As a child, I remember a coloring book that pictured a "Buck Rogers" rocket that looked like a football with three fins at its base. It was my job to give it life by coloring the rocket blast with yellows, oranges and reds that lifted the craft to stellar flight and imagined adventures. The book was filled with such renderings and each page held a new mission to be wondered at. Years later came Alan Shepard, Walter "Wally" Shirra Jr., John Glenn Jr., and tragically Virgil "Gus" Grissom who later died in an Apollo 1 pre-launch test.
I witnessed John F. Kennedy's 1961 call to place an American on the moon and the resolve of a determined president who set forth the direction of a country that would not place second in the endeavor of man's greatest arena of exploration — our universe.
From Project Mercury to Gemini to Apollo, our country soared with the heroes of the cosmos and glorified in our achievements. Then, on one historic day, we achieved a crowning moment in the epoch of mankind: We set foot on the moon and walked the surface of a lunar landscape, stark and forbidding. We had journeyed to a heavenly body, separate and mysterious from our Earth, but the question remained: What next? We answered with more moonwalks and exploration. The Saturn rocket gave way to the Space Shuttle and 135 flights of fantastic engineering called Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavor, plus the launching of dozens of unmanned vehicles.
We gained the experience of space science and mobility, the space station, and how things worked in zero gravity. Later, astronauts seemed commonplace and many ignored their importance. We had invented an exclusive club. Our earthly concerns became more important than our earlier lunar achievement. We became complacent. It became usual. We had lost the excitement of John Kennedy. Now, the last shuttle mission is over. The launching platform is silent, thousands are unemployed. We now pay to ride the rockets of foreign governments under foreign control. Now the space station is in peril because Russian supply logistics are in trouble.
So where do we go from here? Presently, our White House has no vision, no imagination. It is devoid of inspiration and is as empty of discovery as the vastness of space itself. Are we Americans able to accept this loss of leadership as commonplace? Are we willing to accept taxi rides to the astronautical limits of other governments as status quo, or will we change the dynamics of our own unsurpassed abilities to regain our place in space science and exploration?
We can and must change the political, economic, and structural obstacles to our destiny. We must not accept secondhand excuses. Let us regain our place as space pioneers and explorers. Let us once again renew our wonder of the unknown. Let us become Americans again.
Nearly everyday someone says, "America is going down the tubes," or "this country is all screwed up," or "I can't believe what's happening," or statements of similar despair. With more than six decades behind me, I am forced to weigh these comments with some apprehension because I have seen ample evidence of that slippery slope. How can this be? America is supposed to be the land of opportunity, freedom, and self-determination. Why do so many Americans feel so dysfunctional?
I think I know part of the answer. It was created one brick at a time. Americans have always fought oppression and defended our national interests. But the stalemate of the Korean War and the malaise of Vietnam left us empty of a unified spirit, dividing three generations between the sacrifices of WWII, the Cold War anxiety, and post Vietnam discord. For the exception of 9/11, our national unity after WWII was never higher than when Neil Armstrong uttered his famous words.
Today, we are faced with very tough challenges. Some say, "Why bother when we have earthly concerns?" I say we must regain the cosmos because our grandchildren are entitled to know the wonder of a "Buck Rodgers" coloring book and all the fantastic imagination that creates the next space frontiersman and scientific breakthroughs. After all, our children are the seeds of future glory, inspiration, and hope for all mankind.
Tony Lambros, Fallston