Wednesday, December 24, 2008

God Bless All of You on the Good Earth

On December 24, 1968, millions of us listened and watched as the Apollo 8 astronauts broadcast pictures of the Earth from lunar orbit and read the first verses of Genesis. Frank Borman ended the broadcast by saying, "Merry Christmas. God bless all of you, all of you on the good earth."

It was a stunning, historic moment aglow with optimism and hope. Most of us expected that the anticipated moon landing in 1969 would be followed by the establishment of manned lunar bases and pioneering flights to Mars and beyond.

Well, it did not quite work out that way. After several moon landings, the emphasis shifted to close earth orbit. Here we are in 2008 and human beings have not been back to the moon in 33 years, and we are phasing out our orbital space shuttle fleet. What happened?

A primary reason was the end of the Cold War. It was no longer necessary for us to get the upper hand over the Russians. Another reason was the cost of the program. Certainly, there were scientific and technological benefits, but such developments could also be produced by a less expensive orbital program. We also began to find ways to work with our former international competitors. And, of course, national priorities shifted because the public has a short attention span.

There are now plans to return to the moon, but our current financial situation is sure to move lunar settlement down on the list of priorities. So what will it take to get us back on the moon? Perhaps some leader will come along who can provide motivation to move forward with manned space exploration, motivation that is not based on national interest, competition, and fear . . . but I don’t see one on the horizon.

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