The Dream Is On Life Support
by Dave Bealer
In May 1961 John F. Kennedy was just four months into his
presidency. A cold war was raging, and a new race with the Soviets
was getting into full swing. The Soviets were ahead in the race for
space. In the face of all this Kennedy, who is best known for the
Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and his own gory death in
Dallas, made his greatest contribution to history. He pledged that
the United States would work to send a man to the moon and return
him safely to Earth by the end of the decade.
Kennedy's pledge set in motion the most exciting and
productive feat of science and engineering ever accomplished by
mankind. In only 98 months his will was carried out, although he
never lived to see it. In July 1969, with 17 months to spare, Neil
Armstrong uttered the most famous words in history as he set foot
on the moon, "that's one small step for man, one giant leap for
The hearts and spirits of people all over the Earth
(including a certain 11-year-old boy in Pennsylvania who was up
*way* past his bedtime) soared as Armstrong took that first human
step on a celestial body other than Earth. For a few hours all
mankind was truly united, in thought if not in deed or action.
Tranquility Base promised to be the first step in the long march
of human space exploration, and possibly a first step towards a
Alas, the bean counters got involved and mucked up the
whole thing. They pointed out that spending millions of dollars
to bring back a few moon rocks wasn't very cost effective. We had
"won" the race to the moon, what else did we need to prove? Plus
the U.S. was still in a nuclear arms race with the Soviets, not
to mention a shooting war in Vietnam.
On top of the financial considerations, humans displayed
their peculiar fascination with "firsts." Nobody remembers the
name of the second man to sail to the New World. Nor do they
remember the name of the second man to fly across the Atlantic.
History will remember the names Armstong and Aldrin. Can you
remember the names of the Apollo 12 astronauts who walked on the
Even quicker than it began, human fascination with space
travel faded. Only the crisis of Apollo 13 and the Challenger
disaster garnered headlines. In December 1972 astronaut Gene Cernan
became the last human being to set foot on the moon. As much as I
hope that last sentence is not the final word on the matter for
all time, it certainly appears final for this century.
Americans seem set against the idea of further space
travel and research. More immediate problems of pressing social,
political, and medical crises take all the publicity and the money.
Nearly everyone forgets the amazing number of new technologies that
have come from basic research for the space program. New materials,
new processes, and new medicines have all resulted from space
Many people might change their minds about the utility
of the space program if they were aware of all the useful
developments that have resulted from it, one of which may some day
save their life, or the life of a loved one. My own father's life
was extended several years by a cardiac pacemaker, one result of
research for the space program. To me, at least, that justifies
every penny spent on space research in the past 35 years.
Those of us who were eleven (or thereabouts) when Neil
Armstrong took that giant step into history expected to see
interplanetary space travel, and possibly even interstellar
travel, during our lifetimes. Many of us expected to be among
the first to make such voyages. The future espoused by Star Trek
seemed close enough to touch. Now it appears that greedy,
shortsighted people, working through even more greedy and short-
sighted politicians, have traded that glorious future for a few
crumbs and bandaids today. We don't need nationalized health
care. We need another Kennedy to lead us into space - to keep
the dream alive.
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Copyright 1994 Dave Bealer. All Rights Reserved.
Dave Bealer is a thirty-something mainframe systems programmer, and
an aspiring writer. When not listening to music, Dave writes for and
publishes his own e-mag, Random Access Humor. He can be reached at:
firstname.lastname@example.org; on the InterNet, or The Puffin's Nest,
(410) 437-1460, at Fido: 1:261/1129.
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