Monday, July 25, 2011

Space Program

William Manchester in his book The Glory and The Dream mentions that the U.S. did three things in the 1960's that would have bankrupted any other country or empire. 1) The Great Society with the programs of Medicare/Medicaid, food stamps, HUD, and federal funding of education. 2) The Vietnam War and 3) space race.
Since Bushco took over Johnson's Great Society is about finished. No Child Left Behind is putting the nail in the coffin of federal funding for education, Obama is bargaining away Medicare as I write this. With the space shuttle Atlantis now heading to the Smithsonian the space race is being taken over by private industry and NASA's future is uncertain. The Vietnam war is over, but we've doubled down by fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan now for ten years with no end is sight, when Vietnam only lasted eight.
The space shuttle program is now history. In looking at its post mortem and you consider the number being bandied about for its 30 year existence is 200 Billion dollars. Sounds like a lot of money, but when you compare it to the money and lives lost on these two wars with very little gain in security to the scientific and technological advances the space shuttle provided it was a bargain.
When the first space shuttle lifted off there was no:

  • Satellite TV

  • Home computers

  • Internet

  • Cell phones

  • Satellite phones

  • GPS

  • Satellite photos on the weather reports.

  • Deep space photos from Hubble telescope.

  • The current space station

The technological advances from the pure science will last for decades. In all it could be said that many fortune 500 businesses today didn't exist before the shuttle program.

I wonder what more we would have if all the money wasted by giving the wealthy tax cuts and writeoffs since Bushco took over and the money lost to bailing out the banksters. If we'd spent just 10% of all that money that has evaporated into the numbered banks accounts of 1% of the population how many more jobs would be available for college graduates, high school students might feel like their educations meant something and have goals other than working the night shift at Circle K's or being a stocker at Wal Mart. How many more fortune 500 companies would exist? To sum up, since we launched Telstar and John Glenn orbited the earth 3 times it has been money well spent.

If there is any one aspect of NASA that has failed it's been their PR. It took a forever for the first shuttle launch and they dropped the launch platform reverting to the verticle rockets. The only time the shuttles seemed to make the news was when they failed. The Challenger explosion and Columbia destruction gave the impression that NASA was cutting corners. All the public knew was the failures, very little was told about their accomplishments. In essenced they didn't toot their own horn enough, but again its hard to toot pure sciences horn. The technology that comes from pure science rarely gives credit.

If there ever was a time for Obama and Congress to invest in the future that would help the economy recover by announcing an ambitious space program it's now. Returning to the moon and establishing a permanent station there would be just the ticket, but private industry is wanting to do that. Private industry won't provide the benefits that NASA has in the past and would if given the chance.

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