Columbia lost, but not a nation
by S. Alan Stern
|Flight, like continental exploration, closely parallels American notions of freedom, economic expansion, and spiritual inspiration.|
A reexamination of our national space program has naturally come with this month’s Shuttle accident. That reexamination has reminded us that the exploration and exploitation of the space frontier has brought innumerable advances. These range from communications satellites and household computers to GPS receivers and countless medical discoveries, from a deep-seated appreciation for our one Earth to a broad scientific understanding of the Universe that even the wildest astronomical dreamers could not have imagined at the dawn of the space age.
But there is much more in the promise of space exploration than this. The promise of space is a part of a larger pledge that we all make to ourselves: the promise of a better future. So too, there is national pride in seeing a hopeful future unfold, and there is the promise of new economic expansion. Perhaps most importantly in these difficult days at the dawn of this new century, there is the inspiration space exploration provides—to ourselves, to our companions across the world, and most importantly, to our children.
We are as early in the 21st century, as the Wright brothers were in the 20th century when they traveled to Kitty Hawk and changed the world. This birth of a century gives us a sense of hope and of a new beginning and its open possibilities. Here, now, following the twin tragedies of 9-11 and the loss of Columbia, comes a new opportunity for great dreams, for national pride in optimistic endeavors, and for resolve: we can invigorate the notion of American frontiers again through the exploration of space.
|We can invigorate the notion of American frontiers again through the exploration of space.|
At our footstep is an opportunity to simultaneously honor fallen heroes and inspire a new generation of heroes who will shape a new century. We should finish the space station. We should build a new generation of less expensive and safer space transportation to replace the Shuttle. We should expand scientific exploration of the Earth and heavens. And we should make a lasting commitment to the exploration of the moon and planets by both brave humans and sophisticated robots. We should inspire the world, and we should make history again.
Congress and President Bush should honor the fallen heroes of STS-107 with such a promise. It could be done by investing less than a dime toward the future to match every dollar spent defending ourselves against real and terrible enemies.
There are new frontiers in the thousands of points of light in the heavens above our precious blue planet. It is possible for our generation of Americans to capitalize on this opportunity, to make a historic mark on the world—a mark that could even inspire the whole of our species in the newborn millennium.
If we choose this course, the road will be long and hard, and yes, dangerous. But so were the frontiers that this great nation took as previous challenges.
Will we take this road? I do not know, but our descendants will. They will know whether we made as much of the promise of space now, as our forbearers did with the promise of flight, just one hundred years ago, this year.