NASA has been on a slow descent downward since the end of the Apollo Program. What has caused this to happen? A number of issues, politically, economically, culturally as well as issues within the space agency itself have worked to chip away at NASA’s relevancy.
No one political party can take full credit for NASA’s early successes – or full blame for its current state. The space agency is one of the most marketable, yet most neglected federal agencies. The agency receives about one-half of one cent of every tax dollar – yet it has been shown that the agency provides a return on investment of around 1 to 15. In short, for every dollar invested into NASA there is a return of 15 dollars.
After the Columbia tragedy then-President George W. Bush promoted what was called ‘The Vision for Space Exploration.’ Its mantra was ‘Moon, Mars and Beyond.’ The program that was supposed to propel the United States out of low-Earth-orbit was dubbed Constellation. Sadly, while the president initiated the program, neither he, nor Congress adequately funded this effort. Nor were smaller space firms incorporated into the plan’s infrastructure. Subsequently deadlines slipped and costs soared.
Enter the election of 2008 and after his initial comments about halting the U.S. manned space program left Florida out of his grasp Obama paid a visit to the Space Coast where he vowed that we would in deed go on to explore “…moon, Mars and beyond.” This left potential voters with the impression he would back Constellation. After his election however, Obama attempted repeatedly to scrap all elements of the Constellation Program.
The media of today is a far cry from the media during the age of Apollo. Whereas the media of that era had the word “unbiased” ingrained into who they were and what they did. The 24 hour news cycle and highly polarized U.S. society of the 21st Century has erased most – if not all – of that. Each side highlights faults with the other while working to minimize the failings of their own.
News is no longer comprised of what is important or historic – but rather what is most sensational. Rather than covering the impact of the end of U.S. manned space flight efforts (perhaps for many years) the news networks focused on Casey Anthony and the death of Amy Winehouse. Moreover, where space-related news will get a blurb, the death of a drug addicted singer will get hours of nearly uninterrupted media attention. Walter Cronkite – these journalists are not.
When the U.S. launched men to the Moon the U.S. was in the midst of a “cultural revolution.” The men that launched Apollo to the moon were firmly planted in the “Greatest Generation” and their minds revolved around the technical requirements that made the impossible – possible. The generations that followed have become enveloped in whatever fad has been foisted on them as relevant. They’ve shunned the philosophy of the past. Accomplishing feats as labor-intensive as sending astronauts to other worlds have been supplanted by being an underachiever, a hustler and a gangsta. Their role models are not John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, Sally Ride of Guy Bluford. They are Lady GaGa, Dr. Dre, Eminem, Snooki and 50 Cent.
Given the current state of the American culture, one where the sentiment that each individual is entitled to something – rather than entitled to the right to work for something – it is doubtful that NASA will ever become the agency that once accomplished the impossible as a part of its normal daily business.Missions » ISS » COTS » Missions » Apollo »