To look forward this week, let’s take a step back.
Fifty-two years ago, President Kennedy rallied the nation behind the goal of putting a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s. Last week, the 44th anniversary of man’s first footstep on lunar soil came and went amid some congressional talk of trying to preserve America’s moon-exploration artifacts by creating a “national” park. (There’s a nifty quiz in this link, too.)
It was an exciting time. Throughout what everyone referred to as “the space race,” TVs were wheeled into classrooms so kids could watch launches and recoveries as Mercury evolved into Gemini and blossomed into Apollo. Astronauts were heroes feted in tickertape parades when they returned. Space-inspired concepts shaped our cars, our décor, our fashion. It was the era of “The Jetsons,” Lost In Space,” “My Favorite Martian” and, of course, “Star Trek” – as well as “The Invaders.” (We weren’t completely sanguine about who might be out there watching us.)
In the race for national bragging rights, very few questioned the ROI on the billions spent – though the space program did lead to improved weather forecasting, made the U.S. a global leader in the computer industry and brought things like Teflon, Corning Ware and Tang into our kitchens. The Internet, robotic surgery, that GPS gadget on your dashboard and the roof on the Georgia Dome all grew out of NASA-developed technology.
Now, the International Space Station is taken for granted, rovers blandly explore Mars 33 million miles away, and the space shuttle landed for the last time two years ago. NASA itself is a bone of contention in Congress as members squabble over funding and mission.
I agree that we need to be fiscally responsible about allocating tax dollars, which means focus. But I find it disheartening when an elected body that can’t set its own house in order believes it’s qualified to decide the projects scientists should pursue. In this case, some House members want to stop a project to explore the asteroid belt – a project in its earliest planning stages – and tell NASA it’s time to go back to the moon.
My view? Been there, done that. The asteroid project promises huge business potential in addition to telling us more about how the solar system formed – and how we might protect ourselves the next time one of those floating rocks threatens to slam into our planet. Asteroids are rich in minerals, many rare on earth, and – if I’m not getting too crazy – could be captured, mined, colonized and used as platforms for further space exploration. Once NASA did its work, private industry could step in. Companies already are forming.
But you know what? I’m no expert either. All I want to see is a decision made for the right reasons – because it makes scientific and commercial sense – and not out of political motives.
The week ahead
A technology revolution of sorts is occurring in retirement communities, and it’s not just about better health care or broadband Internet connections. In the Aug. 2 Business Journal, reporter Heather Stauffer shows us what’s happening in the midstate.
And although it’s two weeks away, start thinking about our annual Top 100 issue. We’re polishing the final list for publication Aug. 9, and while I can’t give away any secrets, I will say you’ll learn some fascinating things about the midstate economy. Commercial plug: If you don’t subscribe to the Business Journal, you won’t see it.
If you’re looking for networking opportunities this week, click here.
The Cassini–Huygens unmanned spacecraft was launched from Cape Canaveral in 1997 on an intended seven-year mission to Saturn. Still going strong, on July 19 it sent back this photo of Earth from Saturn that I find enthralling and moving.
A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned science-celeb Neil deGrasse Tyson. Turns out, he’s doing a remake of Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” for Fox. I can’t think of anything more effective for stimulating wonder about the universe than Sagan’s 1978-79 effort (“We are made of star stuff”), but the trailer for the new effort is intriguing. (Note: The first 21 seconds are, intentionally, black.)
Thanks for time-traveling with me. For another view from the 1960s, I invite you to visit pioneering astronomer Galileo with Mr. Peabody and his friend Sherman.