I grew up in the fading light cast by the glory of the moon landings.
I grew up hearing about the astronauts landing on the moon. Walking, actually walking on an alien surface!
I grew up reading Heinlein's "Rocket Ship Galileo," Arthur C. Clarke's "Space Odyssey" and Asimov's "Foundation" series. I grew up with Star Trek and Star Wars, and I knew that as physics-defying nonsense-filled as they were, it was a tale of exploration - and we were explorers, and we were out there exploring!
And then I grew up.
It is the nature of Man that, in every society, you expand and progress, or you stagnate and decay.
We haven't landed on the moon in over 35 years. We've sent robots places, but Mankind has been stuck in low earth orbit ever since 1972. We beat the Russians, and lost interest. The "giant leap for mankind" never resulted in us learning to run; we sat back down and never tried even walking again. Instead of advancing - we stagnated. We decayed.
A few years ago, Bush instituted a new vision in NASA intended to put men on the Moon, and on Mars. It was a grand plan, a wondrous idea, a beautiful and majestic vision. Only problem; this vision didn't come with any money. And how could it? We've bankrupted ourselves with our pyramid schemes of entitlements, with our congressional-military-industrial complex, with our sheer greed. But Dr. Mike Griffin, the head of NASA, did his best to plan this vision anyway, and expand NASA's role in the future of real space exploration.
Then came 2008. All three major presidential candidates have signed on to the idea of reducing NASA, instead of expanding it. Once the Space Shuttle retires, we won't even have a way to send anybody into low earth orbit until 2014 at the earliest, which is more likely to be 2016, or later. The reaction to this in congress is shock, horror, demands that NASA do something about it... And decreased funding.
Now, the libertarian in me doesn't believe that NASA is any more deserving of funding than welfare. You can certainly make a point with that. And it certainly hasn't done that much grand and inspiring work in decades. But if you're going to cut things, I'd put that last on the list. First get rid of the Department of Education, which has done more damage to the very concept of learning than any one entity should! First get rid of the institutionalized health care mandates, and welfare, and overseas empire... Yeah, NASA would be one of the last things I'd cut. Still, I can understand why a true libertarian would want to. But as we watch the Chinese and Russians and Japanese and the EU ramp up their space programs, aiming for the Moon, aiming for Mars...
I miss the wonder. I miss feeling like we, as Americans, were headed there in the pioneer tradition that built this nation. I miss feeling like we were headed towards a brighter future in space.
I hope that this changes. I hope we retake the lead in true space exploration. It is truly the future. If we don't, we honestly have as good as forfeited our place in that future, because it will happen, whether we're a part of it or not. Maybe we'll do it through private enterprise, doing it despite the government instead of through them. Maybe not. I just don't know. But for now, I'm going to crack open a classic 50s SciFi book and read about how American Ingenuity will put colonies in space (most likely with giant computers and atomic power!)...
And I'm going to recapture a little of that wonder.