Apollo-fig12001And so here we are, on the cusp of the 40th anniversary of the first landing on the Moon – where have we come in those forty years?  As a star-crossed (literally) youth in 1969, my imagination was fired by the likes of the space program.  From Sheppard’s sub-orbital flight that I recall watching from our small black and white TV, all the Mercury and Gemini flights, the unmanned flights to the Moon and Mars and then those stunning images from behind the Moon as for the first time Man’s eyes watched the homeworld rise from behind another body…  Then there was 2001 with its plot that confused but special effects that made travel in space seem – real.  It seemed a logical extension of where we were going with the impending landing in July of ’69 and to a young midwestern lad with a penchant for aviation, science fiction and a gaze fixed firmly upward, so near and attainable…

*sigh*  Welcome again to the Age of Diminished Expectations

226580main_2007-08-02 On Way InLRO-2009Well, today the LRO (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter) entered lunar orbit – reprising the recce missions (albeit HD this time) conducted by 5 Lunar Orbiter missions between 1966 and 1967 preparatory to Apollo’s mission to the moon. (ironically, the Lunar Orbiter was launched by an Atlas-Agena D SLV — and today’s LRO was launched by an Atlas-Centaur V, albeit much more advanced and powerful to be sure than its distant cousin form the 60’s, but again, one would have thought by now we’d be much further along in SLV capability too…)  The current mission is part of the Apollo-on-steroids return to the Moon program that *might* put us back on the moon by…2020??  (ed. and if/if the current review  doesn’t kill it or delay it to a much later date – we’ll know at summer’s end – SJS).  Accompanying the LRO is the smaller LCROS (Lunar CRater and Observer Sensing Satellite) which actually beat the LRO to the Moon.  LCROSS made a flyby enroute to an Earth orbit that will bring it back to an impact in the lunar southern polar region.  The resulting plume will be observed by a number of earth-bound and space-based sensors for expected traces of water.

Yet for all the necessary science that will come from the missions, there is not much in the way boldness that inspires and piques the innate explorer in us.  Why not a mission to an asteroid with the Constellation?  Get out of low Earth orbit, get out of lunar orbit and start exploring and working in the interplanetary space that we will have to traverse on the way to Mars?  Be bold in our declarations to explore space – let’s inspire a new generation of scientists, engineers and explorers, instead of MBAs and lawyers.  Let’s be a nation on the leading edge of space again and not one satisfied with “do overs.”

Til then, I suppose, some of us will just have to settle for exploring in name only. (yes, the scribe & extended family are in orbit tonight – literally).  Of course, if one is so inclined, it’s not too late for Mars:

scribe-going-to-mars

4 Comments

  1. What’s really sad about this is that it did not have to be. Sure space flight is expensive-but there were probably ways of funding it that got grossly overlooked. Hell, if got us back to the moon-I’d be happy to have commercial stickers all over the damn rocket-kind of like NASCAR. Getting international participation was another-a NATO mission to the moon perhaps? So many options were overlooked.

    However in the end it would have taken leadership and a commitment from the start. Even Reagan did not give them that. Imagine if he had made a “lets go back to the moon speech”.

    I’m most dissapointed at the lack of more people in space on a daily basis. You are right when 2001 gave an expectation of what was to come. And most of what was in that movie has come true technologically. (Doesn’t the Kindle look a lot like a news pad?). It could have happened.

  2. To this day I still will not forgive Nixon for scrubbing the last Apollo flights. All the hardware was already purchased and on hand – every bit of flight hardware. All that remained was just the actual flight operational funding. Such a waste of resources and vision. :roll:
    And you are right about Reagan – what the great communiator could have done to lift the space program…*sigh*
    – SJS

  3. Don’t just blame Nixon for scrubbing those last three Apollo missions. It was ultimately a gutless Congress that played a huge role in the long Gap that followed Apollo 17. And Ronald Reagan? He had the same problem, the same hostiles who slashed even what Obama asked for NASA, last week. So did George H.W. Bush, too, who was derailed by the same Augustine fellow and his first commission in 1990. Both Ronald Reagan and more the elder Bush tried to light a fire under NASA, but the Shuttle lasted as long as it did only because it fed the monkey, it solved the problem of long-term planning on a two-year election cycle at the cost of giving up anything more… I’m frankly amazed the Space Station ever got this close to the half-measured version of “Freedom,” which was Ronald Reagan’s vision of the thing. Whatever one thinks of it, it wouldn’t have happened without him, and we wouldn’t be having a foregone discussion about the next decade for NASA if it weren’t for his first methodical vision for NASA since 1961.

    How many times since those priceless moments since 1972 has the fire been kept from going completely out by people like yourself? How many times has this nation had it’s head squarely stuck in the tightest of places? I can remember the first time I heard about the Age of Diminished Expectations, back during those wonderful Carter years. I plain gave up on NASA, and the Space Center in Florida was a sad place, indeed. It’s damn hard to be optimistic, frankly. As a Christian, I am forbidden to despair. Perhaps the tide will turn after a (another) painful lesson in authoritarianism. – Best Wished to you!

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