Space Program Article (Pittsburgh Trib)

Submitted to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review – 1.17.2012

I have a little bit of a gripe, and not the kind of gripe that I would rant and rail about, but the kind that I can only sit back and watch from a distance. A spectator in the collective degradation of what was a ballsy, risk-taking country. This came to me in most shocking fashion when I saw your piece about the Russian space program bearing the headline “Russian space probe crashes to Earth”. Believing the Russian space program to be all but defunct, imagine my surprise when I find out that their program is alive and thriving. While still not as robust and all-out as our programs used to be, it is nonetheless another chapter in man’s quest to expand his understanding and reach in an universe that with all of our magnificent technology, we know next to nothing about.

What are we doing?

Rewind to July 20th, 1969. Apollo 11. With a national effort topping the scale of the Manhattan Project, the United States achieved it’s goal set forth by a dreaming president, landing two men, in a craft named “Eagle”, on our nearest celestial neighbor, the Moon. With a slew of returns to the Moon after Apollo 11, the program flew its final flight with Apollo 17. We have not returned to the Moon with a manned flight since the early 1970’s.

The Russians are now setting their sights even further, the moon Phobos (a Latin word meaning “fear”) orbiting Mars, our nearest planetary neighbor. I have no doubt that the Russians are in due time planned to make a manned landing on Mars and its moons, Phobos and Deimos. With the data already gathered and shared with the world from the probes and rovers already sent to the Red Planet, surveying its 2 moons is the next logical step in establishing a foothold on Mars.

My gripe is, “Why are we so easily and casually dismissing lunar exploration and exploitation?”

With colonial establishment on the Moon, you not only pave the way for tourism, you also stand to glean rather remarkable ores and minerals from the lunar surface. The Moon is not only an artifact that should be preserved, but a treasure from an economic and business perspective.

With economic troubles starting to ease, according to figures released by the White House, we should be setting upon a project that the entire country can get behind and imagine. Something to inspire. Something to motivate new groups of students not yet choosing their vocations in college that maybe, just maybe their futures are waiting among the stars, in the vacuum of space. The Moon is quite simply step one.

This generation needs our Apollo Program. We need our reason to look at the possibilities of the future, which are not fixed upon this planet of constant hardship, but soaring in the skies of exploration and human invention. Surely if we have learned one thing from the Apollo program, it is that when we as a country and a people put our minds to something, it is then only a matter of time before we accomplish it.

Johnathan Hales



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