When the Constellation program was launched, I’ll admit that I was completely behind George W. Bush’s plan to get us back onto the moon. I was excited exclusively because it sounded exciting and sort of idyllic, like a return to a more glorious age. Forget the deficit, let’s get back into outer space.
Now that program has been cancelled, the Ares rockets abandoned, and President Obama unveiled a vision that looks far beyond the moon. He said himself, conceding that it was a blunt statement, that we’ve already been there. And you know, I’m really not sure about the benefit of dedicating billions to revisiting the Sea of Tranquility.
Neil Armstrong (and two other Apollo shuttle commanders) wrote an open letter to the administration, condemning the new vision for NASA and challenging Obama’s judgment. I read it and immediately agreed with everything. But this owed more to the cult of celebrity and hero worship than anything else. It’s Neil F. Armstrong. He’s the most ultimate American. Untarnished and unassailable for his place in history as the first man to walk on the moon. So I read it with full-blown boyhood bias.
Then I read it again. And the second time the three Apollo commanders seemed nervous about venturing into new territory. Who saw that coming? Funny that spacemen can sound old-fashioned. They promote a hands-on active program of rocket-building wherein we’re always building a spacecraft, rather than an experimental period wherein we rely on Russia for earth-orbital transportation. Russia! I swear I could feel a little of the Sputnik-era paranoia leaking through the words. What’s the crisis if we can’t launch ourselves into low-orbit for a while? Really? Especially if the halt in construction means we make the next breakthrough in rocket technology. That’s what America does best anyway, the whole visionary dance.
You get a lot of this: “cannot be predicted with any certainty” or “new but undefined” as reasons to stay the course. But dang, Neil, this is rocket science. Shouldn’t the government lean less on history and more upon the chance (yes, chance) that we’ll be visiting Mars in 2020? Mars! Obama seems to believe in promoting a new era of experimentation, of trailblazing and inviting the commercial sector to become more actively involved in space flight. I’m into it. 100%.
I feel like every story I read about NASA should excite the little boy in me, the unrealistic dreamer. There should be some impossible mission that just might succeed, and oh my god what if it did? My parents’ generation got the moon landing. I want Mars.
And then I want the Panzer Kunst.