Moving Outward

It seems to me….

The United States was not built by those who waited and rested and wished to look behind them. This country was conquered by those who moved forward, and so will space.” ~ John F. Kennedy[1].

The U.S. needs someone with the same scope and boldness as President Kennedy challenging us to dream and dare – the very attributes that as a nation we now seem to have lost. It is difficult to understand the foolishness and shortsightedness of the politically-motivated decisions to abandon the manned exploration of space almost a half-century ago. While there still are plans and discussions of a return to the Moon or a flight to Mars – they remain only talk with little apparent motivation or national priority. Given the experience and rapid development of the early space program in the 1960s, it is difficult to believe how everything accomplished up to then was abandoned and what by now could have been achieved: a permanent manned Lunar base by 1980, a manned Mars landing by 1990, a permanent base on Mars by 2000…. All thrown away by visionless politicians unable to dream of greater possibilities. The greatest opportunities were open to us – and they shut the door.

In a recent conversation with a neighbor, who also is a friend and usually in politically agreement, he mentioned he feels any investment in manned missions to Mars to be a waste of money. I could not more disagree. Somewhat surprised, I responded that I considered it extremely important. Not only is continued space exploration imperative, it seems easy to justify an expansion of such programs regardless of metrics used.

Most importantly, humans are an exploring species: it is a basic part of our nature. With few frontiers remaining here on Earth, only space remains. Some people travel for the sake of discovery and adventure but regardless of the reason, travel seems to be a human compulsion; a defining element of what is a distinctly human identity that will never rest at any frontier whether terrestrial or extra-terrestrial.

As humans, we are driven to explore the unknown, discover new worlds, push the boundaries of our scientific and technical limits, and then push the envelope even further. This intangible desire to explore and challenge the limitations of what we know and where we have been has proven beneficial to humanity from our very origin.

Space exploration helps to address fundamental questions about our place in the universe and the history of our solar system. Through addressing the challenges related to human space exploration we expand technology, create new industries, and help foster a peaceful connection with other nations. Curiosity and exploration are vital to the human spirit as is accepting the challenge of going deeper into space.

Mars has always been a source of inspiration for explorers and scientists. A mission to our nearest planetary neighbor provides the best opportunity to demonstrate that humans can live for extended, even permanent, stays beyond low Earth orbit. Sending scientists with proper instrumentation rather than robots would broaden the range of science and produce discoveries much more quickly. The technology and space systems required to transport and sustain explorers will drive innovation and encourage creative ways to address challenges. As previous space endeavors have demonstrated, the resulting ingenuity and technologies will have long lasting benefits and applications.

The U.S. manned space program at its very height cost each tax payer about $0.25 per person a year but the estimated return on the investment was several times that amount. It still is difficult to accept the ignorance and stupidity of the politicians responsible for those decisions.

The U.S. economy and technology allow us to accomplish anything we determine to be a priority yet we have stood with our feet firmly affixed to the ground since December 1972 rather than continuing our manned exploration of the universe. Everyone who has ever listened to the gnat-like calls of the distant stars cannot help but feel the frustration of what has been lost. Humanity, by our very nature, must become a multi-planet species.

We, as a nation, have reached a junction where we must either renew our commitment to push farther out, to build on our successes, to keep doing the increasingly difficult – or to lower our sights and compromise our goals. We, as humans, either are an exploring species or we slowly die never having realized our true destiny.

It is time for Homo sapiens to escape the earthly bonds that throughout our existence have constrained us to a single solitary rock in the vastness of the universe and to move outward realizing our destiny as an exploring species; to finally take our first steps on our way to the stars.

That’s what I think, what about you?

[1] John Fitzgerald “Jack” Kennedy was an American politician who served as the 35th U.S. President from January 1961 until his assassination in November 1963.

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About lewbornmann

Lewis J. Bornmann has his doctorate in Computer Science. He became a volunteer for the American Red Cross following his retirement from teaching Computer Science, Mathematics, and Information Systems, at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, CO. He previously was on the staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Stanford University, and several other universities. Dr. Bornmann has provided emergency assistance in areas devastated by hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. He has responded to emergencies on local Disaster Action Teams (DAT), assisted with Services to Armed Forces (SAF), and taught Disaster Services classes and Health & Safety classes. He and his wife, Barb, are certified operators of the American Red Cross Emergency Communications Response Vehicle (ECRV), a self-contained unit capable of providing satellite-based communications and technology-related assistance at disaster sites. He served on the governing board of a large international professional organization (ACM), was chair of a committee overseeing several hundred worldwide volunteer chapters, helped organize large international conferences, served on numerous technical committees, and presented technical papers at numerous symposiums and conferences. He has numerous Who’s Who citations for his technical and professional contributions and many years of management experience with major corporations including General Electric, Boeing, and as an independent contractor. He was a principal contributor on numerous large technology-related development projects, including having written the Systems Concepts for NASA’s largest supercomputing system at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. With over 40 years of experience in scientific and commercial computer systems management and development, he worked on a wide variety of computer-related systems from small single embedded microprocessor based applications to some of the largest distributed heterogeneous supercomputing systems ever planned.
This entry was posted in Earth, Exploration, Exploration, Human, Humanity, John (Jack) F. Kennedy, Kennedy, Lunar Base, Mars, Moon, Space, Stars and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Moving Outward

  1. berlioz1935 says:

    While agreeing with your sentiments in regard to space exploration I think you made a mistake in regard to the costs. It is said, that up to 2014 the US spent $900 billion. That is about $3000 per person (more per taxpayer). Over the 56 years, this averages out to about $53.50. $0.25 per person would come to only $75 million.

    https://news.utexas.edu/2014/07/21/anniversary-shows-us-that-nasa-and-space-exploration-are-worth-their-costs

    • lewbornmann says:

      You are correct. I’m not sure where I got the estimate shown in my post though it might have been from the book “Failure Is Not An Option”[1] but doubt Gene Kranz would make any error.

      Here is what I came up with when I recalculated the program costs:
      Program Years Total Cost Population Cost/Person
      —————————- ——- ———————– —————- —————–
      Mercury (1959–1963) 5 $277,000,000 183,690,000 $0.30
      Gemini (1962-1967) 6 $1,300,000,000 191,890,000 $1.13
      Apollo (1959-1973 14 $20,400,000,000 196,560,000 $7.41

      The actual program costs are from an article in “The Space Review”[2]. U.S. population came from U.S. Census Bureau figures for the midpoint year in the program rather than averaging the population over the program duration.

      Program costs are evenly distributed across the entire program life even though limited unit production probably skewed costs toward initial engineering and development. No attempt was made to provide costs in current dollars.

      I will admit my bias but very much believe in the value of the space program even if the cost had been $25 per person/year. Many studies have concluded that program was one of the best investments the U.S. ever made.

      The political loss of vision is extremely unfortunate and I do not like the perhaps inevitable bureaucracy that NASA has become. It would be far better if it were run more like DARPA with funding provided to competitive private developers. Someday, hopefully, in the near future, we will once again follow our dreams and step outward beyond our small planet. Unfortunately, it probably will not be within my lifetime.

      [1] Kranz, Gene. “Failure Is Not An Option”, Simon & Schuster, 2000.
      [2] Lafleur, Claude. “Costs Of US Piloted Programs”, The Space Review, http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1579/1, 8 March 2010.

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