Charles Krauthammer points out that, come 2011, “for the first time since John Glenn flew in 1962, the U.S. will have no access of its own for humans into space — and no prospect of getting there in the foreseeable future.” Barack Obama’s budget kills NASA’s Constellation program, the successor to the Shuttle.
It is not only the space enthusiasts who will suffer. We hear constantly about the desperate need for new American technologies, a trend of innovation to make us the world’s undisputed forerunner in new fields, and eventually leading to vastly more efficient energy consumption. The idea on the Left is to throw giant sums of money at some amorphous wonder-concept called sustainable energy. Why anyone believes that state-imposed, centrally planned “innovation” will fare any better than state-imposed, centrally planned anything else is a mystery. Technological advances usually take a far more circuitous route to the marketplace. A first stop for countless innovations has been NASA. Everything from long-distance communication to cosmetic dentistry has benefited from the intellectual dynamo that is America’s space program.
China – as the New York Times columnists never tire of telling us — is leading the world in electric bicycles, solar panels, and speed trains. It has been suggested that the next man on the Moon will be Chinese. The truth is, electric bicycles, solar panels, speed trains, and even Moon travel are decades-old novelties — the kind of stuff that a country desperate to be seen as a great innovator would love to tout. But real innovation won’t come from obscurantist autocracies. It will come from parties living in free countries. It will come from sources like the Ad Astra Rocket Company of Webster, Texas, which recently developed the most powerful plasma engine in the world; it gets as hot as the surface of the sun. As it happens, the head of Ad Astra is a former NASA astronaut with the beautifully American name, Franklin Chang-Diaz.
We can keep our fingers crossed and hope for the perpetual-motion machine of fuel sources to spontaneously appear, or we can continue to fund and support the programs that have projected American imagination beyond the heavens and back.