The Mercury and Apollo astronauts were my heroes growing up. I remember as an 11-year old boy walking outside and looking up at the moon as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were looking down at us. We went to the moon because we wanted to go, it was hard, it challenged us, and it was there.
Years later working as a sales guy for a small industrial supply company, I spent time working with a number of small local machine shops that did a lot of aerospace and high tech work. One shop had been involved in making some small titanium parts for the lunar rover. I’m sure they weren’t the only small business to see the benefit of the race to the moon.
Over the weekend I watched an old 1973 documentary that suggested we would be sending men to Mars and headed to Venus by the end of the century—it looks like they jumped the gun. Particularly since NASA is no longer pursuing manned space flight. I must admit to being disappointed last year after hearing that the Space Shuttle had been scuttled.
I know that manned space exploration is expensive, but I would much rather spend the money on exploring our solar system and beyond than developing new ways to kill each other with smart bombs. What’s more, the trickle-down of such research benefits small businesses like the machine shop previously mentioned and thus local economies.
NPR is reporting that private companies are trying to fill the vacuum left by NASA as folks like Elon Musk of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, along with Richard Branson of Virgin Galactic are trying to privatize our reach to the stars. Speaking to NPR’s Jacki Lyden, retired astronaut John Grunsfeld said, “When they are successful, it will make our space program stronger and also provide an economic engine for the country.”
For the time being it looks like NASA isn’t going to be sending men into space, but that hasn’t stopped President Obama from dreaming big and suggesting sending astronauts to an asteroid by 2025 and then maybe to Mars sometime after 2030. Although it might sound like our reach has exceeded our grasp, I think there were those who said the same thing when President Kennedy announced that we would be going to the moon.
I can’t wait.