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Posts Tagged ‘NASA’

Dear President Obama,

I hate to say it, but you’re no John Kennedy. I know you weren’t even born when JFK was elected, so I suppose you just don’t know what it was like then. Let me try to explain. I just read the news about your new mini-stimulus proposal – the one about building roads and railroads and runways. I understand you are talking about injecting $50 billion into the budget for this. Ummm… let’s see… there are about 300 million people who live in the U.S. so…  50 billion divided by 300 million comes out to be about $166.67 per person worth of stimulus. Pardon me for not leaping out of my chair.  Just what do you think $166.67 is going to do for me over the next ten years? Besides, since I am not a bulldozer operator or a truck driver, I actually expect my share of this new stimulus to be about the same as my share of your last stimulus – that is to say $0.00.

I think what we have here is a failure of imagination and perhaps a failure of boldness. Perhaps a certain lack of courage even. I get the sense that you are trying to fine tune the answer and strike a deal with the Republicans and the TP people. Take my advice: forget it. They won’t ever make a deal with you, they just want you gone so they can continue sending money to their big bank friends. Barack, listen to me. You give great speeches, but I think there is a certain lack of follow through – a desire to avoid a fight. You seem an awful lot like a lawyer or a Senator who is always looking to compromise. We didn’t elect you to compromise.  We elected you to lead.  If George (What me worry?) Bush could lead the country, you should be able to do it too.

Let me tell you about John Kennedy. At a time when we were fierce adversaries with the USSR, Kennedy went eyeball to eyeball with Nikita Khrushchev over the nuclear missiles in Cuba. We were on the brink of global thermonuclear war, but Kennedy didn’t back down, Khrushchev did. That’s leadership. But there was more than just that. Kennedy had vision and he followed through on it. He created the Peace Corps, which celebrates its 50th anniversary next year. He gave a sense of purpose to NASA: he set a goal of sending a man to the Moon and returning him safely to Earth by the end of the decade (the 1960’s). NASA went into full gear research mode, created thousands and thousands of high tech jobs, and spun off countless new technologies that now permeate our lives. And our astronauts went to the Moon before the end of the 1960’s. That’s vision. That’s determination. That was a stimulus that had far reaching economic effects for everyone.

So now you want to build some more roads. Boy, that’s exciting. Railroads too – maybe even some high speed rail. And we’re going to pave some runways. Do you see the difference?  Why not say something like this: We are going to use the full technical resources of NASA and America’s research labs to design and build the world’s first high speed supersonic train that will cross the country faster that the fastest passenger jet planes? Then we are going to build an entire high speed train system that will be the envy of the world in speed, comfort, safety, and cost. The project will cost $1 trillion – maybe $10 trillion, but it will be worth it. It will change the way we live and spin off a whole new generation of technical capabilities and products that we can barely imagine now, but they will form the basis of employment for  a good portion of the American people for the next fifty years. And by doing this we will reestablish America as the world leader in technology.

And…. Oh, by the way, we’re going to repave some roads too.

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We just observed the 40th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s becoming the first man to set foot upon the Moon’s surface! So where are the parades and the fireworks?  Why isn’t there anyone dancing in the streets? Didn’t that historic first step change everyone’s life forever?  Apparently not.  So what happened?  Why the lack of cheering crowds?  Why the, “OK, what else is on TV?” attitude?

The answer of course is relevance.  We set our foot (feet?) upon the Moon and then did nothing about it.  While NASA might have made all sorts of ancillary technological advances as part of the Apollo project, the little pile of Moon rocks that was retrieved from the lunar surface hasn’t done much to change our lives, has it?  We didn’t find any gold there, nor did we find anything of real value – nothing that would create a land rush anyway.  The fact is that, from a purely financial perspective, the Moon doesn’t seem to be worth a lot.

On the other hand, the Moon might have some really great military uses – if we had the right technology to take advantage of this ultimate “high ground”.  Don’t think our military planners haven’t already drooled over that prospect. The problem is having the right weapon systems that you could position there.  ICBMs really don’t cut it because they are too slow.  If you had an ICBM base on the Moon it would take a couple of days for the warheads to reach the Earth – so much for a surprise attack or a quick reprisal.  We’re better off just keeping our Minutemen in their silos.  On the other hand, speed of light weapons, like gigantic lasers are a whole different thing.  Imagine a multi-gigawatt laser on the Moon’s surface! Maybe even on the dark side!  It could zap our enemies in a couple of seconds from its spaceborne perch.  Yes, the Moon could be the next big step in our military capability – but in the end it all comes down to how much bang for the buck you get.  And right now, big bombs dropped by stealth bombers are so much more cost effective.  So, while I am sure there are some military planners who dream dreams of giant lasers in the sky, we don’t have much of an idea, right now, of what to do with all that space out there, let alone the Moon.

OK. So how about Mars?  That seems to be NASA’s more recent goal – when they are not reconsidering the Moon, anyway.  The problem is, however, the same with Mars as it is with the Moon: what do we do with it when we get there?  Unlike Columbus who was searching for a shorter way to get to India and the Far East, in order to cut the costs of trade, we don’t have a financial goal in space.  Of course Columbus got lucky and found the Western Hemisphere by mistake, with all of it gold and tobacco and such.  So the discovery really paid off for the kings and queens of Europe and the general European population. We probably won’t find any new planets on our way to Mars or the Moon, though.

Recently, we heard in the news that the planet Jupiter got smacked by something that looks like it was about the size of our planet. Now, if that sort of thing had happened to us, I suppose it might have ruined our whole day.  Even if the thing was only the size of the Moon it would probably hurt a lot.  Remember some years ago when all those movies came out about asteroids hitting the Earth?  Some scientists started a search, a real search, for Earth approaching asteroids. The idea was that if they found one in time that NASA or the military could launch a nuclear weapon at it and blow it up before it got here.  So how come the telescopes that search for these asteroids didn’t catch the planet Earth-sized thing that hammered Jupiter?  I guess they just weren’t looking over there.  But let’s suppose that these telescopes did find an Earth-sized asteroid heading our way, toward our planet.  And it was due to hit us next week.   Is NASA really ready to launch a nuclear interceptor at it?  Could the U.S. Air Force point a Peacekeeper missile at it and intercept it halfway to Mars?  I don’t think so. It’s not going to happen.

Now, come to think of it, that might be a useful mission for NASA – Protector of the Earth.  But, I don’t think they’re interested, even though the news about Jupiter shows that is might be worth considering, especially when you think about what happened to the dinosaurs.  But no, they would rather build space stations and play 2001 A Space Oddity for years and years.  The result is that the American people are about as excited about space as they are about the state of the economy in Khyrgistan.  The simple fact is that, not since President Kennedy, have we been able to state a clear vision of why we are dabbling in space travel.  With Kennedy it made sense, sort of: we were competing with the Russians – in all things – and space was one of those things.  It was all about showing the world who was best at everything, and we won.

These days, we don’t even have that as a reason to be interested in space. I suppose the military “high ground” thing will come along in due time – it always does. But meanwhile, NASA and the country need to come up with a coherent explanation of why we are spending all this money on space stuff.  The time has come for a sense of Vision at NASA, not just a desire to spend money and build stuff to go into space because they like to do that sort of stuff.  We need to understand why. What is the point? Why, NASA, why?

You know, Protector of the World may not be a bad idea…

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