Can you imagine the outcry -- from the Tea Parties, your typical Republican congressman, and your favorite Fox media personality -- if President Obama came out an announced a multi-billion dollar taxpayer-funded initiative which would involve thousands of government-created jobs and a vague promise that it would spur economic activity elsewhere. It would be branded as socialism at best, or at the worst another example of Obama's Marxist tendencies.
At least it would if Obama were creating "green jobs." Or promising a big investment in high-speed rail.
But I wonder how conservatives and like-minded citizens will react to the all-American heroes of the Apollo space program blasting Obama for not pouring enough money into NASA. Here's an excerpt from the letter from three heroes of the Space Race, including the first man to walk on the Moon, Apollo 11's Neil Armstrong, and the commander of the crippled Apollo 13 mission, James Lovell, to the president :
For The United States, the leading space faring nation for nearly half a century, to be without carriage to low Earth orbit and with no human exploration capability to go beyond Earth orbit for an indeterminate time into the future, destines our nation to become one of second or even third rate stature. While the President's plan envisages humans traveling away from Earth and perhaps toward Mars at some time in the future, the lack of developed rockets and spacecraft will assure that ability will not be available for many years.
Without the skill and experience that actual spacecraft operation provides, the USA is far too likely to be on a long downhill slide to mediocrity. America must decide if it wishes to remain a leader in space. If it does, we should institute a program which will give us the very best chance of achieving that goal.
I'm not unsympathetic to the plea from the retired astronauts. I remember vividly the debates during the 1960s over why we were spending so much on NASA when we had poverty and so many other problems at home. In hindsight, though, some of the science that emerged from the American space program was priceless, and the national pride and fleeting moments of unity that came from the successful moon landings probably played a role in keeping the nation from coming apart at the seams.
But times change -- this is the 21st Century, and it seems clear that our scientific enterprise and American ingenuity needs to turn inward, to solving the problems of finding clean and renewable sources of energy and better modes of transportation. In other words, I think Neil Armstrong and his colleagues have the right concept, but the wrong mission.
In other words, NASA was not "socialism" in the 1960s -- and we need that type of endeavor once again. But in this American century, it is saving this world -- and not exploring new ones -- that will be one giant leap for mankind.