Our National Aspirations Remain Earthbound

By Charles Krauthammer Washington Post Writers Group | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), December 9, 1996 | Go to article overview

Our National Aspirations Remain Earthbound


Charles Krauthammer Washington Post Writers Group, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


There's water on the moon and life on Mars, so what in God's name are we doing stuck in endless Earth orbit? OK, there only might be water on the moon: Radar observations by the Clementine satellite (part of the much maligned "Star Wars" program, by the way) suggest the possibility of ice deposits near its south pole. And OK, there only might be life on Mars, if the organic molecules discovered in a Martian meteorite really are the residue of primitive organisms.

But "might" makes lunar and Martian exploration all the more tantalizing. Let's go and find out. Yet what is the largest chunk of our space dollars devoted to? Sending endless convoys of shuttles to and from low Earth orbit. And what space feat did President Bill Clinton honor just the day before the announced discovery of Moon Lake? Shannon Lucid's space longevity record.

Now Shannon Lucid is a skilled and brave astronaut. But the Space Medal of Honor used to be given to the likes of Alan Shepard and John Glenn for the insane courage of parking themselves on top of a newfangled, nine-story Roman candle, not knowing whether it - and they - would blow up. To give it now for spending six months in an orbiting phone booth with a couple of guys named Yuri is an apt reflection on our times of dome sticated, miniaturized aspirations. The most striking fact about the history of manned flight is that it took only 66 years for human beings to go from Kitty Hawk to the moon and, in the 27 years since, we've gone - nowhere. For a quarter-century, we ha ve literally been going around in circles. Admittedly, this is a soft and quiet time, a Seinfeld time. Our concerns are firmly focused on home. No one wants to hear about Rwanda, let alone the south side of the moon. Accordingly, NASA has tried to boost popular support by promoting its "Mission to Planet Earth," devoted to studying such earthly concerns as ozone, land use, climate variability and the like. I have news for NASA. We're already on planet Earth. It's the other places we haven't been to. It used to be NASA's mission to get us there. True, in the post-Cold War era it is harder to rouse the nation to the romance of space travel than in John Kennedy's time. But how can anyone living at the close of the 20th century not thrill to the idea of human habitation on a sunlit plateau amidst a pitch-black lunar ice field? …

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Our National Aspirations Remain Earthbound
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