Is it the end of ‘the Right Stuff’?

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When Atlantis lifted off on its final mission scheduled for Friday, it brought to an end an era of space exploration that began for the U.S. with the Soviet launch of the unmanned satellite “Sputnik 1” in 1957 and the first man to fly in space, Russia’s Yuri Gagarin, on April 12, 1961.

Alan Shepard followed Gagarin into space on May 5, 1961, becoming the second person, and the first American, to fly in space and under John F. Kennedy’s vision and with resolve and resources, the U.S. reached his stated goal of “landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth” on July 20, 1969.

In the ‘60s, the place to be for a young reporter was Houston, Texas. I met many of the original seven astronauts, and the ones who followed them. NASA, Mercury, Gemini and Apollo became household names. “A-OK,” “The Eagle has landed” and “throttle up” entered the lexicon.

On a commercial flight a few years ago, I sat across the aisle from John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth. This was when Glenn was a Democratic senator from Ohio. The in-flight movie was “Apollo 13,” about the mission to the Moon, aborted because of mechanical failure.

When the film ended, several people asked Glenn for his autograph. I said, “John, you know they are not asking for your autograph because you’re a senator, don’t you?”

He laughed. “How well I know.”

Whose autographs do we seek today when celebrity has eclipsed accomplishment?

There is disagreement between the current NASA leadership and NASA’s old guard who say the failure to commit to manned space flight endangers America’s dominance in space.

The Obama administration announced plans in February 2010 to cancel the “Constellation” program, the goal of which was to return Americans to the Moon, Mars and beyond. Two months later, he presented a new space policy, which he said would “increase NASA’s budget by $6 billion over the next five years ... increase Earth-based observation to improve our understanding of our climate and our world ... and extend the life of the International Space Station...” As to space exploration, Nobody is more committed to manned space flight, to human exploration of space than I am,” he said.

That remains to be seen. Meaningful deep-space exploration requires human participation for meaningful results. And, according to The New York Times, NASA is facing “a brain drain that threatens to undermine safety as well as the agency’s plans.” No more shuttles, no need for rocket scientists. “The good guys,” the Times reports, “see the end coming and leave.”

Former NASA Administrator Michael Griffin believes the space agency has “lost its way.” In an article for Air & Space magazine in 2007, Griffin set out the philosophical argument for “The Real Reason We Explore Space”: “... most of us want to be, both as individuals and as societies, the first or the best in some activity ... a second reason is curiosity. ... Finally we humans have, since the earliest civilizations, built monuments. We want to leave something behind to show the next generation ... what we did with our time here. This is the impulse behind cathedrals and pyramids, art galleries and museums.”

Retired shuttle astronaut Jack Lousma summed up to me the dangers inherent in the loss of American leadership in manned space flight: “In days gone by, and in order to capture support for a new space initiative, NASA would offer all kinds of rationale to sideline critics and to make the ‘sale,’ that is, spin off innovative new products, strengthen national security, inspire education, manage Earth’s resources, capture 6-7 times return on investment, etc. ...

“Nobody was far-sighted enough during the Apollo buildup to ‘sell’ the public and to blunt criticism, by predicting a computer in every home, the Internet, GPS, cellphones, medical instrumentation and a host of other ‘far-out’ inventions. This will happen again, despite Obama, who has put a huge obstacle in the way, temporarily, I believe, but not until we have lost the ‘best and brightest’ of space flight, along with tens of thousands of experienced and dedicated space workers.”

[Cal Thomas is America’s most widely syndicated op-ed columnist, appearing in more than 600 national newspapers. He is the author of more than 10 books and is a FOX News political contributor since 1997. Email Cal Thomas at tmseditors@tribune.com.] ©2011 TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

carbonunit52
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The "Right Stuff" for space travel

at this point in our development are robots. Maned space flight was, is and will be for the foreseeable future a highly inefficient use of money and resources. Robots do a wonderful job of space exploration. Let's spend that money in the oceans instead.

roundabout
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Well, we will need to desalinize the ocean....

........but that also will eventually have to be done.

We will be out of good water in about 40-50 years at the current rate of usage.
However, GA will never finance a unit to do that in Georgia, the Socialists in Washington will however.

The future also has these two problems:

Kids aren't learning in school what we need; they aren't learning English Composition, and they aren't learning the principles of math.

How do I know? Have you read many paragraphs or Essays that haven't been corrected by Mom, Dad, Teacher, or spell checker?
They are from mediocre to horrible 90% of the time. No one will be able to understand each other soon.

The other is Math: I looked up the word Octillion yesterday in the dictionary (unabridged) and it didn't list it!
The concept of the power of math in such explorations and common sense isn't recognized as useful now.

For those interested:

Math goes from million (10 to 6 power) to Centillion (10 to 303 power).
The googles, etc., are chump change to that!
I assume most know how to get to a million!

It has to change. We have assimilated everyone to one level and instead of sorting or re-training, we are levelling!

Do you know why pool is really billiards? There are 15 numbered balls. from the word billion!

Do you know how many dimples a golf ball had and what it is called on a circle? Oh, never mind.

One can't think like that unless you are Archimedes or taught.

If we don't we will go back to creation humans one day.

roundabout
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It would have been useless, except as a job generator..

....to continue the Shuttle program.

We are going to Mars next and need another ship to put things on the space station that will propel us there!

As soon as that is perfected, we will land on a Mars asteroid in orbit first---then go from there easily to Mars.

Then from Mars, after building a colony there, to wherever we wish in our galaxy.

Other galaxies are for later when our universities catch up with the research.

Do you really think we can live here many more centuries with octillion people trying to eat?

Cyclist
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Cal Thomas and SPACE PATROL

Would somebody please tell Mr. Thomas that these are not those heady days of the early 1960's. It all changed on Novenmber 3, 1964, when some guy from Texas with really big ear lobes became president. Now, we can't afford our own country anymore because of those social programs and coupled with the fact that the dollar today is worth only .13 cents as compare to its 1960 value.

MajorMike
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Cy - LBJ

Johnson was arguably the most corrupt President in American History. He went into office with no money and emerged as a very wealthy man. Additionally Lady Bird made millions(in 1960's money) on her Bell helicopter stock.

Let me see ..... how many good men paid for Johnson's money with their lives.

I won't get started on items like finding Johnson's competition for a judgeship floating face down in the Pecos river.

But there IS a bright side - Johnson was a hero of the Civil Rights movement! [sic]

Lokking at it sans emotion though, Obama is merely the end (I hope) product of the Johnson "legacy".

Cyclist
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Major

Tha's why I didn't mention him by name. He was truly a real - you fill in the blanks - winner.

roundabout
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Reagan only ideal President.....

......Is that right?

MajorMike
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Cy - LBJ

Filling in the blanks here; "piece of human garbage".

roundabout
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Cyclist

Do you mean the guy with the hound dogs that he could pick up by their ears?

Yeah, I remember him. A genius. (political that is).

Cyclist
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You know roundabout...

If it wasn't for that stupid commercial the other guy would have won.

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