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Archive for July 12th, 2011

NASA, American exceptionalism, and me: older, and less viable

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As a child turning teen in the late 1950s, the black-and-white RCA in the living room received only three channels … well, four, but we didn’t watch PBS. So I read. Newspapers, of course (after Dad finished sports and Mom finished news). And books. The library was only two blocks away, so I spent afternoons there sampling the stack. I was a small-town boy at the end of the idyllic “Father Knows Best” decade of Eisenhower placidity, a geeky kid feeling the first pangs of puberty.

I longed for adventure beyond being a Boy Scout or tossing a football with neighborhood pals. In the library I found adventure stories set in space, spun with well-chosen words and exquisitely crafted plots.

I discovered Arthur C. Clarke’s “Childhood’s End.” Then Robert A. Heinlein’s “Methuselah’s Children,” Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” and Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation and Empire.” Science fiction (or, in Clarke’s case, science prediction) captivated me. I became a sci-fi cognescenti.

Then, in 1957, came the shocker: Sputnik. Later, in April 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person to fly in space. The Soviets appeared poised to dominate the Age of Space. Those early days of the Cold War meant little to me; I was barely in high school. But those nascent orbital flights stirred hope for adventures forecast by Clarke, Heinlein, Bradbury, and Asimov. They allowed me to imagine I would visit the Moon, maybe Mars, and defeat time and the speed of light to orbit Proxima Centauri in a warp-drive space ship.

I’ve been re-reading them because, a half century after dreaming of travel to other worlds, I remain grounded. I won’t leave footprints on the Moon, let alone orbit a star 4.2 light years away. Only 12 people have stood on the lunar surface, and I’m not one of them, and I never will be.

What the hell went wrong?
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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

July 12, 2011 at 2:23 pm

Posted in Uncategorized