When Neil Armstrong stepped out of Apollo 11's Lunar Module in July 1969, I was sitting beside my grandmother watching on her black and white television. Although I was completely unaware at the time, she was dying from cancer and would take her own final trip just a few months later. I treasure that memory... and miss her today.
As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be an astronaut. After a few flying lessons from a former Leatherneck pilot in an old cub prop plane, I was ready for the big show. I had it all mapped out. Through Vanderbilt for commissioning in the USMC. Flight school. Carrier duty. Instructor School. Test Pilot Program. Astronaut Program. Space!
God had a different plan. I never made it to step two...vision 20-40...unacceptable for flight training.
Now don't get me wrong, I was crushed. But looking back at how NASA changed from the glory days of Apollo through the routine grind of Skylab to driving a space bus called the Space Shuttle, maybe my dream wasn't the only one that faded.
When NASA finally announced a plan to go back to the moon, my batteries recharged. Since the birth of my fire-haired toddler, our daddy-daughter motto has been 'Red hair to the Red planet'. * We routinely participate in low gravity simulations and centrifugal exercises. By my calculation, NASA would be about ready for a Mars launch about the time she would be completing her PhD in astrophysics with an emphasis is subatomic particles. With a double undergraduates in geology and chemistry, she'd be a shoe in for the maiden voyage.
But once again, another dream is smashed...
The Obama Administration has deep-sixed the Constellation program which was the first step to put a working outpost on the moon by 2020 and a reasonable step toward a Mars mission. Again, don't get me wrong. I understand how expensive such an undertaking would be and there is actually logic in Obama's push to privatize some parts of space travel. Apollo cost $145 billion in today's dollars...not chump change, but not bailout money either. At the height of the program, NASA employed over 440,000 people. That would sure help some key employment indicators today.
NASA must be up to much more important things these days with the upcoming retirement of the space bus and Virgin Records sponsoring a new era of space tourism...sort of an Age of Aquarius deal I guess. The budget for NASA is still pretty rich at $19 billion for 2011, not the $27 billion for the Department of Agriculture for high fructose corn sweetener subsidies, but that's a different blog post now isn't it?
So how will NASA be spending their billions in the near future with no major space exploration planned? Funny you should ask...because just this week we got a glimpse of the new NASA:
Richard Gross, a scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and colleagues calculated that Saturday's earthquake in Chile shortened the Earth day by 1.26 microseconds. A microsecond is one-millionth of a second.
I'll bet that stinkin' guys an astrophysicist too...
*Disclaimer- Mrs. Tony C neither condones, encourages nor appreciates anyone who does condone and encourage her daughter to participate in interplanetary space travel, extraterrestrial colonization, human endurance experiments and any training to wit.