As we continue with back and forth bickering in Washington with the left playing fear games and the right stubbornly digging in with an unreasonable agenda I can’t help but reflect on a discussion we had last year, which I’d like to renew.
When President Kennedy made the proposal that we land a man on the moon it was less than two months after the first man had gone into orbit around the earth and the United States had not even managed that much. Yet he boldly said that
If we are to win the battle that is now going on around the world between freedom and tyranny, the dramatic achievements in space which occurred in recent weeks should have made clear to all of us, as did Sputnik in 1957, the impact of this adventure on the minds of men everywhere… Now it is time to take longer strides-time for this nation to take a clearly leading role in space achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on Earth. …we have never made the national decisions or marshaled the national resources required for such leadership. We have never specified long-range goals on an urgent time schedule… Space is open to us now; and our eagerness to share its meaning is not governed by the efforts of others. We go into space because whatever mankind must undertake, free men must fully share…
I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project…will be more exciting, or more impressive to mankind, or more important…and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.
In a speech given at Rice University in September 1962 Kennedy continued his theme, stating that
We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war. I do not say the we should or will go unprotected against the hostile misuse of space any more than we go unprotected against the hostile use of land or sea, but I do say that space can be explored and mastered without feeding the fires of war, without repeating the mistakes that man has made in extending his writ around this globe of ours.
There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation many never come again. But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?
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
Although there were setbacks along the way, including the loss of several astronauts, the goal was accomplished, even if Kennedy did not live to see it. It is one event I wish I could have seen live, and even now the videos give me goosebumps.
And yet today I have to wonder, where are the bold goals of the 21st century. Today when Presidents or political leaders propose things like returning to the Moon or going to Mars they are generally mocked rather than applauded.
When President Kennedy made the call to land on the moon the reaction from both parties was one of unity behind the goal. To be sure there were people on both sides of the aisle who questioned it, but there was not the partisan sniping we see today.
Even if we do not choose to make our new goal one of space exploration, there are many other worthy goals.
We could set a goal of energy independence, one that is truly viable and realistic.
We could seek to cure a disease like cancer.
We could really work to end poverty rather than play politics with it
We could do any of these things, or chose any a hundred more equally bold and noble goals
But instead we bicker and argue, we go to watch reality TV or speculate over who will be the next American Idol.
There is an old saying, often attributed to Robert Kennedy that says “Some men see things the way they are and ask why, I see things the way they could be and ask why not”
Why can’t we ask that question ? Why can’t we see the way things could, and should be ?
Why can’t we have a new American Dream ?