Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Deuce and NASA

Once again, I can not bring myself to comment on the current political scene in any significant way. The Sotomayor hearing is so maddening I find myself with an overwhelming desire to clean my Glock and buy mass quantities of ammo in preparation for the coming dystopian extravaganza that is Obama's America. Why can't just one member of the judiciary committee say to this "wise Latina"..."Who the hell do you think you're bullshitting? You said the 'wise Latina' thing six times over the last ten years, but now you claim it was just a "rhetorical flourish that fell flat." Did it fall flat the first time? The second time? Is it just that now that you're in front of this committee nominated for the Supreme Court that the statement has fallen flat? And if you're such a wise Latina why did you repeat said flat flourish six times? Arrrrrrrrgh!

To take my mind, and yours, off the insanity and cowardice of the wise Latina hearing, did you know there are gay penguins? Did you know that there are ex-gay penguins? Did you know there's a big dispute over the whole penguin sexuality question? Where do you suppose this dispute is happening? Did you say San Francisco? Cha-ching! For pathetically comedic relief I give you this.

But seriously just a few days the 40th anniversary of the first Moon landing will be here. July 20, 1969, Americans Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon, with Michael Collins orbiting above them. The mission was named Apollo 11, the landing craft was the Eagle and the landing zone was Tranquility Base, and I watched it live with Walter Cronkite providing the color commentary. 40 years ago! The last time men walked on the Moon was in 1973. What the hell have we been doing since then?

In 1957 the Russians put the first man-made object into orbit...Sputnik. Shortly after that, the Russians put the first man in space too. In 1957 America had squat for a space program, but in the depths of the Cold War we couldn't let the Russians have the high ground all to themselves, so in 1961 President John F. Kennedy proclaimed that America would land a man on the Moon and return him safely to Earth by the end of the decade. And we did.

America has owned space ever since. Countless unmanned craft have explored our solar system; Explorer, Mariner, Pioneer, Voyager, Voyager II, Galileo, Viking and Cassini. We put up the perhaps the greatest unmanned craft of all...Hubble. This space based telescope has given us all images of the universe of such profound majesty that it boggles the human mind. We did these things. Americans did these things. Who else?

On April 12, 1981, the first Space Shuttle launched to orbit. It was Columbia. We've been launching shuttles ever since as our only manned space flight, not counting riding the International Space Station. While the shuttle program made Hubble and the ISS possible ( along with an unknown number of classified satellites ), the shuttle program was unable to carry man farther than low Earth orbit. No more manned trips to the Moon or any of the other planets or moons.

Did we do the right thing? No American, or any other human, has been farther than 350 nautical miles from Earth since 1973. Unmanned space exploration is critical to science, and to feed humanities sense of wonder. Have you seen the pictures of Jupiter and Saturn and the other gas giants taken by our unmanned probes? Simply amazing. But manned exploration has lain dormant for decades as we went about putting satellites in orbit and building the ISS. Let's face cool as unmanned exploration is, nothing gets the attention of people like a manned flight, and NASA needs the fervent support of Americans, if not the whole world.

We should have been on Mars 20 years ago. If not us, who?

I, for one, would like to see our species live on. Sooner or later the human population on Earth will reach an unsustainable level. Even if we manage not to destroy ourselves with some nuclear holocaust or other as yet unforeseen extinction event, and God doesn't wipe us out with an asteroid strike, there will come a time when there is simply not enough room or resources to sustain us all. If we're to survive as a species, WE HAVE GOT TO GET OFF THIS ROCK! We have to establish colonies on other worlds, or on man-made environments in space.

Manned space flight is expensive and risky. America has spent hundreds of billions of dollars and lost 17 astronauts and three spacecraft since our manned flight program began, but Americans continue to support our space program and would-be astronauts continue to apply for work with NASA despite the risk to their lives. Daniel Boone, Lewis and Clark, and John Kennedy would be proud. I know I am.

NASA is currently planning on retiring the shuttle program next year after more than 100 flights. The next generation spacecraft is called the Orion, and the program is named Constellation. This is the program that is very loosely scheduled to put an American on Mars by the late 2020's or early 2030's. If 2030 is the year, I'll be 73 years old if I should be so lucky as to still be alive then.

Having been born in 1957, the year space exploration began, I would dearly love to watch the first man set foot on Mars before I die. And I would dearly love for that man to be an American. If not us, who?

For God's sake...please hurry. I'm running out of time. Maybe we all are.

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