US Lost “Space Race” Long Ago

Last week’s launch of the Atlantis Space Shuttle — the very last Space Shuttle mission — was described widely as the end of America’s leadership in manned space exploration. In fact, we lost the “space race” long ago — when as a nation we decided it was far more important to pay for cradle-to-grave social programs of all sorts, and to engage in multiple and costly military adventures around the world, than it was to focus seriously on manned space exploration.

The Shuttle Program itself, as the most visible aspect of America’s space program, was conceived in the 1970s based on that era’s technology, but which for years through its high visibilty and PR, masked the decline in America’s commitment to space exploration and the many medical, scientific, and technological benefits it produced. The tragic loss in 2003 of the Columbia Shuttle was a direct result of decisions to cobble together Shuttle missions based on outdated technology, rather than spend money to develop spacecraft and rocket delivery vehicles with contemporary technology.

Neither Republican nor Democratic presidents since the end of the Apollo lunar exploration program in 1975 were willing to take the political heat they would have incurred had they proposed to cut back a single federal benefit program, in order to continue development of newer and more technologically advanced manned spacecraft and missions. At the same time, not one of those many presidents had the courage to admit their decisions were slowly killing NASA in this regard; so they proposed — and Congress routinely concurred — to spend just enough to continue duct-tape fixes to the woefully aged Shuttle program, as evidence they really were committed to manned space exploration.

The demise of America’s manned space program, and the fact that European and Russian programs will now eclipse ours, is a sad tribute to the myopic national vision that has captured national policy in recent decades. Rather than focus — as Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy did in launching America’s manned space program in the late 1950s and early 1960s — on taking risks and pushing the envelope of entrepreneurship and American know-how, the United States in this 21st Century has become risk-averse; and turned its national gaze from the sky and the far reaches of human advancement, to government coddling and control of virtually every aspect of citizens’ lives here on earth. In spending every last dollar Washington can squeeze from the taxpayers or which the Treasury Department can print as IOUs to future generations, in order to fund these myriad federal social programs, it’s no wonder there’s almost nothing left over for space exploration.

By Bob Barr — The Barr Code

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[...] US Lost “Space Race” Long AgoAtlanta Journal Constitution (blog)Last week's launch of the Atlantis Space Shuttle — the very last Space Shuttle mission — was described widely as the end of America's leadership in manned space exploration. In fact, we lost the “space race” long ago — when as a nation we decided it …and more » [...]

Joel Edge

July 13th, 2011
6:13 am

Your article fits my mood today, Mr Barr. It’s sad that we have abandoned the dream.

Karl Marx

July 13th, 2011
6:14 am

Bob you were there in Washington, you voted to continue taking money from working people to “fund” your so called hated “social programs”. What did you do with our money? That’s right you spent it on everything else but what you told us it would be used for. You did the same thing with the Space program. Hypocrisy , hypocrisy …..

barry

July 13th, 2011
6:55 am

NASA still spends more money than most other nations combined. We just use it less efficiently. But I agree with you that we should be doing more, but nobody else is ahead of us. The whole world has lost the space race.

Bill Haines

July 13th, 2011
7:12 am

Are you so clueless, that you don’t know the same Presidents who favored a bold space program also favored massive federal spending to create vast new public infrastructure and fund the very social programs you hate, and that taxes were much higher in those days than they are now? NASA’s problems are an entirely separate issue from our inadequate government services or bloated adventurist military; spending on the latter didn’t cause the former. To return to the glory days of the early space program, raising taxes to the levels they were back then would be an obvious place to start.

null

July 13th, 2011
8:23 am

It’s okay, we’ll all be speaking Chinese within a few years anyway.

Carlosgvv

July 13th, 2011
8:44 am

Japan and the European countries whose space programs will “now eclipse ours” have far more cradle-to-grave social programs than us. So, Bob, it’s back to the drawing board to find the real reasons why our space program is slowly dying. I will agree a large part of it is our overseas military adventures.

RambleOn84

July 13th, 2011
8:50 am

Bill,
No thanks. Taxes are high enough already. The price of everything is rising exponentially; do you really think raising taxes when everyone is struggling to make ends meet is a good idea?

Mr. Barr is right; we definitely need to end the foreign entanglements. As for the social programs, they need to be scaled back incrementally so as not to leave those who currently depend upon them “high and dry.”

