Keep space alive in the Sunshine State
Published: Sunday, July 10, 2011
Updated: Sunday, July 10, 2011 20:07
When President John F. Kennedy chose to go to the moon in 1961, the Sunshine State instantly became the place for space. Within that decade, Florida experienced population growth, a technological boom and a major landscape change. Indeed, the citrus groves, sandbars and swamps of Melbourne were quickly transformed into major launch sites — ones that would propel humans and their rockets past the Earth's atmosphere, onto the moon and toward the stars.
It was Florida's Space Coast that fueled the American dream of doing big things — not because they were easy, but because they were hard. But now, as the retirement of the space shuttle program is before us, we are forced to ask — what's next for human space exploration?
Before we look into the future, we need to look back into the past. In 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower and the U.S. Congress passed the National Aeronautics and Space Act. It was the Soviet Union's successful launch of the world's first man-made satellite, Sputnik, that enticed the U.S. government to do so. The Space Act authorized the creation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, more commonly known as NASA.
As we already know, former U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong took one giant leap for mankind in 1969, becoming the first man to walk on the moon. With its moon mission now accomplished, NASA needed a new project. And with a lack of direction came budget cuts, forcing the Administration to conjure some idea for human space exploration, soon to be known as the space shuttle.
A spacecraft without a real mission, the shuttle program was an unpopular one from the start. Designed to be a reusable truck that would make the business of putting people into orbit on a regular basis, many felt that the shuttle program would only produce a broader, vaguer — and in many ways — more difficult mode of space flight.
Despite the doubts, NASA continued the shuttle program for 30 years, and in that time we have succeeded in doing almost nothing. Two crews have been lost in fatal accidents, and an International Space Station (ISS) has been built, but it circles the planet in low-Earth orbit — a distance lacking ambition to be blunt. It should also be noted that ISS is scheduled to be de-orbited in 2020. Back in 2003, the shuttle program had been deemed "old, unsafe and costly" by The Economist.
I have no intention of discrediting the space program's crews or engineers. Nor do I intend to ignore the jobs that will be lost in Florida with the program's ending. By contrast, I feel that space exploration is extremely important and necessary for a strong nation and economy.
I actually grew up right here in Orlando. My dad, a UCF graduate, was once employed near the Space Coast. Watching the shuttle launches from my bedroom window was a family tradition, and hearing the sonic boom when the shuttle landed was even better. Going to space is the American way, and if you ask fellow Americans, they would agree with me — in fact, the majorities in nearly all demographic groups say it is essential that the U.S. continue to be at the vanguard of space exploration.
Exploring the depths of space has both scientific and symbolic importance, and if we are to keep moving forward in the space industry, then we need to consider privatizing NASA, at least to a point. Undeniably, history has shown that Congress is not going to pay for innovation or entrepreneurship — but companies like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic will.
We cannot deny that the space shuttle's retirement is going to have terrible short-term impacts on an already depressed economy and unemployment rate. However, in the long term, the Sunshine State will remain the place for space. It won't be easy, but then again, we're known for doing things because they're hard.