- Posted August 27, 2012 by
Morgantown, West Virginia
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Remembering Neil Armstrong
Neil Armstrong's Legacy
As we note the passing of one of America’s heroes, Neil Alden Armstrong, I consider our legacy of exploration and the current state of our endeavors in space, and I am saddened.
It has been over forty years since that evening in July when Mr. Armstrong first stepped on the soil of another world and spoke the immortal words, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” This December will mark the fortieth anniversary of Eugene Cernan’s final climb aboard Challenger, Apollo 17’s lunar module and the last time human eyes saw the moon’s horizon in the distance. Today, 4 of the 12 people privileged to leave footprints on the moon have passed on. Of the surviving eight, the youngest, Charles Duke, will turn 77 in October. We are rapidly approaching the day when there will be no living explorers who traversed the Great Blackness to leave our mark on a celestial body other than our own, and on that day, I will weep.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is time to go back. It is long, long past time to go back.
The inevitable argument to that statement is “Why? Why should we spend billions of dollars and risk people’s lives to do something we have already done? Something that can be done with less expense and more safety by sending robotic probes?”
My answer is, “Because…”
Because we have only started to scratch the surface of what we may learn. To quote Mr. Armstrong, “Some question why Americans should return to the Moon. “After all,” they say “we have already been there.” I find that mystifying. It would be as if 16th century monarchs proclaimed that “we need not go to the New World, we have already been there. Or as if President Thomas Jefferson announced in 1803 that Americans “need not go west of the Mississippi, the Lewis and Clark Expedition has already been there.” Americans have visited and examined 6 locations on Luna, varying in size from a suburban lot to a small township. That leaves more than 14 million square miles yet to explore.”
Because our position as a global leader in science and technology demands it. Again, to use Mr. Armstrong’s words, as well as those of fellow astronauts Cernan and James Lovell:
“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 travelling 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 US 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 programme which will give us the very best chance of achieving that goal.”
Because we must go back in order to go forward. Returning to the moon with a comprehensive, long-range plan of lunar exploration would provide the foundation to the manned exploration of Mars and the asteroid belt. Our resources on Earth are finite. We must, for our own survival, seek alternative means of obtaining mineral resources. To refrain from manned space exploration is to risk stagnation – Your iPhone, the GPS in your car, the lenses in your eyeglasses that automatically darken in the sunlight – these common, every-day technological marvels had their genesis in scientific achievement brought about through the space program. Returning to the moon isn’t simply hubris, it is opening the taps of innovation and discovery for generations to come.
Because it is our nature to go past our boundaries, to explore the unknown, to see what lies beyond with our own eyes. No unmanned probe, no matter how sophisticated, can replace the experience of a human being seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, tasting and exploring the unknown for himself. Machines aren’t capable of making deductions, asking questions, of having the driving curiosity that has caused our race to push past our own boundaries ever since we first came out of our caves to see what was beyond the next hill. We must explore, for to do otherwise is to deny what makes us Us.
In 1961, President Kennedy set the national goal of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth by the end of the decade. In only nine years, and at the cost of less than $2 billion dollars a year for the duration of the Apollo program, we did just that. When we started, we had no idea how to get there, or how to build a craft that would safely make the journey and return. When Kennedy issued his challenge, mankind hadn’t yet orbited the Earth- how would we ever land on the moon in less than a decade? But we did. Through innovation, hard work, tragedy and triumph, we did. And for forty years now, we have allowed that whirlwind of national effort and pride whither on the vine, as we convinced ourselves that it was the destination, not the journey, that was important.
The Apollo program is a watermark in human achievement – not for America but all mankind. The fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing will be on July 20th, 2019 – a little less than seven years away. What would it mean to the legacy of Neil Armstrong, Pete Conrad, Jim Irwin and Alan Shepard, as well as the surviving men who have walked on the moon, if we could celebrate that day by returning to that place where we truly slipped the surly bonds of Earth and embark on a new age of exploration and discovery?
This time, we would not be starting from scratch. We have the knowledge to make the trip. We have technologies that could not even be imagined during the heyday of Apollo. All we lack, truly, is the drive to accomplish something great. A moon landing on July 20th, 2019, is within our grasp, if we only reach out and take it. What more appropriate day to begin a new age of exploration, to the moon and beyond, for the benefit of all mankind?
The current NASA budget is somewhere in the neighborhood of 17 billion dollars, less than one-half of one percent of the total federal budget. If every American tax payer paid only $10 more per month, that budget could nearly double without adjusting any other federal spending. Speaking for myself, if paying the equivalent of a night out at the movies with popcorn and a coke in additional taxes every month meant adequate funding for the space program, then I say plainly, “Raise my taxes. Raise my taxes and return us to the place where mankind can once again look into the night sky, see the moon, and wonder what the men looking back think of the view. ”
It is our nature. It is our destiny. Let us reach out and embrace it with open arms today, and not waste another forty years, until our space pioneers are but memories, before we again dream impossible dreams and achieve impossible things.