Mike

July 13th, 2011
8:53 am

In the Kennedy years we had the goal of beating the Russians. Period. If it had been a row boat full of girl scouts, the emphasis would have been on beating the Russians. America saw no financial profit in space, otherwise corporate money would have taken over. Right now, there appears to be little money to be made in space – at least not to support the R&D.

America must fix our problems at home. Return to greatness. We cannot afford to police the world, lead the world and prop up all of these countries while they spit on us as we leave the check. We can no longer allow Europe and other nations like Japan to do everything for themselves and let us use our money to discharge their global responsibilities. We cannot permit ourselves to buy a $100 barrel of oil and return a $7 bushel of corn as we do now. Too much trade embalance. Too many give-away progams. I’m all for the space program and always be. But right now, we need to make this country strong and let the rest of the world step up to the plate and contrbute their share.

Jaydubya

July 13th, 2011
9:00 am

Boo! The US lost too much time holding on to the defunct Shuttle program for so long! The Shuttle capabilities are stuck in the 20th century when we need 21st century space craft! I do agree it’s sad when we could double NASA’s budget by shrinking the DoD by less than 2.6%.

Karl Marx

July 13th, 2011
9:09 am

Mike you said “America saw no financial profit in space, otherwise corporate money would have taken over. Right now, there appears to be little money to be made in space”.

If we had relied on “corporate money” for the space program we would have never built the first satellite. As far as “No money to be made “in” space maybe but there has been plenty of money made “From” it. Computers, advanced Materials, solar and fuel cell energy technology, Waste recycling technology even that much maligned fastener of everything Velcro are space program spinoffs. Corporations benefited but would have never invested in coming up with those products on their own. The space program caused the invention of products we sold worldwide. It was an investment in “our” future. Our politicians are squandering that future.

bob

July 13th, 2011
9:14 am

I think the problem is even worse than you describe it to be Bob Barr. America, as a whole, has a totally different mindset than back then. Even my mother is spouting off about “such an’ such is too dangerous for her grandkids” that I used to do under her watch as a child like climb trees, ride dirt bikes, bicycle all over the subdivision, and several others and skateboard down hills, free of fear. Free to take risks and learn from mistakes. Free to learn who is a real threat and who is just weird. We aren’t even allowed to take risk and make mistakes and learn from them. If you don’t do things perfectly now a black mark is cast on you nearly forever. Remember some of the stupid things we did as kids? Now that will be held against us FOREVER. In today’s left-wing/right-wing political fight to control us, restrict us, and impose a Big Brother type regime we now must ask permission for every significant action from a myriad of agencies and above-the-law corporations, each acting like a despot in their tiny vertical domain.

I heard one time Dick Rutan say about space travel and exploration “if people are not dying we are not pressing hard enough!”. Many Americans now have no concept of what he is talking about! Do you know how the Saber Jet pilots shot down MiGs in a 10 to 1 ratio in the Korea conflict? By flight training that was so demanding that many trainees didn’t survive it. Many Americans refuse to understand such risk taking. We have not only become risk-averse we have become delusional about the need to sacrifice for your country and even death itself. We declare wars and the American people expect a bloodless fight with no sacrifice from themselves. We expect our country to be protected from terrorism and then come up with unconstitutional and oppressive “security theater” as a response. We free thinkers are being forced, not asked, to give up our hard fought constitutional rights for temporary safety instead of acknowledging the risk and keeping our essential rights that define us as a nation.

I worry about today’s young people that know nothing of this and have lived in their artificial Nintendo/PSP nerf-padded world. They will be ill-prepped for the real world where is it a miracle we even live at all, where death will not be denied, where preparation and sacrifice will be necessary, and where chance favors the bold.

Dr. Pangloss

July 13th, 2011
9:15 am

RambleOn84
July 13th, 2011
8:50 am

Bill,
No thanks. Taxes are high enough already. The price of everything is rising exponentially; do you really think raising taxes when everyone is struggling to make ends meet is a good idea?
—————–
Well, no, prices are not rising exponentially. That would mean they were doubling, quadrupling, octupling … whatever multiplying by sixteen is. Words have meanings, you know.

MrLiberty

July 13th, 2011
9:16 am

Bob – I thought you abandoned the socialist camp for the Libertarian one. You condemn the US for wasteful welfare and warfare spending but embrace the waste of taxpayer dollars on overpriced government programs that benefit the private communications industry, the totalitarian police state (spy satellites), the military industrial complex and others.

Why is space exploration worthy of any different treatment than is welfare or empire building??

