It starts with the countdown…10-9-8-7…the anticipation builds…6-5-4…your heart begins to race…3-2-1…Blastoff! Watching a rocket take off from the Kennedy Space Center on television is an impressive sight. It is a moving experience that leaves you awestruck when you see it in person.
Why does watching a rocket blasting off towards space cause those watching to feel a wide range of emotions ranging from excitement to exhilaration? Why do some people cry when they see a manned space flight take off?
In part it may be that those watching know that spaceflight is dangerous (in fact very dangerous)…as the families of two shuttle crews are painfully aware. It is inspiring in part because brave men and women board a spacecraft, despite the danger, to advance the cause of mankind.
But the wave of emotions caused by a launch are also related to our knowledge that our nation’s exploration of space represents the collective hopes, dreams, talents and achievements of the human race. Putting a man on the moon was the single greatest achievement of man (so far). It is a symbol of what we can accomplish when we all work towards a common goal with noble intentions.
Even so, putting a man on the moon – or someday Mars – is about far more than symbolism or national pride. For our country — being the leader is space exploration has helped define our country as an economic superpower. There are more than 3,000 products we all use every day that were originally designed as part of the space program. Being a leader is space means being a leader in innovation.
We now find ourselves at a defining moment in history for our country and our space exploration program. When President Obama released his FY 2011 recommended budget, the proposal called for an end of the Space Shuttle program and cancellation of the planned Constellation Program (thus halting plans to return to the moon and then going to Mars). The White House proposal would leave our country with no defined mission and would open the door for China or Russia to assume the mantel as the world leader in space exploration.
Not only would this course of action threaten our nation’s position as an economic superpower — it also could have serious ramifications for our national defense. Military superiority used to be measured by who had the best Army. Then it was who had the best Navy; and then Air Force. Today, it is measured by who controls space. The federal government’s first and foremost responsibility is to provide for the safety and security of the nation. The president’s proposed budget seriously hampers the ability to meet that responsibility.
We panicked as a nation when Russia launched Sputnik. We thought the United States would be the first to explore space. Then President Kennedy made a bold statement, “The United States will put a man on the moon and bring him back safely by the end of the decade.” We rallied as a country. We pushed the envelope and we did it! Neil Armstrong’s “giant leap for mankind” showed what we can do as a nation when we have a defined mission and work towards a common goal. Imagine how we will react if we someday return to the moon only to find the flag of another nation planted firmly in the lunar surface.
Today, we need a renewed commitment to national leadership in space exploration. It is time to make another bold statement and give America another challenge, another purpose, with a defined timeline, to continue our nation’s leadership in space exploration. Americans rise to the occasion every time we are challenged. Now is the time for take on a new challenge in space exploration—not to retreat from our history, our collective accomplishments and our position as the world leader in space.
The proposed budget includes significant focus on scientific research with particular emphasis on long-term innovation and “transformative” technologies, cost reduction, and commercial partnerships. All worthy endeavors — but we must do more.
Technology is changing at an amazing pace and to simply say “we will do research” is not enough! We need a bold direction and a goal! Pushing the envelope in space exploration will lead to new innovations, new products, new jobs, and new industries and make a loud clear statement that we plan to be a world leader in this global, borderless, knowledge-based economy in the 21st Century!
We are at a crossroads. The decisions we make over the next few months regarding our space program will have a lasting impact on our country. We need speak with a loud, clear, informed and unified voice from Florida. Our message is simple — we must lead in space exploration — not follow. Urge Congress to fund space exploration — not just to save jobs in Florida or around the country — but to send a message to the world that the United States of America will continue to be an economic and military superpower with a space exploration program that is second to none.
Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp co-chairs Space Florida, an organization created to strengthen Florida’s position as the global leader in aerospace research, investment, exploration and commerce