Reading this news item, I was taken back to the time I sat for days in spellbound awe, watching and holding my breath as Apollo 11 landed on the moon and its astronauts claimed “one small step for man” and a “giant leap for mankind”.
In the heady excitement of that incredible mission and its aftermath, I suspect that I was one of many youngsters who imagined that the doors to the universe had suddenly swung wide open, inviting us within. The unlimited possibilities of the space frontier drew my young self inexorably toward NASA; and there seemed no limit to what might be accomplished or how far out into the beckoning universe our explorations could take us.
Older now, I have come to accept the strong possibility that my generation, who witnessed one of the greatest accomplishment of the human race, is unlikely to see even a return voyage to the moon; let alone humans landing on Mars in our lifetimes. Indeed, it is possible that the orphans of Apollo may not survive to see humans break out of low earth orbit, where the Shuttle--and NASA's vision-- have chained us.
There is no getting around the fact that NASA is lost in space--its original dream stunted and crushed by the inevitability of government bureaucracy and ineptitude. Those of us who once dreamed of exploring strange new worlds and boldly going where no one has gone before are now just the orphans of Apollo.
It took me quite a while to accept the painful realization that NASA itself is now the biggest impediment to space travel. But when change and innovation are no longer valued by an organization--especially an organization of discovery and exploration--there is an inevitable loss of vision and creative energy as a consequence. NASA has become as static and fixed as the classic Apollo-era photograph of earth, suspended in empty space.
This about sums it up:
Of course, I remain optimistic that humans will eventually open the door again and boldly travel into that always-beckoning universe. And that we will once again be willing to take the necessary risks and make the inevitable mistakes that are the foundations for achieving all great dreams. I know the dream of space remains alive. It can never really be extinguished because it is a fundamental part of the human spirit to explore frontiers and push the envelope.
The first step to recapture the dream I believe, will be to get NASA out of the way.