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A Rebirth, or a Requiem? July 16, 2019

Posted by Peter Varhol in Education, Technology and Culture.
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Here on the 50th anniversary of the first manned moon mission, I’d like to share this image.  In 1973, at my Eagle Scout dinner in downtown Pittsburgh, I (and the other Eagle Scouts) received Man in the Moon, the official recordings of the Apollo 11 journey, back in 1969 (and yes, I still have a turntable to play it).

ManOnTheMoon

I have always been a forceful advocate of space travel.  While in the Air Force, I applied to become a flight engineer on the Space Shuttle program (I’m sure my candidacy was met with a good chuckle by all concerned).

Further, I believe in space travel for very abstract reasons.  “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” wrote poet Robert Browning.  But more so, there seems to be an historical pattern of civilization reaching out for a seemingly impossible goal, then retreating from it.

We are in the stage of retreat from space right now.  Certainly, perhaps a dozen or more countries launch hundreds of low Earth orbit satellites yearly for weather, military, scientific, communications, or other purposes.  But that is largely proven (although not entirely reliable) technology today.  We have not tested technical boundaries since the 1970s.

Many say it is too expensive; we have too many problems here on Earth.  But that is a fallacy perpetuated by the ignorant.  The trailblazing work in electronics, software, communications, safety-critical systems and much more would not exist today without the breakthroughs found in our space program of the past.

But there is so much more inherent in pursuing space travel that cannot be readily quantified.  Smart people reaching for seemingly impossible goals stimulate those around them, and society in general.  If we focus inward, we lose sight of the value of interactions with others.  Yet that is where we are.

I was at Cape Canaveral last year.  I saw large buildings and a lot of activity from the likes of Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, and SpaceX.  Every few years, the US government and NASA make loud noises about reviving some ambitious goal, but ultimately back down in the face of cost, complexity, or simply indifference.  The government won’t get us there, because too few people care.  But we are so close to losing space altogether that we should be afraid that future innovation will consist only of better ways to look down at our phone.

I think I said it well here, should you care to read.  Yes, set controls for the heart of the sun.

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