Homer Hickam on Where We Go in Space Exploration

From one of my favorite authors and former NASA engineer:

What’s painful is my conclusion that as a people, as a government, and as a country, we don’t seem to care if we can put astronauts into space or not.

How did we get to this sorry state? Where are those days when every American boy and girl dreamed of flying to the moon, Mars, the very stars; when an entire country was energized to set sail on a new ocean? President John F. Kennedy said it best in September 1962: “No nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in this race for space. . . . We mean to be a part of it—we mean to lead it!”

And we did. We put our sweat, intellect, money and the very souls of our astronauts into that marvelous enterprise—and succeeded. Who would have imagined that one July morning in 2011, when the Space Shuttle Atlantis touched down at the Kennedy Space Center, that America’s manned space program would come to an end?


To answer his question about how we got to this “sorry state,” I believe it is due to terrible lack of emphasis on and quality in teaching science to young people.

While I love CBS’s Big Bang Theory, I suspect many — because they’ve never been exposed to anyone who is a real scientist — think all scientists fit into that funny caricature. I do speeches on scientific innovation and tapping it for economic gain, but few are interested — in spite of the large profit potential!

I do agree with Mr. Hickam that many of the tools are in place for a turn around:

…educate the people to understand why spaceflight is important to our economic, social, moral and technical success as a nation. Sending your kids and teachers to Space Camp or the 48 Challenger Learning Centers across the country is a good start. There they can learn about the mathematical and engineering wonders behind Mission Control or join the crew of a simulated orbiting space station.

Fortunately, we’re in fair shape for a space rebound. There’s a miracle of the “God looks after fools, drunks and the United States of America” category called SpaceX, the amazing little California company that can. With a little steady seed money, SpaceX could put the Russians’ antique Soyuz spacecraft out of business and have our astronauts in space very quickly. Independent accountants say SpaceX could beat the Chinese and everybody else on the price per pound to orbit. Talk about jobs! Wouldn’t it be nice to be first again in a multibillion-dollar industry?

Sounds right to me. Lets make it happen!

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