by Mike McHugh
Last week, the media couldn’t stop talking about the anniversary of the first moon landing. And I think to myself, why not? It was the crowning achievement of America’s space program. This was in 1969, and at the time, we thought that, by the dawn of the 21st century, we’d have put a man on Mars. Now the time is here, and the reality is that we’d be more likely to put one in the Miss America Pageant.
Sure, we sent a few more guys up there after that first landing. They hit a few golf balls and did set the Solar System record for the longest drive. Since then, no one had duplicated the Apollo astronauts’ feat except for Michael Jackson. The country shifted its attention to other pursuits, such as disco dancing. It’s a shame, because I believed the moon would be a great place to put a golf course. Sure, it’s got a lot of sand, but with all of those holes everywhere—and big ones, too—I could probably play a round up there without totally embarrassing myself.
So whatever happened to America’s space program, that one-time source of national pride? Many people say that we stopped going into space because our government couldn’t afford it. That sounds like hogwash to me, as a lack of money has never stopped the government from doing anything.
Frankly, I blame the Russians. They’re not the bad guys that they once were. In the sixties, we deplored the Russians almost as much as we did the Internal Revenue Service, and there was no way we were going to let those guys beat us to the moon, no sir! But then the Russians during the 80’s employed a new policy called “glasnost,” which translates to “USSR Lite”. A few years later, the Soviet Union folded like an origami. Now, we see the Russians as a decent sort, particularly after they’ve had a few vodkas—in other words, almost always.
So now, instead of trying to beat them to Mars, our astronauts are thumbing rides from them. It’s not as bad as it sounds. You must admit it’s safer than hitchhiking in New Orleans, but still something of a national embarrassment.
What we need, then, to get our space program rolling again is a new bunch of bad guys to compete with. Sure, we’ve got new bad guys to replace the old bad guys, but the new ones don’t seem capable or interested in sending men to space. None of the terrorist groups have shown any interest, which at least means that if we ever do commercialize space flight, we should be able to bring liquids along in our carry-on baggage.
The Chinese have potential as a new rival in the space race, but we wouldn’t have much chance of winning, being that we’d have to borrow the money from them to finance it. It’s about as credible as the Saints dealing Drew Brees to the Atlanta Falcons while continuing to pay his salary.
It seems our biggest hope for resurrecting America’s space program lies with private industry. I’ve read that Elon Musk, the innovative founder of electric carmaker Tesla Motors, has been dabbling in space flight. The biggest technical challenge is that his rocket only has a maximum range of about 250 miles, meaning that he’s going need a lot of charging stations between here and Mars.
© 2014 by Mike McHugh