Saturday, November 20, 2010
Where's My Moonbase?!
Terry Pratchett once observed that inside every old person is a young person wondering what happened.
Tonight I was thinking about how I had watched a man take a step off of his spacecraft and onto the surface of the moon. I was seven years old and that was over forty years ago. And I remember thinking that by the time I grew up they would have the first city on the moon, and I would be up there to see it. I even dreamed of being the captain of a moon ferry that would take people from one moonbase to another across the moons surface. I imagined giant telescopes built in the low lunar gravity and taking advantage of the lack of atmosphere to accomplish unprecedented astronomy. And I just knew I would be part of it.
Forty years ago.
I think it's safe to say that boy back then would have been mightily disappointed if he knew the way things were going to turn out. The future turned out to look a whole lot like the past, only with the ability to do more things on TV screens and with telephones. Not to mention the cars don't fly, nor even have those fins that made them look so cool anymore. I don't have a robot to do my housework, and it turns out half the nifty things invented to make my life easier over the past thirty years will probably give me a tumor. To be honest, in a lot of ways we have gone a whole lot of nowhere.
As a matter of fact, next year we retire the shuttle fleet. At that point the United States will effectively cease to have a manned space program. We can hitch rides with Russians up to the International Space Station, but that's it. Our astronauts will just be hitchhikers on other peoples spacecraft to other peoples Space Stations. That's where we are forty years later.
Somehow, somewhere in the past, the people who made those decisions lost the whole vision thing. And this is where it has left us. For a fraction of what TARP cost us, we could have funded every single project cancelled by NASA this century, including the manned moon missions. But we just don't have it in us anymore. I wonder if we will even be training astronauts in another ten years time? Or I wonder if in another forty years, the last of the people who watched a man step out onto the surface of the moon will be dying off in retirement homes around the country, being taken care of by people who could never understand the world they came from.