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Saturday, January 28, 2012

NEWS: Failure of the Imagination. [Full link to blog for email clients.][FT:C44]

On this day in history... January 28, 1986... Space Shuttle Challenger was lost with all hands. As with the Apollo 1 fire of January 27, 1967 (and why does no-one comment on those dates), this disaster was a failure of the imagination (as spoken by astronaut Frank Borman to Congress in April, 1967) - failure to imagine that all of the conditions would conspire to cause the one-in-a-billion failure.

Yet Americans pushed onward, because freedom isn't free, and Space Exploration comes with a price. Today we face yet another failure of the imagination, because we have a generation that cannot imagine how space exploration can benefit them, as they sit in front of their TVs receiving signals from satellites in space, playing games and making facebook and twitter comments via computers that were developed to miniaturize for space applications, using cell phones with more computing power of the entirety of NASA Mission Control in 1967, surrounded by household materials such as velcro and plastics first developed for the space program. 
On a hot summer day in 1962, President John F. Kennedy, speaking at Rice University in Houston extended to this challenge to the American people:  
 ... the vows of this Nation can only be fulfilled if we in this Nation are first, and, therefore, we intend to be first. In short, our leadership in science and industry, our hopes for peace and security, our obligations to ourselves as well as others, all require us to make this effort, to solve these mysteries, to solve them for the good of all men, and to become the world's leading space-faring nation.
We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too. 
But Kennedy also forsaw the costs, the dangers, and those who would say we cannot afford to spend money on a Space effort
Surely the opening vistas of space promise high costs and hardships, as well as high reward. 
We have had our failures, but so have others, even if they do not admit them. And they may be less public.

To be sure, we are behind, and will be behind for some time in manned flight. But we do not intend to stay behind, and in this decade, we shall make up and move ahead.

The growth of our science and education will be enriched by new knowledge of our universe and environment, by new techniques of learning and mapping and observation, by new tools and computers for industry, medicine, the home as well as the school.
Unfortunately, we live in hard economic times.  We have skilled workers out of work, have lost manufacturing jobs to overseas, failed financial institutions and  loss of confidence in government.  We live in "an age of limited choices" as predicted by Niven, Pournelle and Flynn in their novel Fallen Angels.  Yet there is great promise in space effort - already by 1962 there was evidence:

And finally, the space effort itself, while still in its infancy, has already created a great number of new companies, and tens of thousands of new jobs. Space and related industries are generating new demands in investment and skilled personnel, and this city and this state, and this region, will share greatly in this growth.
You will ask "who will pay for it" and the sad truth is that future generations WILL pay the costs for whatever we do today, but what legacy do we wish to leave our sons and daughters?  A legacy of handouts and dole?  Of payouts to corrupt officials and incompetent corporations?  A legacy of despair?  Or would we rather pass on a legacy of HOPE, one that opens frontiers, provides jobs and strengthens the role of science, education and technology in our society?
It is said that all-out war will revitalize a nation's economy (but only if they win) by requiring productivity in manufacturing and technical capability.  However, a renewed commitment to Space Exploration will have the same effect - if we let it. 
  We stand at a crossroads.  How about we choose the road that leads to Space?


  1. Crap - "Teddy", I had a great response, insightful and provocative, connecting the Chinese abandonment of their pre-Columbian discovery of America with our contemporary turning our backs on Space, and concluding with the idea somebody ought write a novel set in a present day America where the Moon Race never occurred -- but my ID didn't take -- and such posts never rewrite well. Sorry.

  2. Nice post! Indeed, in many ways our imaginations have failed.


  3. Seems to be the subject of my day. I just came from a NASA retrospective and astronaut memorial service, and now I'm talking about the same thing on the radio. You say it wonderfully, Speaker, and I could not be more eloquent in my own plea.

  4. To quote Jerry Pournelle. . .

    ". . .it's raining soup out there, and nobody will let us invest in bowls. . . "


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