Last week I wrote about the sad fact that the Endeavor shuttle flight marked the last manned NASA mission for the foreseeable future. Today, three commanders of U.S. missions to the moon, including the first and the last men on the Moon, decried President Obama’s decision to shut down the Constellation program that might returned Americans to space.
Neil Armstrong, Jim Lovell and Gene Cernan co-authored a piece in today’s USA Today that contrasted the president’s refusal to make a serious commitment to space exploration with the record of another Democratic president to whom many compare Obama. Today happens to be the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s memorable May 25, 1961 speech to a joint session of Congress during which he challenged the nation to go to the Moon:
First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.
The general apathy about space in the country seems to reinforce the conclusion of some that the race to the Moon was just a byproduct of a Cold War rivalry that bears no relevance to our situation today. It is true that post-Sputnik fears about Soviet domination of space helped drive the Eisenhower administration to back NASA. But it must be understood that Kennedy’s inspirational rhetoric spoke to something deeper in the American soul than fear of Communism. Kennedy’s belief was that the United States can and should be first, not only to the Moon, but also in industry and science and that it must become “the world’s leading space-faring nation.” But rather than continuing that vision, Obama has adopted a pedestrian and short-sighted policy that has contributed to a situation that will force any American astronaut or scientific project to buy a ticket on (irony of ironies) a Russian spacecraft. Kennedy’s belief in national greatness is simply incompatible with Obama’s view of America as a generally negative force in history.
Obama’s admirers are fond of likening him to JFK, but so far the only apt comparison lies in the Camelot-like fawning on the president that characterizes much of the mainstream media’s coverage of the president. Armstrong, Lovell and Cernan believe Obama’s killing of Constellation means that he has strayed significantly not only from NASA’s operational mandate but also from Kennedy’s vision. The president was elected on a slogan promising “hope” but after decades of neglect of NASA by Washington it is Obama who has effectively killed JFK’s dream of America’s mission in space.
As they conclude:
Kennedy launched America on that new ocean. For 50 years we explored the waters to become the leader in space exploration. Today, under the announced objectives, the voyage is over. John F. Kennedy would have been sorely disappointed.