What would be wrong with those who feel there is potential financial gain putting up the money for space exploration? Why should companies that profit heavily from the exploitation of space resources not pay for their own R&D, etc.? Any suggestion that “space” is too big for private enterprise should have a chat with Richard Branson and others. Government is just people too, as is business. It is not a magical fairy camp where extraordinary things happen. Quite the opposite as history has shown.

Being a PRINCIPLED libertarian means putting your emotional reactions aside and looking at things with one principle in mind – what mechanism of force is going to have to be employed in this relationship? Clearly in the case of space exploration or whatever, money will need to be STOLEN forcibly from the productive sector of society. I haven’t heard the suggestion of private bonds, private investment, voluntary contributions, so I will assume force.

How is that any more noble, more appropriate, or more AMERICAN than forcing people to pay to provide shelter, food, clothing, etc. to those in need? And by the way, I only support a system of voluntary charities to provide those things too – as I am a PRINCIPLED LIBERTARIAN.

Own up BOB. Why the love of the space program? Big government is big government. Nothing deserves a pass just because you fell in love with Buck Rogers or some similar fantasy.

Stick to some principles. Government is evil and government is wasteful. Anything and everything the government does can be done and should be done by the private, voluntary sector of society.

Space exploration is NO exception.

MrLiberty

July 13th, 2011
9:16 am

We LOST the space race the minute we allowed the government to run the show !

Dr. Pangloss

July 13th, 2011
9:18 am

Come to think of it, prices are mostly not rising. We’ve had negative inflation for the last couple of years.

MP

July 13th, 2011
9:22 am

We’re just LOST IN SPACE!!!!

John

July 13th, 2011
9:30 am

the guy on the couch

July 13th, 2011
9:40 am

Manned space exploration will go on in the private sector and the rate at which discovery and progress occurs will go up dramatically, provided that the government butts out and doesn’t legislate/regulate it into obscurity.

Monroe Burbank

July 13th, 2011
9:49 am

Yeah, feeding poor hungry people and taking care of our elderly citizens has really been a BAD investment. Russia has no social programs to speak of and look what they’ve been able to do with their space program.

How come with conservatives (yes, Barr is a conservative) it’s always about blame?

TrollBait

July 13th, 2011
9:55 am

Seriously? Our social programs are to blame? Not the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq? Why don’t we bring our troops home and cut our military spending. We spend as much on our military ($687 billion) as the next 21 nations combined…
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_military_expenditures

Producer

July 13th, 2011
9:58 am

100% correct, Bob! We gave it up to pay for more welfare programs for the blessed and saintly “poor.” God, it literally makes me sick! If you can’t afford to feed your own damn offspring, don’t have them. Quit buying luxuries and fund your own retirement. Put money away and buy your own health insurance. It is not my or your neighbor’s job to buy you one freaking thing! Our country is sliding into second class status and it is all because of the non-producers sponging off of those who really do work!

ND

July 13th, 2011
10:01 am

Considering that the likelihood of any meaningful mechanism to colonize space with human beings is exceedingly unlikely and cost-prohibitive, I am surprised more people on both sides of the aisle are so bummed about the so-called “demise” of the space program. So what if people don’t go into space? How does humanity lose out by not sending people into an empty, barren place that provides little to no use to mankind?

The space program is a luxury, not a necessity, and the practically useful outcomes of it (such as the cochlear implant) can be discovered via other means. If you really want to explore something, start funding deep-sea exploration. Unlike space, there is actually a reasonable likelihood that people could live underwater and exploit resources underwater cost-effectively in the future.

Barack

July 13th, 2011
10:01 am

The Obama space program initiative has been developed to put a man on the moon. This will be achieved by building a ladder from the White House lawn up to the doorstep of our lunar sister. This program will create jobs, will lower unemployment to 9.1% and all the while will be improving the nation’s infrastructure to the moon.

duder

July 13th, 2011
10:15 am

What we need is a good ole fashioned plague to wipe out the poor and elderly to free up funding for space, man.

Producer

July 13th, 2011
10:26 am

It’s also called vote-buying, Bob. Two generations of vote-buying by self serving politicians who will do any damn thing they can to be sent back to the statehouse or DC. Vote for me and I’ll give you 99 weeks of unemployment benefits. Vote for me and I’ll pay for the vast majority of your medical care when you reach 65. Vote for me and I’ll allow you to sit on your ever widening asses while we politicians suck the very marrow out of the bones of your neighbors to pay for it.

