Jul 4, 2006

On Discovery, Space Exploration, and the Future of Humanity

Discovery shuttle STS-121Left: Discovery shuttle STS-121

(Cape Canaveral, FL) After two weather delays and concerns about cracks in the vehicle's insulation foam, the space shuttle Discovery and its crew of seven astronauts blasted off on the Fourth of July.

In a word, the liftoff was breathtaking.

NASA's administrators decided to continue with the launch of Discovery despite the objections of safety and engineering officials. The dissenters said that the shuttle's fuel tank needed additional repairs.

For the moment I sit in awe in front of my television set, marveling at the symbol of human endeavor that is a manned space launch.

Coming as it does on the celebration of American independence, Discovery's launch is also representative of the apex of American achievement and ingenuity, of what can happen when Americans work toward a common goal.

Critics decry the money spent on space exploration and the development of the International Space Station (ISS), which alone cost over $100 billion. Given the existing world problems of hunger, disease, and scarce resources, perhaps they are right.

But history will be the true judge of the merits of human space exploration, and I believe that this leap of technological faith is necessary for the advancement of the human species.

Any fireworks I view this evening on the shores of the Maumee River will seem run-of-the-mill after the spectacular launch of Discovery, and yet I will no doubt look to the heavens after the grand finale and gaze at the stars.

Like countless people before me, I will wonder what worlds lie just beyond our reach, and if I will live to see a day when we make contact with the inhabitants of another planet.

Happy Independence Day.


Anonymous said...

I'm surprised you support the space program, HM. I think it's a colossal waste and a drain on the taxpayers. Give the money back!

historymike said...

Ah - I am truly a child of the Space Age.

One of my earliest memories was the 1969 moonwalk; I was five, and the images on our new color television are still etched in my head.

Much of the technology we now take for granted - such as computers and cell phones - owe a great debt to NASA engineers.

Is NASA top-heavy and bloated? Certainly.

Can we pare some bureaucracy from NASA while still continuing space exploration? Most definitely.

I think that we have just begun to tap the possibilities of the technological revolution, and that space exploration will yield tremendous benefits to humanity beyond our current ability to grasp.

BrianMaxson said...

Nothing like being on the Intracoastal ina boat 20 miles from the launch pad.

Just like being behind a NHRA top fuel dragster. Vibrates down to the core.

If NASA were to go private, there's no telling who is sending what up into space. At least with NASA, or a similar feature within the government, there will be some sort of regulation and source as to what is sending who where.

Roland Hansen said...

I, too, am a "child" of the space age (well actually I am even older than HM by about 17 years).
HM mentions computers. There's also Tang, teflon, ultrathin "camping" blankets, LEDs, lasers, and more. Those space exploration by-products not only provide consumers with new products but also spring up new industries, entrepeneurs, and related support industries. Not to mention jobs, jobs, jobs. That all turns into more spendable income and revenues.

Pink_Slip said...

Those who say the space program is a waste are short-sighted. I think to help ensure the survival of our species, we need to continue to explore. Terra-forming Mars would be the ultimate accomplishment.

Lloyd said...


I would be interested in your opinion on the conspiracy that the moon walk was a hoax...

historymike said...


I read somewhere that 4% of the US population believes the moonwalk was faked.

I think that there were too many people involved for such a conspiracy to have taken place. Conspiracies tend to be successful only when a precious few people are involved.

Of course, I was only five when the moon landing occurred. It looked real to me, but then again so did Star Trek.

Hooda Thunkit said...

There is nothing else like the chest-thumping roar of those engines, when the shuttle is headed into space.

And, more that 4% of the population keeps the tabloids in business by buying and reading them.

The landing was faked; on an underground stage in area 51, everybody knows that. Just ask a Grey ;-)