Fifty years ago America was scared. The USSR had sent a man into space and he had orbited the Earth. The Soviet Union was also threatening to plant their ballistic missile weaponry in Cuba. The United States entry into the space race was out of a fear that if we didn’t respond quickly, it might be too late.
This dire situation caused a crisis-type response that defined who we are as a people. Ignoring profit or ROI (return on investment) we established our space program and became proficient at churning out new technologies. Almost overnight we had a new breed of people who literally became rocket scientists.
And then it happened. We discovered that space technology had terrestrial applications. That wasn’t the justification for it, but our space program suddenly pushed the United States of America into the role as the go-to nation for space technology applied to terrestrial application. For decades Americans and the world reaped the benefits of the new materials, equipment and knowledge that came from our effort to go beyond the safety and protection of Earth’s womb.
Young people became excited about the space program and suddenly universities had applicants knocking down their doors to become a scientist, mathematician, or engineer that would go on to shape tomorrow’s world. Space ignited learning and research at colleges that shook up their dusty libraries and ivy covered walls. Philosophy, religion, arts, economics, and literature were blindsided in the 1960’s and 70’s by new questions that challenged our old beliefs and standards.
Meanwhile, in Russia, scientists were put under extreme pressure to be successful on an accelerated space program. Behaving more like a mega-corporation that pushed for immediate results, Russia’s government forced scientists to try to take major risks in a dangerous environment where failure meant loss of life. When the scientist did have a new breakthrough they became state secrets and the larger population did not benefit. For the Soviets, the space race showcased the failure of running a government like a business.
Fifty years later America can look around at our computers, cell phones, medical devices and almost everything we touch, consume, or use and know that the space program had a direct or indirect impact on its development.
Yet, today America is stagnant. We are desperately trying to be competitive in a global market that spends most of its time figuring out how to make things cheaper, but not better. We say we want young people to pursue careers as engineers and scientists, but there is no burning reason for a high school graduate to pursue those careers. Instead we have university Psychology programs that are filled to overflowing with students who are more inspired to collect a salary by listening to other people’s problems than in designing the transportation and living habitats for a colony on Mars.
For decades the western United States has been battling with a growing population and a dwindling fresh water supply. We also face aging community water and sewer systems that are in need of major updating and repairs. We face global climate change because the we have been filling the air with energy absorbing carbon from burning coal, gasoline and natural gas.
The concept of transporting power, water, and waste is based on 19th and 20th century engineering. Power has to be generated hundreds of miles away and then delivered to homes via power lines that can fail in a major storm. Expensive and overburdened water treatment plants transport fresh, clean water through miles of pipeline and is only used once and then it becomes waste. Purified water that would be the envy of many people in Africa and the Middle East is mindlessly sprayed on our lawns and used to flush our toilets.
In space water has to be recycled, air must be purified, and power must be generated efficiently on a micro scale. That means focusing on self-sustaining habitats built that will face extreme conditions. On Earth, these technologies will pave the way to a shift from macro water, sewer and power systems (power plants and water and sewage treatment facilities) to cost-effective micro systems that free families from relying on expensive, polluting, and wasteful systems that are unsustainable. Everything we need to solve America’s terrestrial problems can be found by solving the problems of extended human living in space. In addition, a renewed public space program will inspire High School graduates to pursue careers in engineering and science.
America needs to be pushed into using new technologies that break down the paradigms of the past. In the 1960’s we were pushed by the Soviets and the result was prosperity. Today we need to push ourselves, not out of fear, but out of pride and courage. I have nothing against Space X or any other private or commercial space program, but prosperity doesn’t happen out of the pursuit of profit. Prosperity happens when everyone sacrifices from the board room to the break room for the good of the United States.
Space X has made new breakthroughs in the bureaucracies and waste built up over five decades by NASA and its private contractors and they should be the model of a new public space program, but investors and ROI are not the reason America needs to take back the leadership in space exploration.
If the last 50 years have taught us anything it is that raising ships to the stars, we will raise all ships on Earth. It’s time to reclaim our space program.
What America Must Do: Step 1 – Silence the Wackos in Politics
What America Must Do: Step 2 – An Extreme Makeover of Government at All Levels
What America Must Do: Step 3 – Restore Government Revenue and Fair Taxation
What America Must Do: Step 4 – Balanced Budget By 2015, Debt under 50% of GDP by 2020
What America Must Do: Step 6 – Reinvent Higher Education