The Austrian Brotherhood

July 13th, 2011
10:30 am

Thank you once again for your astute commentary Mr. Liberty. Principle is paramount.

The practical insights of these AJC blogs come from the commentary of the Progressive know-it-all do-dooder scum. Have you ever seen such a bunch of good for nothing dimwits? Yeah, Woodrow Wilson the Psychopath HAHAHAHAHAHAAHA!!!!

And we should not forget Bastiat’s recognition (and Hazlitt’s recounting) of “That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen”

That is, economic truths should be arrived at by observing not only the immediate consequences – that is, benefits or liabilities – of an economic decision, but also by examining the long-term consequences. Additionally, one must examine the decision’s effect not only on a single group of people (say candlemakers) or a single industry (say candles), but on all people and all industries in the society as a whole.

Obama 2012: Bad for Space, Bad for America

July 13th, 2011
10:48 am

The only “space” King Obama and his supporters are interested in exploring at any given moment is the parking SPACE into which they are (poorly) backing their ultra-tacky, “tricked-out’ automobiles.

Well, the other other space King Obama apparently likes to explore is the one inside Larry Sinclair. (Google it.)

Obama 2012

July 13th, 2011
10:51 am

My fellow Americans, with or without the PhotoShop’d documents to prove it, ax not what you can do for your country.

Ax what your country and government can do for you.

[...] See original here: US Lost “Space Race” Long Ago – Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

Swede Atlanta

July 13th, 2011
12:05 pm

Mr. Barr,

I would much prefer that we care for our own than spend money we don’t have chasing the stars. I am not anti-science and appreciate the value the space program has brought over time.

You mention that the Europeans will soon eclipse us. Somehow they seem to be able to care for their own AND invest in space technology. What a novel idea. How did they do it? Well for one they let the U.S. cowboys pay for all their defense needs. They keep a few guns, airplanes and boats around just for show-and-tell.

Secondly, they collect enough in taxes to ensure that their citizens live longer, have universal health care with better results, have 5-6 weeks of vacation and overall are mre satisfied with their lives than Americans that work themselves to death.

And they still have money to fund a space program. Imagine that!!!

mountain man

July 13th, 2011
12:53 pm

I think it is because no one wants to tax themselves to pay for it.

Darwin

July 13th, 2011
12:59 pm

Manned space flights are nothing more than pork. This is what’s wrong with America. Your program is my pork and visa versa. There is nothing that cannot be gained by unmanned space flights. NASA space program was the brain child of a country involved in a cold war with an adversary. Technology advances are accomplished by the Defense Department, not NASA. Please Bob – get a grip on reality.

An Engineer

July 13th, 2011
1:12 pm

The commentary by Bob Barr shows his revisionist view of history and lack of understanding of basic engineering, technology and science. His view is that when contemporary technology comes available every 2 to 3 years, it should have been plugged it into the Space Shuttle. Well, it would have taken millions to regression test and certified the technology to fly, than to keep with the rock solid reliable technology they validated early on in the program. You would not get me on the shuttle back in the day with DOS running on a 8088 Intel processor, verses the hardened S/360 parallel operating systems they had running all flight systems. Also the Chinese, European, and Russians copied (and stole from) our space R&D efforts and they did not have to invest billions of R&D dollars into their space program, but they just build it, and they still supported their socialist programs you harp on. Bob your article really shows your ignorance.

J. McKenzie

July 13th, 2011
2:18 pm

Spot on Column, Mr. Barr. NASA is dead. Long gone are those “space age” days of the late ’50s and early ’60s—full of optimism about the future. I was a very young boy then, but I remember. The shuttle, never leaving low Earth orbit, had virtually nothing to do with space travel or exploration. (Putting the Hubble into orbit and maintaining it was about as close as that got, but don’t get me wrong, the Hubble has given us a lot.) The shuttle turned out to be an extremely expensive dinosaur, and it’s time this clunker gets mothballed. I frankly don’t believe the NASA (or this nation in general) of recent years is even capable of putting men back on the Moon. A manned Mars mission is a pipe dream. There is going to have to be significant development in new propulsion systems to realistically send men to Mars and back, and that just ain’t going to happen anytime soon, with the state of this declining America, and with the attitudes and politics of today.

