Tuesday, April 26, 2011

NASA’s Human Spaceflight Dying & Only Mars Can Save It

The greatest adventure in human history is ending in its infancy. NASA’s human spaceflight program, a signature achievement of American civilization, is dying. NASA succeeded, landing Neil Armstrong and Edwin (Buzz) Aldrin on the lunar surface only 98 months after Kennedy inspired the nation with his vision.

The program was conceived during the bleak days following Russia’s launch of Sputnik in 1957, and then was energized by President John F. Kennedy’s proposal in 1961 to put astronauts on the Moon by decade’s end.

If you grew up during that decade (as I did) and heard the bold rhetoric about new frontiers and carrying freedom’s message into the cosmos, you couldn’t help but be moved. America had a sense of mission back then that is largely missing from political discourse today, and the human spaceflight program epitomized the hopes of a new generation for the future.

It is unsettling to see how our confidence has shriveled during the intervening years, both at NASA and in the broader political culture. At NASA, the Space Shuttle program is about to shut down and the Constellation program conceived to replace it with manned missions to the Moon and Mars has been canceled by the Obama Administration.

What remains of the human spaceflight program looks unlikely to survive an era of budget cutting and cultural pessimism.

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