Last week was the twenty-fifth anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger disaster:
I well remember where I was when it happened: I was in the United Kingdom, in the second year of reading for my doctorate at Oxford. To this day, whenever I see pictures or videos of the explosion, I get a knawing saw feeling in the pit of my stomach.
The loss of those brave people was and is a reminder that manned space exploration is a dangerous affair. As the article points out, the disaster brought home the risks of space flight, to such an extent that a certain timidity has marked the American manned space program since then.
For other reasons, President Obama cancelled the NASA program for a manned mission returning to the Moon and then for forther manned expeditions to Mars. But it is clear, to this author at least, that during this anniversary of the disaster, that we need to focus national and political attention on our space program and in particular our manned space program.
Since Apollo we have, as the article states, been "stuck in low earth orbit" when, essentially, there is no good reason to do so. What is curious, however, is that Russia has followed a similar course. Neither nation - while certainly capable of doing so - has launched any further manned expeditions to the Moon, and one must wonder, why?
With the entrance of China into the narrow list of nations conducting manned flights, we can expect that Europe, Japan, and India will not be far behind, and each of those has already sent sophisticated unmanned probes to the Moon and, in Europe's case, to Mars.
We would do well, in my opinion, to set a new national, Kennedy-like direction for NASA, doing, as the article suggests, the "hard things," to go to the Moon, even to establish a permanent presence there, and then on to Mars. During a time that the economy is suffering and genuine manufacturing jobs are fleeing overseas, we would do well to remember the tremendous technological growth, dividends, and benefits that the Apollo program paid to this country. By reinvigorating our space program as a long-term investment in our technological future, we can reinvogorate our economy.
We need a new vision for NASA, Mr. President, and you can provide it.