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Last Space Shuttle Mission, a Tribute

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What These Things Cost

to honor NASA, a big government program that conquers worlds without guns.

Space Shuttle
(Image by NASA)
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Whenever we attempt to evaluate things, there is price and then there is
cost. The price of an item or adventure is simply the dollar amount.
The cost is something greater and deeper than money alone. Students
today go into hock up to their eyeballs to obtain a college degree. They
are, in effect, wagering their futures and paying the price, while the
cost is paid by society as a whole if they don't succeed.

Schoolteachers, engineers, doctors, researchers and scientists don't
just fall from the sky. These people are investing in their own futures,
unsure of their own success or potential yet they are willing to accept
the challenge. Each generation makes that commitment and knowledge is

In 1903 two brothers from Ohio flew the first heavier-than-air powered
aircraft and sixty-six years later men landed on the moon. That is an
impressive time line, from traveling 120 feet down a beach to 238,837
miles to the lunar surface. Think of all the jobs and employment that
opened up in those sixty-six years, from Orville and Wilbur Wright to
Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin and millions of others. It was the
fearless investment in the future that made it all possible.

During the Great Depression the WPA built runways and landing fields.
They set up navigational aids and made the airline industry possible.
The airline industry fueled the need for larger and more powerful
aircraft, which in turn created a need for more mechanics and pilots and
air traffic controllers. From DC-3s to 747s in thirty-five years, from
hundreds employed to tens of thousands employed. There was no guarantee
the government money spent would return dividends, only the hopes that
it would help in the future. It wasn't money procured by special
interest pressure groups. The railroads felt safe and secure, fly off in
a rickety airplane versus a nice comfortable Pullman sleeping car?
Don't make me laugh!

President Kennedy made a speech in 1961 after only one American had
flown in a sub-orbital space flight. The program he was proposing was
incredibly expensive, $24 billion over ten years to put a man on the

"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,
because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are
unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others,
too... Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was
to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He
said, 'Because it is there.' Well, space is there, and we're going to
climb it, and the Moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for
knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask
God's blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest
adventure on which man has ever embarked." John Kennedy

Certainly it was an appendage of the Cold War but it was also an
appendage of the technology war and the science war. At its zenith the
lunar program employed four hundred thousand Americans with twenty
thousand contracts and research grants to businesses and universities.
In the back room behind the cameras NASA had their experts and trouble
shooters, the best and the brightest and most of them still in their
twenties. Mathematicians, flight systems specialists, life scientists,
computer experts, all making the impossible look easy.

It all culminated in July of 1969 with the first landing on the moon.
Even Jules Verne hadn't predicted that a world audience would watch it
on television live. For that one day, for 24 hours the people back on
planet Earth sat back and said, "Wow, men on the moon." Neil and Buzz
figured their landing data on a computer that weighed less than twenty
pounds. They filmed their actions inside the spacecraft on a miniature
video camera. Then they downloaded it to a microwave signal and sent it
back to NASA from a spacecraft moving 15,000 miles per hour.

On the surface they used a miniature television camera and they attached
things inside the capsule with a new device called Velcro. Their
electricity on board was generated by a fuel cell and later missions
even carried along an electric car. The car was equipped with its own
microwave relay that beamed the signals to the lunar module and back to
Earth making the lunar module a cell phone tower.

That $24 billion investment was the crucible where our modern world was
created. There were no guarantees of product spin offs; no one at the
time had even the slightest inkling of the computer revolution that was
about to change everything. It was a blind investment into the future
and a blind investment in a goal that many thought was impossible to
achieve in the ten-year time line.

The payback was incalculable. The computer industry, the communications
industry, the technology is everywhere and touches every life and has
created millions of jobs for Americans. It created whole new industries
out of thin air, so when people try to tell me that big government
programs and government investment doesn't work, I roll my eyes and
laugh. Remember that next time you're standing in the airport talking on
your cell phone or loading your video camera or closing the Velcro
strips on your lap top computer bag. The price to create these things
was $24 billion but the cost was almost free.

We gained all of this; we went to the moon and we have learned a hundred
times more about the universe in the last fifty years than in the
previous one thousand years. We have a telescope in space placed there
by a big government program that can see almost to the edge of the
universe and plans are on the drawing board for a new telescope ten to
twenty times more powerful if we have the courage and wisdom to build it
and launch it.

We achieved the highest technological pinnacle of human achievement and
friend and foe alike marveled at our abilities. We did all of this
without a gun or a bomb, without fighters or bombers, without threats or
soldiers, without invading anyone's territory or deploying troops.

We did these things like a farmer does, by planting seeds and trusting
for a bountiful future. We have many problems today just as we had many
problems in 1961. Many of our problems today are related to our energy
needs. Our energy needs spill over into our environmental concerns;
toxic spills and coal fires spill over into global warming. Imagine a
one trillion-dollar investment over ten years for safe, clean, renewable
energy. Imagine the new products undreamed of today. Imagine the jobs
created and imagine the falling deficit when we no longer need to buy
foreign oil.

Imagine the smaller defense budget when we no longer need to defend the
obsolete oil fields around the globe. Imagine a thousand wind turbines
where the deep-water oil drilling rigs stand today in the Gulf. Imagine
cargo ships loaded with these products as exports bound for the rest of
the world. Imagine a goal of energy self-sufficiency in ten years. Then
imagine where we will be in the world if we don't do these things.

The cost of the Vietnam War: $173 billion with the loss of 58,000 American lives and 350,000 casualties.

The cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: $1.05 trillion allocated with no end in sight.

Killed in Iraq, 4,287; wounded, 30,182

Killed in Afghanistan, 1,920; wounded, 5,735


This is what these things cost.


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I who am I? Born at the pinnacle of American prosperity to parents raised during the last great depression. I was the youngest child of the youngest children born almost between the generations and that in fact clouds and obscures who it is that I (more...)

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