Ivan Cohen

July 13th, 2011
2:24 pm

America got to the moon ahead of everybody else, big whoopee. There is a lunar vehicle still on its surface with no one to drive it. It might not be gathering dust and cobwebs or rusting out but it serves as a reminder of space waste. Man has really messed up this planet (i.e. pollution) so space exploration was going to afford him an opportunity to see if other planets or the moon was inhabitable. Maybe he would get it right the second time around and not mess up the place where he lives. Oh yeah, where is the intelligent life which is somewhere out in the galaxy? Markets on earth are saturated, need other beings to sell KFC and Big Macs to.

Dave Bowman

July 13th, 2011
2:55 pm

Blame it on HAL.

Eric

July 13th, 2011
3:58 pm

There’s a few things I’m in agreement with you, Bob, but not this one. I think we’ve spent way too much money on NASA. I don’t see all the benefits as you your indicate. I see no reason to continue, and I don’t mind spending on social programs that are much more needed. I thought you were okay with isolationism anyway?

Eric

July 13th, 2011
4:01 pm

Who cares if another country is ahead of us in space exploration? Like we always assume the U.S. has to be first in everything. That mentality is about to ruin us financially!

Len

July 13th, 2011
4:02 pm

Cheap shot, Rep. Barr. You could have just as easily said we could have funded NASA’s dreams by not having entered the Iraqi War. Imagine what they could have done with all that money, and how many lives they could have saved! The U.S. be paying a small fortune to these new disabled vets, and for their care, and all of them could have been spared, had President Bush and VP Cheney had not pursued that war.

MrLiberty

July 13th, 2011
4:24 pm

For all the money we wasted, plenty of private industries made HUGE profits and all the rest of us got were foam beds and TANG. To honestly believe that NONE of the things that “came out” of the space race like computers, transistors, cell phones, etc. would have happened is to be SO completely ignorant of reality it is pathetic. As The Austrian Brotherhood pointed out above with his Bastiat quote is that we see the things that came into reality during the period, but what things might have been possible if all of the engineering, physics, astronomy, chemistry, etc. tallent hadn’t been siphoned off to the grossly unproductive government contract sector? None of these folks had REAL budgets to stick to, market needs to meet, customers to please, competitors to beat out, etc. One can only imagine how advanced our space travel technology would be today, or possibly how much more sound our economy would be, had we not underutilized all of the tallent or incurred all of the debt that our “conquest” of space required. That’s money and innovation we will NEVER get back.

MrLiberty

July 13th, 2011
4:28 pm

Len – What’s the point. Both republicans and democrats have wasted trillions on welfare and warfare programs over the past 5 decades. None of it should have been spent on space exploration either. It should have remained with the american people to be spent, invested, given to charity, used to feed their families, etc. as THEY saw fit, not the politicians trying to buy votes from the recipients of the largesse.

KB

July 13th, 2011
4:29 pm

You know, I like you (Bob Barr) much more as a columnist than I ever did as a politician. Keep writing interesting opinions!

MrLiberty

July 13th, 2011
4:34 pm

Swede Atlanta – And every european country is swimming in as much if not more debt than the US relative to their economies. I certainly agree with your comments about us picking up their security bills (Ron Paul has been calling for the withdrawl of ALL troops form Europe for quite some time now) but they have also been putting it all on credit.

It is amazing how many people you can please when you put everything on your credit card, get others to finance your debt, print as much money as will keep your ruling class in power, etc.

Don’t go there with the health care, etc. It is a hollow argument that gets more and more hollow with every soverign debt crisis the europeans face. Government’s everywhere are failures.

poison pen

July 13th, 2011
4:35 pm

That’s silly
isn’t it?

poison pen

July 13th, 2011
4:36 pm

poison pen

July 13th, 2011
4:40 pm

Producer

July 13th, 2011
5:21 pm

Swede, so it’s ok for you Europeans to attach yourselves as parasites to your benefactor US hosts? I’m curious as to what sucking the lifeblood out of a host feels like? I wonder if your European brothers would care to enlighten us? And please tell us how your 70% tax rates make everyone feel like a million bucks. While you’re at it you might ask the rest of Europe to give us a hearty “thank you” for defending your ungrateful selves for the past half century.

nelson how

July 13th, 2011
5:22 pm

The space program was far to expensive. I am really surprised that you would be in favor of this “black hole” for money. That “swooshing sound” is the economy being sucked dry by our space program. Now that we as a nation are on the verge of bankruptcy, wheres the money. no wonder you are not in congress.

Atlanta1

July 13th, 2011
5:29 pm

Every program that the government is going to spend money on should start with the following question:

Can we afford it?

If we took the same approach with other programs that we have with the space program, we would be in MUCH BETTER shape as a country.