Monday, July 20, 2009

Space: The Liberal Frontier

A curious nexus of events is occuring right now, coincidences abound.
Today marks, as you undoubtedly know, the 40th anniversary of the first moonwalk by Neil Armstrong.
It's hard to believe that it's been forty years. It's harder still to believe that the promise of those early space explorations has been strangled in the cradle by bureaucrats and people without dreams, pragmatists.
Less hard to believe is that Walter Cronkite, one of the voices of the American space program, has been stilled on the very threshold of this anniversary.
Cronkite reported on many tragic events in a turbulent American landscape at a time when change was something real, not a campaign slogan. Through it all, from assassinations to war to student unrest to politics, Cronkite kept his composure, at times when a lesser man would have broken down (and indeed, many did).
If you look closely at the time he reported on the death of John F. Kennedy, you can see him fight his tears back, because he knew his job was to tell us what happened, not to feel it.
In fact, the only time I can recall Cronkite being so overwhelmed by the news was on this date, 40 years ago, as man stepped out onto the surface of another celestial body for the first time.
Part of that, no doubt, was the monumental task involved and the effort America dedicated to it. Three astronauts died testing Apollo 1. Millions and millions of dollars were spent honing and refining technology. A nation that had come of age with the death of its youngest President, his brother and a man of peace, all at the hands of gun violence, was in desperate need of a spark and the shiny metal boxes of the space program provided welcome relief.
A nation cheered Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins, less for their achievement than for the relief from our losses.
But I think a larger part is unspoken often when discussing what the moon landing meant to us. We were set upon the task by that youngest President, who saw the competition that the Soviet Union had laid down upon his table and rose to the challenge. We were scared not only of the world around us, but of ourselves. America revealed an uglier side with the use of the atomic bomb, no matter whether such use was justified or not and continuing right into a war of aggression that was probably pointless.
Cronkite's brain cramp, his "wow" moment, was undoubtedly largely influenced by all this: the tears he had been unwilling to shed that November day were exhaled on this July day.
There was a sense of completion that day, to be sure. The entire nation had been ramped up for the exploration of space for so long and as 1968 closed and we saw images of our earth from Apollo 8, at the end of a year of violence and unrest, it was almost as if the entire country stood still and clasped hands. We really were all in this together on this little blue marble.
 That image marked the pursuit of the moon in earnest. Hell, even SNOOPY was an astronaut!
The decade closed much as it had opened: with promise and hope and new beginnings. Sadly that promise was broken, the hope quashed and the new beginnings became "nothing in the street looks any different to me." History didn't change, at least not for the better. We ended up in the morass of self-righteousness and moral lecturing that we've seen these past forty years grown and morph this country from one that looked forward to one yearning to move backwards, past the moonwalk, past the assassinations, back to a time when men were men, women were silent, and minorities were at best ignored.
The promise of space is a promise of progressivism. The promise of space is liberalism writ large, on a cosmic scale. What we learned going to the moon, indeed the benefits we've always makes me laugh to read a criticism about space exploration written on a computer using the very microchips that grew out of Apollo...have been massive, and I think we've only just begun to understand technology's promise from space.
We really have no choice, we humans. We must move forward. We must move outward. We must seek space.