Today marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most defining speeches of John F. Kennedy's presidency - the call for America to land a man on the moon.
"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," Kennedy told a joint session of Congress in 1961 as the U.S. and Russia were vying for superiority in the new frontier. NASA's Apollo program achieved what Kennedy intended, putting together six successful manned lunar landings between 1969-72, bringing the crews safely home along with a wealth of scientific knowledge.
Retired astronomer William E. Howard, who served in military, academic and intelligence organizations, said the Kennedy speech inspired a lot of people to go into science.
Donald Bogard was a college student when Kennedy made his speech and in 1969, when the Apollo 11 crew brought back the first rocks from the moon, he was a scientist in the lunar receiving lab at NASA's Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston. Last year, Bogard retired as chief scientist for astromaterials at the center. He maintains that "Apollo science set the stage for the golden era of planetary exploration."
Some in the current Obama administration obviously doubt that future manned space missions are worth the expense and favor us journeying to an asteroid. They also feel robots are the cheaper way to go.
A half century after Kennedy initiated the Apollo program, scientists are still studying the moon, currently with robotic spacecraft. The late Robert Jastrow, a nuclear physicist who led early NASA lunar science planning, contended that the lunar surface should be explored as the "Rosetta Stone of the solar system."
Gene Cernan, who walked on the moon twice and was the last astronaut to accomplish that fete, supports that belief. He said that when Kennedy talked in his speech about "sailing on new oceans," he was talking about our future in space.
"We need to develop something that gets us back and keeps us as a leader in space exploration," he said in a recent interview.
As for robots being a cheaper way to go, Cernan feels that human identity counts in space exploration and that there is no substitute for human intelligence. And as far as the cost, he points out that less than a half a penny is spent on the space program from the money the federal government collects in income taxes.
Given the amount of government excess and frivolous spending we hear about in Washington, Cernan and others in the NASA family have reason to be upset. Just yesterday, a GAO report showed that at least 3,700 recipients, owing a total of more than $757 million in taxes, were awarded $24 billion in stimulus money, a program which Vice President Joe Biden vowed he would be policing.
That was the administration's firstmistake. Biden is a career politician whose work experience in the public sector is nonexistent.
When Americans see that a huge amount of federal money goes to tax cheats, at a time when our national debt has skyrocketed to $14 trillion (and counting), it's no wonder that Washington insiders like Biden rank so poorly with citizens.
By Jim Zbick