I’m old enough to remember when, on May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced that the United States would land an American on the Moon by the end of the decade. The 1960s were difficult years, with the assassinations of President Kennedy and his brother Robert as well as the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. The turmoil continued with race riots in many major cities and, of course, a seemingly endless war in Vietnam.
Nonetheless, as President Kennedy had promised, we did manage to land astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the Moon July 20, 1969, nearly 6 months before JFK’s deadline.
Now we have another young president who has declared just the opposite of JFK: We will NOT go to the Moon by the end of the decade. This, when we already have a program under way to accomplish that mission objective, declared by President George W. Bush in 2004. We’ve already spent 6 years in preparation along with several billion dollars, and have launched a prototype of one of the rockets that would get us there.
The money needed to go to the Moon would be little (estimated at upward of $50 billion) compared to the more than $1 trillion shoveled into financial bailout and stimulus programs. Besides, a return to the Moon would keep our nation on the upward slope in terms of scientific accomplishments. It would open the door to go to Mars if we want to. It would require us to push the envelope of technological development, which has paid tremendous dividends in the past.
During the past couple of years, I have attended presentations by leaders in the aerospace field decrying the fact that, for nearly 40 years, the United States has sent astronauts nowhere in space but to low-Earth orbit. Why haven’t we returned to the Moon? Why haven’t we gone to Mars by now?
This is a pivotal time for space exploration. It will take a concerted effort to overcome the inertia of remaining in low Earth orbit. Literally, until we make the determination to continue with human exploration, we will keep going around in circles.
Let’s not make it another 40 years. We need to have another 1960s-style effort in space to move beyond our current lack of direction. The rockets are well on their way to being ready.
The American people and the international community are ready. Congress needs to step in and make the declaration that Kennedy did nearly a half-century ago: We’re going to the Moon this decade!
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