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loss in 2003 of the Columbia Shuttle was a direct result of decisions to cobble together Shuttle missions based on outdated technology, rather than spend money to develop spacecraft and rocket delivery vehicles with contemporary technology.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

63 comments Add your comment

Curtis Rivers

July 13th, 2011
7:43 pm

Thank you, Bob. I am deeply disappointed at the myopic attitude of those in politics today when compared to the leaders of just forty-fifty years ago. If humanity is to have a future, space must be a part of that: a major part. To abdicate our role of leadership in the field is a mark of a dying nation, noot the mark of a wise nation, as our leaders would have us believe. Exploration and risk-taking for the sake of the advancement of the human race is the mark of those who understand human greatness. Caution is often the mark of those too timid to grasp those things which lead our race to new heights of civilization.

Funky Fred

July 13th, 2011
9:24 pm

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Darin Selby

July 14th, 2011
3:46 am

I think that it is a good thing to flush NASA’s rocketry program, environmentally-speaking. We could FLOAT to space instead. http://darinselby.1hwy.com/floattospace.html

Tranny Crapzilla

July 14th, 2011
9:09 am

Let’s send brain dead left wingers to the moon.

LeeH1

July 14th, 2011
9:12 am

Basic research always pays off- but mostly in unexpected ways. We forget what a boost to research in all fields the 1960s race to the moon required.

One example was that small batteries had to be made smaller, lighter, and last longer. Just as a side requirement to space flight, work on basic battery design and engineering developed the early lithium batteries. Later, in the 1980, these were used in pace makers. My Dad had one of these inserted in his body, and lived a full five years longer than he would have had we not had this boost to basic research.

Only fools cut investments and research. With the Republicans killing our economy over debt limits and cutting basic research and development in oder to get a quick political return, we are entering the Age of Fools.

Dr. Pangloss

July 14th, 2011
10:32 am

MrLiberty
July 13th, 2011
9:16 am

We LOST the space race the minute we allowed the government to run the show !
—————
And keep the government’s hands off my Medicare!

Eric

July 14th, 2011
12:44 pm

Curtis Rivers, I don’t agree that further space exploration necessarily equates to advancing human civilization. I would much prefer to see us take better care of earth, which sustains our lives. We need population control. We need to curb our materialism. Both are damaging the planet, and so unless we get that in the right balance, going into outer space seems pointless.

bhorsoft

July 14th, 2011
3:10 pm

We need to go to other planets so we can start screwing them up before we complete the process of making our planet completely unfit for human habitation.

Cristobal Housh

July 17th, 2011
3:45 am

I like posting comments!!!

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Chris

July 17th, 2011
7:41 pm

Wow, so many weird things said I am unsure where to start.
Randomly:
1- There is no “cradle-to-grave social programs” in the US. The US welfare system might be a notch above say that of Sudan, but that doesn’t say much at all, especially for the wealthiest nation on earth. What is civilisation about?
How does a country’s gini coefficient (look it up) relate to the quality of life and safety within its borders?
Think about these before you hide behind dogmas.
2- In the last 10 years, the enormous majority of tax money waste has been going to the military and security providers, and to bankers, which are maily privately-run super-efficient the-market-knows-better corporations. Did I miss something Mr private-sector-everywhere? This money did not go to the poor. The poor did however get poorly federally-maintained dikes.
3- As previously said, space program advances were paid for by high taxes.
4- As previously said, the US wanting to always be first and in total control ruins the country. I add that it riles the rest of the world too, to an extremist extend in some cases. As long as the military industry is in power this will not change though: they need an enemy. Security and Homeland are the best excuses to tax and spend and tramp on freedoms (how the TSA gets away with their abuses is beyond me). Ask Nazi Germany. Goebells is still the inspiration for all the scare propaganda being deployed. Learn about this man if you don’t know your history, which with respect, I suspect.
5- Europe isn’t first in space now, as the article suggests, or at least it doesn’t care if it is or not. It just does its best, like the russians, the chinese, etc. Is Boeing first? Or Airbus? Who cares? Is Ford first? The US really has to shed this childish mentality.
6- The US is not the world police. More like the world bully really. Do the Japanese or the Germans want them there? No. Do the Uzbeks want them there? We don’t know as Uzbekistan is a dictatorship supported by the US to keep a large activist base in central Asia, as part of a global network which includes other friendly countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Pakistan, Turkey, territories like Guam, etc. This network is used to advance the country’s political goals. Not to advance fluffy candy-eyed concepts like democracy or human rights. Ask people from tiny Grenada. Look up what 9/11 1973. Look up Contras. In other words learn your history. The Vietnamese weren’t napalmed for years to free them, just to advance the US foreign policy against Russia. Sheesh!

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