Try and answer this to your nine year old:
“Dad, we’ve been to the moon, right?” he asks. “Yeah, back when I was a little kid,” I tell him.
“So we’re going to Mars next, right?”
How do I explain that we’re sort of not?
We gave up doing big things, and I’m not sure I can correlate this directly but I think a huge part of it came from when we started to become afraid. The generation that actually went to the Moon were not. They’d faced down the Depression and fought World War Two. For them, death was much more commonplace, there were outbreaks and diseases that could kill you around every corner. Today we shit our pants about the fake-assedness that is Ebola in the United States while for them thousands of kids would die annually from Polio. Whole neighborhoods would be on lockdown. It was just part of life.
Somehow, the American sense of fearlessness eroded and we started being afraid of everything. All the time. Maybe the Cold War, where we spent decades not actually fighting but just existentially in horror of a devastating total nuclear war did something to our psyches. Maybe it’s harder when the enemy isn’t wearing a uniform and driving a Tiger tank but is actually our own internal need to step past limitations. Maybe the pervasiveness of video news showing the reality of horror in full color makes us retreat.
So much of our public response to threat is nothing more than theatre designed to make people feel secure without providing any actual security. The entire TSA comes to mind. Now Ebola. When our actual leaders say we need to take drastic, stupid measures that trample on the one thing this country is supposed to be about (Liberty, by the way, for those of you who said “cheap gas and Big Gulps”) exceeding the recommendations of the consensus of accomplished doctors and scientists out of “an abundance of caution” I see the problem dead in the face.
An abundance of caution. Take “E pluribus unum” off the national seal and replace it with “Ex abundanti cautela”
It’s a risk to be alive. It’s a risk to say things you believe. It’s a risk to help someone when you’re worried about yourself. It’s a fucking risk to be awesome. That, apparently, is a risk fewer and fewer of us are willing to take. You can look foolish. People will try and cut you down. You will fail and one of the creampies you’re attempting to juggle will wind up on your face and you’ll be on Buzzfeed’s list of “Top Ten Epic Fails of All Time” and dear God who could stand that?
So we do nothing.
Going to the Moon was awesome. Like, crazy-fuck off-the-charts awesome. That the only people who have ever been there are all Americans, and that should tell you something. Now we talk about our next steps in space and people say, “We have problems to take care of at home…”
Did you ever notice these are the same people who don’t actually fucking want to fix problems at home?
“Ok! Problems at home!” I say. “Sweet! Lets build hyperfast trains! Let’s update the energy grid! Let’s convert to solar, create a real education system for all kids rather than fako bullshit like charter schools! Let’s build bridges and clean up the environment! Let’s run fiber optic cable to every home, create big innovation centers that support entrepreneurship and let’s start training for 21st century jobs not 19th century ones! End poverty and hunger! Stamp out disease worldwide! I’m down, let’s do this! ”
You will find the answer, every fucking time, from the “space is waste” crowd will be: “Um, no.”
Those who don’t want to tackle one challenge are the same people who don’t want face ANY challenges. Mitt Romney solved a massive problem in this state, MITT FUCKING ROMNEY and helped millions of people. He had to RUN AWAY from his health care program when he ran for president. The guy solved a problem and lost the election because of it. This is the situation we’re in. I would be the last person to call ole Mittens “awesome” but you have to give the guy credit, he got something done and a lot of people were better off afterwards. Apparently that’s not what anybody wants in a President. Obama went ahead and used this exact same program to solve the exact same problem nationally and he too helped millions of people using the same system and he gets no credit for it.
Did the economy crash? No, it’s better now. Is medical care worse? No, it’s the same as before. Remember all the pants-shitting about “Obamacare”? Did I miss when the Zombies clawed out of their graves and started gnawing on the bones of the living, or is shit just marginally better now- and just the simple gain of “no exemptions for preexisting conditions” was not in place before, so take that into your calculations.
Both of these guys solved an actual problem and got nothing but shit for it. No, it was not clean. No, the solutions were not ideal. But someone explain to me how we’re going to solve the challenges of the 21st century when two leaders can’t even solve a tangible problem using smart policy and compromise but get no credit from the majority of Americans for it? What the fucking Hell happened to us?
How we get to Mars:
I’m going to dare everybody for the month of November: Do something awesome. I don’t care what the fuck it is, do something. Bake an awesome cake and leave it somewhere for people to eat. Fix up a vacant lot. Write a song and play it at the commuter rail station in Chelsea (“The Saddest of the Stops”). I don’t care what, but it can’t be any of that “pay for the coffee of the person behind you in line” crap because that is not awesome, that is just stupid. I’m talking about making an instrument yourself out of scraps of wood and metal and posting a video of yourself playing it, or having an Ultimate Frisbee tournament at night in a rainstorm.
We get to Mars not by position papers and underfunded projects, but by one small act of awesome at a time. So every act in November we will call “My Step To Mars.” Most of you are doing awesome stuff anyway. Let’s hear about it.
Take us to Mars.
The only time I have EVER been to Chelsea commuter rail station…was to pick you up, Dowd.
(Should we tell anybody?)
Why did we go to the moon?
Not, “Why are you totally psyched that we went to the moon?”
But, “Why did we actually go to the moon?”
The answer, of course, is “to beat the Russians there.” We feared and hated them, so we simply had to get to the moon before they did. Once we did, we pretty much gave up on human exploration of space; they even canceled the final three Apollo missions.
Nothing much was learned in our conquest of the moon, beyond, the fact that we can achieve wicked awesome things when properly motivated. Mostly what we learned is that space travel is incredibly difficult and expensive, and making it to Mars and back is just about impossible.
That is why we send probes to Mars and elsewhere. They allow us to learn an incredible amount about our solar system without risking human lives. And relative to human travel, they are much cheaper. I’d gladly sacrifice a single manned mission to Mars in exchange for 25 probes.
Speaking of humans in space; what exactly have we learned from the $100 billion we have spent on the International Space Station? Beyond the fact that it stinks if not properly cleaned?
” With six people currently aboard the space station, providing them 18 pounds of fresh water per day costs taxpayers about $846,000 daily.”
Almost $1 million per day, just to get fresh water to 6 astronauts.
if this small-unit fusion power thing is more than just lockheed blowing smoke, that cost will come way down.
…just like a bicycle seat, really.
Another reason to seriously consider missions to Mars and beyond: http://www.space.com/20657-stephen-hawking-humanity-survival-space.html