In 1962, John H. Glenn, Jr. became the first American to orbit the Earth in the spaceship Friendship 7. | Photo: Archives
If space is the final frontier, the United States has a wagon wheel stuck in a quagmire.
Gone are the glory days when gape-mouthed families huddled around their black-and-white tube screens to marvel at Neil Armstrong's inaugural step on lunar soil. Giant though his leap may have been, Americans are now in danger of being lapped by China and Russia in space exploration. Even less-obvious countries like Brazil have thriving space programs as we've been slashing our own.
Why does exploration matter? In the short term, there are jobs in cosmic technology. It requires research, parts production, assembly, and a host of other skills that can put people to work.
Space competence is also a matter of national security; simply put, as weapons get more and more advanced, we need to be able to protect ourselves. If we allow our celestial infrastructure to decay, we leave ourselves vulnerable to those with accelerating technologies.
Beyond that, space exploration fulfills our basic human needs to satisfy curiosity and expand our collective domain. It's fulfilling to learn what lies outside our own sphere, and new discoveries bring meaning to a culture otherwise consumed with, well, mostly consumerism. With no space programs, Americans are robbed of the innovative pride our society so cherishes.
Interstellar exploration may also be necessary for our very survival. From the outside looking down on earth, we have a better view of the full picture and can study environmental hazards that cause storms, droughts and famine. This allows us to prevent disaster, or at least plan for it.
Continuing on those lines, there may come a time when we need to leave earth due to overpopulation, environmental damage, or other factors. Exploration empowers us to sprout inte
|It is not in America's best interest to be left behind in the space dust.|
r-cosmic branches from our earthly roots and blossom as a species through space colonization.
At the 50th anniversary of Friendship 7, the first U.S. passenger spacecraft to orbit the earth, astronaut John Glenn had discouraging words about the state of NASA. "It's unseemly to me that here we are, supposedly the world's greatest space-faring nation, and we don't even have a way to get back and forth to our own International Space Station," he bemoaned, noting that American astronauts need to "hitch a ride" with Russians to get to the space station.
While international exploration can benefit us all, it is not in America's best interest to be left behind in the space dust. In order to remain the world's greatest nation, we'll have to stay competitive and capable of defense.
Yes the economy is hurting, and there doesn't seem to be enough money for elementary-level education, let alone grand space schemes. But this doesn't mean that our cultural vision should be cut just as quickly as our salaries. As NASA Chief Historian Steven J. Dick puts it, "it is always tempting to sacrifice long-term goals for short term needs." But don't we always end up regretting it later?