The Next "Giant Leap"
"We choose to go to the moon and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard."
-John F. Kennedy
We here at FITS were flipping channels yesterday and happened to stumble upon live coverage of the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery, the first manned NASA spaceflight in nearly a year and only the second since the tragic loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003.
While intensely exciting to watch, we couldn't help but have mixed emotions about this Fourth of July return to space.
That's because President Bush has ordered the shuttle fleet (currently consisting of three orbiters - Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavor) decommissioned by 2010, meaning if all goes well less than 20 shuttle flights will be made between now and then.
And honestly, who can blame him?
With one exception, all remaining shuttle missions have as their objective completing work on the International Space Station, something about as exciting to the average American as completing work on our lawnmowers.
Yesterday's July 4 launch indeed begs the question of what's next for NASA - an agency that for decades fed America's hopes and dreams a steady diet of real life heroes and out of this world accomplishments prior to two shuttle tragedies, a broken billion-dollar telescope and the complete evaporation of a cause celebre.
In spite of yesterday's successful Independence Day launch, interest in our nation's space program is at an all-time low. A world increasingly consumed with practical materalism and instant gratification simply doesn't care about costly exploration or have the time to devote to the thrill of the hunt.
Not that there's much of a hunt going on.
Bush, having decided to shelve the shuttles, doesn't seem especially preoccupied with pointing our nation in the newest direction of its dreams.
Discovery, it seems, is being throttled back ... and we're not just talking about the shuttle. Instead of embracing a new challenge, NASA it would appear is stuck in neutral.
Selling spaceflight can't be easy. There are limited immediate practical applications and the costs are staggering. Plus, it's dangerous.
Beyond all of that, there is no Cold War rivalry capable of fueling demand for a space race in our so-called New World Order. America is grappling with a more complicated, much more sinister enemy to be sure, but you don't beat Bin Laden by putting a man on Mars, do you?
The fact remains, however, that the spirit of American pride, innovation and accomplishment has never been higher than it was in the summer of 1969 when Neil Armstrong took his "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
Something amazing, seemingly impossible had been accomplished, and a nation looking for heroes found them when it needed them the most.
What is our nation's next "giant leap?" And which leader will summon the political will to articulate it?