The Mooselings were all agog yesterday at all the news photos of the safe-and-sound space shuttle Discovery. The New York Times boasted of how this “brick with wings” had "dropped below the speed of sound” to make an uneventful landing after what Commander Eileen Collins characterized as a “wild ride," in a NASA television live broadcast. Of course, President Bush weighed in, saying the mission “was an important step for NASA as it regains the confidence of the American people and begins to transition to the new mission we've set out for NASA.”
Though he didn’t specify what exactly this new mission would mean for the American space program, the sentiment was clear: Tuesday was a day to celebrate the Discovery’s safety and resounding success. But John Schwartz and Warren E. Leary spell it out for the Mooselings:
Discovery's mission, on paper, was straightforward: it involved resupplying the International Space Station and testing new technologies and techniques for detecting, measuring and repairing damage from launch debris.
But at the core, the mission of Discovery was to get the United States back in the business of launching humans into space.
Today, we are some 114 shuttle launches since the successful trip to the moon in 1969, and the Mooselings would like to be able to marvel at how far we’ve come. Relatively speaking, however, the enthusiasm for the Discovery and its mission feel a little new for Mooselings, since they are much too young to recall the soaring optimism and ambition of John F. Kennedy’s speech at Rice University in 1962, when he dared the country to boldly go where no man had gone before, and to do so by the end of the decade:
We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.
While the Mooselings love the idea of a new mission, they long for a day when they had a president who urged the country to be as risky, audacious, wondrous and ever-ambitious in our efforts as we could imagine in our exploration and innovation of space and technology. In 1962, space still largely felt like science fiction to most Americans, but it went on to become the great adventure of our time, as much a patriotic pursuit as a scientific and technical one. In the wake of Sputnik, talk of a “missile gap,” and a lingering fear in the early 60’s that the Soviets had far surpassed us in engineering, military and space technology, Kennedy’s speech goes on to address a nation that felt it mandatory to be the leaders in the race for space:
Those who came before us made certain that this country rode the first waves of the industrial revolutions, the first waves of modern invention, and the first wave of nuclear power, and this generation does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of space. We mean to be a part of it - we mean to lead it. For the eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond, and we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace. We have vowed that we shall not see space filled with weapons of mass destruction, but with instruments of knowledge and understanding.Yet the vows of this Nation can only be fulfilled if we in this Nation are first, and, therefore, we intend to be first. In short, our leadership in science and in industry, our hopes for peace and security, our obligations to ourselves as well as others, all require us to make this effort, to solve these mysteries, to solve them for the good of all men, and to become the world's leading space-faring nation…
To be sure, we are behind, and will be behind for some time in manned flight. But we do not intend to stay behind, and in this decade we shall make up and move ahead.
The growth of our science and education will be enriched by new knowledge of our universe and environment, by new techniques of learning and mapping and observation, by new tools and computers for industry, medicine, the home as well as the school. Technical institutions, such as Rice, will reap the harvest of these gains.
During a ceremony in space last week, the Discovery crew honored astronauts who died in past space missions. "(Those astronauts) knew that in order for a great people to do great things, they must not be bridled by timidity," said Discovery crew member Charlie Camarda. Though the future of space and aviation is not the same today as it was in the 1960s, for innovation’s sake alone, Kennedy’s urgency ought to be remembered. We don’t need our confidence in NASA or its capabilities renewed – we know space travel is supposed to be bold and risky. We shouldn’t just go up into space – if we are to advance, we must do new things, go new places. For now, the Mooselings just miss the days when it was an American priority for our reach to far exceed our grasp.
– The Mooselings --