Today, I read yet another angry article on the continuing death spiral of the American economy, which ended with what has become a rather stale cliché:
We can put a man on the moon, but…
Actually, no. We can’t put a man on the moon. We might have been able to do it once upon a time, a long time ago. But today? In this technologically overloaded era, we can chat with friends and rellies on the other side of the planet, we download half the Library of Congress on our Kindles and Kobos, we can tweet what we had for breakfast in California to the twittering lunchtime crowd in New York, we can play on-line video games with sophisticated graphics and total strangers, and we can blog about it to the entire world. But we cannot do what we once did with not much more than a slide rule and the completely insane self-confidence that we as Americans could do anything we set our minds to. Failure was not an option.
Now it’s a way of life.
Last Friday, the space shuttle Atlantis lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center for the last time, and heralded the end of America’s space shuttle program. For half a century, NASA not only employed generations of scientists and technicians for the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space programs, it gave America the impression that we ruled the stars, proud, brave, invincible, the best and the brightest the world had to offer. We could do what no other nation has ever done – we left our footprints on the dust of the moon. In 1968, I sat in a movie theatre entranced like so many others by Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, and less than a year later, Neil Armstrong made Hollywood fantasy an American reality. Less than four years later, in December, 1972, Harrison Schmitt and Eugene Cernan became the last Americans to have walked on the Moon. A little less than forty years later, it seems quite likely I will not live long enough to see another human being step onto the moon. Certainly not another American.
Gene Cernan has long been a genial ambassador for America’s space program, but lately has become an outspoken critic of what he considers a deliberate agenda to destroy what NASA has achieved. It’s not just about the end of America’s space shuttles. ‘The agenda is to dismantle America’s space program, Cernan said. ‘There’s no objective. There’s no timetable. There’s no goal. And there’s no mission. We’re retiring America’s space program. We’re out of the business.’
We’re out of the business. Quite literally. 7,000 rocket scientists are now joining the rest of the vast army of unemployed Americans. Florida’s once booming space industry is an empty shell, where not only those highly educated engineers, project managers and technicians who worked directly for NASA are competing for work in a labor market where over 10% are now unemployed, everyone who benefitted from the industry – restaurant owners, shop keepers, hotel owners, doctors, nurses, teachers, bus drivers, you name it – are struggling for survival; for every aerospace job lost, two local jobs are gone as well. And just to add salt to the wounds, the worst housing collapse in decades is making it near impossible for workers to sell up and move somewhere else for a job. It’s not just the space industry; it’s entire communities dying.