Thursday, September 25, 2008

September 25, 2008

     "Houston, we have liftoff."  That's a phrase we just don't hear much anymore.  And I wonder whether anyone cares.
     Once upon a time, Americans were excited about space.  When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made the first moon landing in 1969, CBS News, for which I then worked, was on the air the whole time that they stayed on the moon--a little more than a day, as I recall.  Hard to imagine anything like that now.
     The Washington Post ran a special section today to remind us that NASA--the National Aeronautics and Space Administration--will be fifty years old next month.  And it still has projects--there are pictures of a new crew capsule, the Orion, of the Altair Lunar Lander which is supposed to put four astronauts on the moon for a week, of the Ares rocket which is supposed to take them there, and so on.
     But the truth is that the space shuttle will be retired shortly.  For a time the U.S. will have no way of reaching the international space station except by hitching a ride with the Russians or maybe the Chinese, who are interested in space and have big plans to be out there. 
     This country?  We're in two wars;  we have poverty and hunger and home;  we have all sorts of earthly problems we haven't solved.  Space?  Why?  "To boldly go where no man...,"  may be the most famous split infinitive in the history of television, but Star Trek was a long time ago--Lt. Sulu just turned seventy--and if the captain beckoned now, who would go?
     I hope I'm wrong.  I'd like to think of man, not just remote-controlled landers, on Mars or amongst the moons of Jupiter or the rings of Saturn.  I'd like to think that but it's just very hard to imagine Americans making those journeys, given all the stuff we need to deal with at home.
     I hope I'm wrong.  What do you think?   

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