involved a new type of manned orbiter and a trip to the moon. And that little kid from the 80’s in me wonders why, isn’t the moon good enough anymore. It seems their goal is to instead of landing on the moon once again and setting up a permanent moon base to land on an asteroid and then eventually 20 years from now have a manned mission to MARS. I agree with the mars thing, not the time line for it though and don’t understand the importance to landing on an asteroid. And I agree far less with paying Russia multi-millions of dollars per astronaut to take “our” guys into space. Why are we relying on Russia’s antiquated out dated and dangerous space program that has more or less fell apart since communism ended.
As it stand now ,1972 was the last time we landed a man on the moon, and it was also the last time humans traveled beyond low earth orbit. And to this day I don’t understand why. In my grown up mind I think a permanent moon base would make outer space travel specially to mars but also farther far easier since the astronauts would not have to worry about the issue of earths heavy gravity. But regardless why haven’t we been back to the moon Since 72, was the moon a throw away goal for NASA and the government, I am willing to bet allot of Americans don’t see it that way. Going to the moon, the fact that we went there was a point of pride for us, it made us proud Americans to be American and it made us excited…but whats more it helped DEFINE US in a way. Now yes I realize that in the past several years NASA seems void of major goals, and outside of the occasional probes to mars or another far off planet NASA seems boring. The explosion of the Colombia was terrible but should have been used better to push the ideas and goals of Americans into space further. The soviet union and the cold war or something similar may never return so we as Americans’ need something else to push us like we were pushed by the Russians 50 years ago….and I think the only thing that can do that is sheer WILL AND DRIVE to do it. And I wonder if America, NASA and our government has lost its WILL to press further. I read an article the other day online and it described the shuttles as a form of “ferry service” and to a large degree I agree with this. What’s the point of having a muti-billion dollar orbiter if NASA and the government lack the drive to do anything truly AMAZING AND SPECIAL with it….hell even exciting.
Our astronauts now are engineers and scientists which is all good and fine, but in the 1950’s,60’s and early 70’s they were truly special. They weren’t science geeks along for the ride, they weren’t engineers looking to make a name for themselves and they were budding politicians looking to make a mark for there real careers.
The men who founded and made the space program exciting were jet pilots, they were real men who did it for there country and for the pride of doing it and because it was NEW and EXCITING. To them going into space was APEX of there career as aerial-aviators, they fought, trained and bled just for the chance of doing 1 TIME. The equipment and science was unsafe, untested and new and they knew there chance of living from launch to landing was small…but they still did it. The Apollo missions used a spacecraft that had to flown manually to large degree and a moon landing unit that was more or less made of aluminum foil, they went to the moon, touched it and walked on it and came back. The modern day astronauts would not have the guts to go and do that with the same technology the real men of the space program used. Today they rely on computers to do most of the job for them.
But I think that the real problem with modern day NASA and the US space program is partly to do with our own society and how we live now. Americans to a large degree don’t like taking chances anymore, we like to play it safe and sound and make the safe bet. We now live under an unsaid rule where social conflict is bad, people have to get along no matter what and we cant push peoples buttons do drive them. We have been forced to believe over the years to be afraid of many things to turn a blind eye and to let fear and paranoia rule our hearts and minds, dreams and goals. I now think also that America and many Americans choose now to take the easy way, the safer and less hard way….I feel we lost our guts and brassiness. I look back to what NASA was before and what our country was before and I look at it now and I am disappointed. We have lost our nerve, our edge and our conquering spirit. As we have for some reason supposedly turned ourselves into a better society we lost that grit and edge that made us Americans in the first place. Space and NASA has become boring to most Americans, and it has been a long time since we have done something to excite the people and there hopes and dreams when it came to those two things. It is sad to me to think and it makes the 8 year old boy or girl at the Kennedy space center sad to think that we will have to wait nearly half our life to see the USA and NASA do something inspiring and exciting again.
Our country had tough times since the beginning and we persevered through them all, relying on our peoples hearts, minds, dreams and wits to bring us farther and better. And I wonder now with the ending of a big portion of our space program if some of those dreams and bright young minds will fade into the grey and to follow the “jones’s” as opposed to dreaming bigger and pushing themselves to do more…to achieve more.
Can America afford that, can Americans afford to accept the ordinary and stop trying and fighting for the extraordinary…..
Are we asking that 8 year old boy or girl to just settle….we may in fact be doing just that.