The Space Launch reveals the Better Side of our Society


Those are words that have not been heard for many years. On Saturday afternoon, SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule with two U.S. astronauts aboard from Cape Canaveral. It was the first manned-space craft to lift off from America soil since the Space Shuttle program was terminated in 2011.

For the past nine years, we were sending our personnel to the International Space Station on the Russian Soyuz platform, itself an ancient holdover from the Soviet Cold War space program. That, in itself, is a sad commentary on a society that had once landed men on the moon.

The launch was spectacular. In a telling reflection of our time, I watched it on my phone sitting in the Lowes parking lot. I felt a chill and an overwhelming sense of pride. We were back in the game.

It reminded me of the long connection I have to our space saga. My father worked in the Army’s missile program back in the 1960’s. My family witnessed the pageantry of a Shuttle launch when my sister-in-law was an astronaut aboard the Columbia. We also suffered the public tragedy when the ill-fated craft broke up on re-entry. And, my brother, who once worked for NASA, has been a part of numerous projects including Medical Director for the Red Bull Stratus program.

I have seen the clips of Kennedy’s speech, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills…” America chose to do something extremely difficult, something beyond the technology of the time, because it represented who we were and had been since our inception, a country of hard working, independent people.

Today we are experiencing a world of medical lockdown, racial unrest, and political malaise. I wonder if we are still made of such stock.

To be sure there are still visionary inventors and pioneers. People like Elon Musk, the entrepreneurial founder of the company that built the launch system as well as, Tesla Motors. Like so many of the great explorers in our history, he is an immigrant (and naturalized citizen). They have always been important for the vitality of our country and we should keep that in mind as we search for a solution to our immigration problems.

SpaceX is a private firm (unlike NASA – a government bureaucracy). His startup beat the consortium of large government-supported defense contractors in the “race” to launch a manned spacecraft. The innovation of their system is spectacular. The first stage, rather than being thrown into the Atlantic as waste was remotely landed on a drone ship, whimsically named, “Of Course I Still Love You.” How appropriate!

Yet, the private sector seems to be under assault. Many Americans believe that making money is less worthy than being “given” money by the government. When we see people getting rich, rather than wanting to emulate their success, we want to bring them back down…to tax or regulate them. They couldn’t have gotten there because they were willing to take risks or capitalize on innovation, rather we feel that they have somehow cheated the system. Perhaps, that is true in some instances, but those who risk it all often move our society forward…and they should be rewarded for that effort.

Moreover, we have become almost exclusively a consumer society. We want stuff (big screen TVs, new cars, or the latest iPhone) and we want it cheap. This is why our production has moved overseas and why we had been forced into the humiliating position of using Russia to launch our astronauts. In fact, the current government stimulus program was based on then idea that we could prop up the economy by giving each adult $1,200 to go out and buy more stuff. (It partially backfired because many people chose to bank rather than spend the money.) This is yet another testament to the government’s inability to allocate resources in a productive manner.

We have spent trillions of dollars on ill-conceived wars and additional trillions propping up the economy. We have not invested in the future. In fact, the wasteful deficit spending on current activity is robbing the next generations of the resources they will need to move their society forward.

But, for now I can bask in the excitement of a brief glimpse of what could be. Somewhere deep inside we still seem to have that spirit. It takes inordinate effort and drive on the part of a brave few to overcome the burden of government oppression and societal narcissism.

It seems appropriate that this milestone occurred during a moment of national turmoil, where we have been locked in our homes by government fiat and have turned out the military on our own citizens. It shows what we have been and what we could be. Perhaps we will use this to reinvigorate our spirit, to allow our immense capacity for wonder to drive our ambitions, to not allow our weaker selves to succumb to the seduction of government largess at the expense of our freedoms.

We have just witnessed our better selves. Perhaps, we can pull together and become part of that dream.

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