May 16, 2011

The final launch of Space Shuttle Endeavor. Photo credit: NASA

While watching the final launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavor this morning,  I reflected on the waning U.S. space program that has been a constant in my life and that has produced technological advances that have positively benefited almost every aspect of the lives of people around the world.

I recall the early years when the program suffered one failure after another, culminating in the Soviet Union’s successful launch of Sputnik in 1957, placing the now-defunct nation firmly in the lead for space exploration.

Then came the heady years of the 1960’s with the flight of Alan Shepard, the Mercury flights, the Gemini flights, the Apollo moon flights, including the first moon landing, followed by a decade of deep space exploration and the accumulation of a wealth of scientific data.

Columbia, the first space shuttle, flew in 1981, followed by the flights of the space shuttle fleet, the launch of the Hubble Telescope, the construction of the International Space Station, and the Mars landers.

Now we are here: On June 28, Atlantis will lift off as the final shuttle flight, marking the effective end of America’s space program. There will, of course, be future launches of satellites for scientific missions, and American astronauts will visit the ISS, but they’ll have to depend on the Russian Federation to get them there (an interesting historical revolution), as the U.S. no longer will have a vehicle for manned space flight.

Americans will visit the museums in which the shuttles will be parked forever and marvel over what has been; but, for the first time, they will do so without another program for manned space flight to look forward to. So this constant in my life has ended.

The space program is analogous to a person who overcomes a difficult birth to become successful, meeting one challenge after another, leading to a bright future, but who is cut down in the prime of life.

Is the end of the manned space program a portent for the nation? The preceding analogy could apply to the life of this country: America overcame a difficult birth to flower into a great nation, meeting one challenge after another, with seemingly a bright future, but in recent years sowed the seeds of its own premature demise by ignoring its basic law, creating federal programs beyond its constitutional authority that exceed its capacity, and becoming an oppressive oligarchy like the one it struggled against at its birth.

Like the space program, the future for America holds little promise: the present administration is presiding over, and has hastened, the end of the space program, as it is presiding over, and has hastened, the decline of the United States as the preeminent nation.

The seeds of our destruction have germinated and the roots have taken hold. Americans have morphed from a nation of freedom-loving individuals who looked upon limited government as a necessary evil, to a people who are content to be part of a collective and who look upon government as a parent who knows best, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Absent the wisdom and will of the American electorate to stop the decline by hard choices, radical changes to the way our national government operates and a reaffirmation of the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution, the United States, like the space program come June 28, has seen its day.