I grew up in an age when the USA dominated space. The Apollo missions had put the first men on the moon and American kids everywhere were tasting victory with each sip of Tang.
Read the story of Laika in the eponymous graphic Novel.
It didn’t matter that the Soviets had launched the first artificial satellite (Sputnik), the first animal to orbit the Earth (Laika), or the first man in space (Yuri Gagarin). I mean, really – out of the gate, the Russians (we never troubled ourselves to distinguish Russia from the Soviet Union in any way) were kicking our butts. Then the US turned the tide, and following a solid series of incremental achievements, sent not one, but six successful missions to the moon.
And, just to make sure the world knew it, we declared that landing on the moon was the endgame and we made it. We win. Game over. No other country has accomplished the same — yet.
For years NASA maintained a presence in space with the shuttle program, although it was less than evident what larger purpose these missions served before the international space station (ISS) came online. It’s easy to have objections to the way the shuttle program was run. The objectives never matched the clear progression that the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo missions illustrated.
- To successfully orbit a manned spacecraft around Earth.
- To investigate humankinds’ ability to function in space.
- To recover both occupant and spacecraft.
- Subject astronauts to long duration flights.
- Perfect methods of reentry and landing the spacecraft.
- Gain information concerning the effects of weightlessness on astronauts during long flights.
- Demonstrate crew, space vehicle, and the mission support facilities during a manned lunar mission.
- Evaluation of the LM performance in lunar orbit and the lunar environment.
- Land a man on the moon and return him safely to the Earth
- Gather lunar rocks and soil samples
- A reusable spacecraft
- Establish, man and supply a long-term space station
Then, in 2011, the last shuttle flight landed and The US is reduced to hitching rides to the ISS. As someone whose patriotic spirit is ignited by our collective will and ability to conquer big problems, I feel a real degree of shame that the US has relinquished its ability to make great strides into space.
“What nationality was Christopher Columbus?”
“Might as well be. They were the one’s who made it happen.”
Like the Italians (or the Portuguese or the English), the US appears to be abdicating it’s power and allowing other nations to go forth as leaders.
Fortunately, this isn’t the end. If funding continues, the US is on track to construct its next space deliver vehicle, the Space Launch System, for its first launch in 2017. Perhaps you could call my position one of cautious optimism.
The stated mission of the SLC with its Orion modules would be to:
- capture an asteroid and bring it into high lunar orbit
- Perform a manned flyby of Venus and Mars before returning to Earth in the early 2020s.
- Establish a permanent or semi-permanent presence on the moon.
I, for one, am keeping my fingers crossed that once clear, incremental objectives are established, we will re-commit to the exploration of spec in my lifetime.
March 21, 2014 at 7:03 am
Sitting in Africa, I’ve always admired the collective will of the American people to achieve amazing things. I remember my Dad’s excitement when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. I was excited when I saw the first shuttle launch on TV. And I was dismayed when the shuttle program came to an end! As someone with Portuguese heritage, I resonate with your expression about the abdication of power and found it surprising that the only way to get to the ISS was thru private or Russian means. I didn’t know about the SLS and am extremely pleased to know about it. I enjoyed this post!
April 23, 2014 at 6:25 pm
If the US Government would put money into near and deep Space Exploration, the return on its investment would be far greater than the money it allocated to it.
The US Government could invest in mining asteroids, retrieving the Helium-3 on the moon. There are many projects that would bring jobs and income…
April 23, 2014 at 6:51 pm
I agree – but I think the plans are there. Only the funding is questionable. See http://www.space.com/25235-nasa-asteroid-capture-mission-mars.html