The LuLac Edition #2150, August 7th, 2012
THE MARS EQUATIONThe other morning Mrs. LuLac and I stayed up after 1am eastern time to see the landing of the Mars probe Curiosity. It was something to see. Just a minute after the probe did its difficult landing, images of the planet beamed back to earth. Watching the NASA channel because we weren’t sure the cable news networks weren’t going to cover it and knowing full well the networks would never even think about it, I saw first hand the rows and rows of desks with young scientists and astronauts who made this happen. These were not your father’s flight crew. First off there were a few women in the mix. Second, the team did not have bow ties or white short sleeve shirts but rather powder blue polos. Mrs. LuLac pointed out that NASA even sprung for shirts tailored for women. It was a glorious event and got me thinking about America on Monday.
My dad was born in 1914. When he came into the world, air flight was not yet a decade old. Yet in his lifetime, he saw the makeshift flights of the Wright Brothers become a major way of travel. And for that generation, it was a big deal. In researching the “Year In Review” news events for this blog, I can’t tell you the sheer number of photos I ran across from the 50s and 60s along with news articles which proclaimed “Mr. & Mrs. Smith of Kingston recently visited family in St. Louis for a wedding. The Smith’s flew on Allegheny Airlines and left from the airport in Avoca for their trip”. Air travel was a huge deal. My uncle Joe Pribula flew on a crew that helped win WWII. Although he rarely spoke of his exploits, the family knew he was constantly in the air. And in my father’s lifetime, man landed on the moon. In a span of 55 years, American ingenuity let my father see airplanes win a war, saw his neighbors and children fly to destinations domestic and international and saw men walking on the moon. In my lifetime, I witnessed the first men in space, the first woman to orbit the earth and a man walk in space. All of that and I wasn’t even out of grade school yet. I too saw a man land on the moon and return safely. In the 80s, long after the last man walked on the moon, (Gene Cernan in 1972) I saw the incredible power and might of the Space Shuttle. No longer were there celebrity astronauts but Americans we hardly heard of. Space travel had ceased to be a big deal. I saw a waning of public interest and funding that my father’s generation did not witness. I even saw a Democratic President severely cut back jobs in Florida. The space program was on the ropes. The “gee wiz” admiration of the world’s greatest generation was gone. It had given way to a culture of instant media gratification. Lack of wonder. Until Sunday night. The Mars landing of a space probe gave us all hope for the future. Even though many will not admit it, the unsexy side of the space program were all those experiments. Not many people realize that Teflon, cell phone innovations and things we take for granted came from the space program. The hope of the Mars landing is that we can determine where earth came from. We can explore `the terrain and get clues to how earth came to be but more importantly where it’s going.
In 55 years, (1914-1969) American aviation got to the moon.
In 58 years, (1954-2012) American aviation got us to Mars. No one in the world can match that record.
Yet I wonder everyday how we can achieve these things with a partnership of business, science and government and not solve the most basic of our problems here at home. We can’t seem to figure out a health care plan without killing each other, we can’t compartmentalize our reactions to social differences (pitting a guy who sells chicken sandwiches against gay people!) and we can’t even figure out an equitable tax plan that will be fair to everyone. (There were people who got rich off the space program, but they didn’t bash the government that was funding parts of it). We all came to our space successes by working together. By not keeping score about who was up and who was down. We achieved because we knew the exploration of space was bigger than all of us. My father’s generation never bitched about the taxes spent on moon shots because it was about the future. Those men and women who cheered wildly when the “Curiosity” touched down went crazy. Some were very young but a few were my age and older. They will not live to see the rewards this mission can possibly bring. But yet, like me and Mrs. LuLac, we celebrated the achievement. We will not see the benefits of what they find on Mars in the next 50 years. But as Americans, we found ourselves excited at the prospect that this beaten down, partisan America can achieve this. It’s all about the vision, all about the future and not about our self gratification right now. We would be wise to remember that.