U.S. needs to get back into manned space exploration

I grew up waiting for and watching space launches from Cape Canaveral, Fla. They thrilled me to the max and I still miss waiting for those launches.

Accordingly, I was heartened to hear Donald Trump call for a return to manned space flight. The president’s signature this week on a directive for NASA to develop a return of human explorers to the moon and to launch missions to Mars won’t guarantee it will get done, but my hope springs eternal that the space agency will kick start its effort to return to American-made space travel.

The space shuttle program got grounded before Trump took office nearly a year ago. The three remaining flight-ready spacecraft — Atlantis, Endeavor and Discovery — were sent to boneyards around the country under an order signed by President George W. Bush. We’re still sending astronauts into space, where they’re doing important scientific research.

NASA praises Trump

But they’re flying aboard Russian rockets. I’m trying to imagine how Presidents Kennedy and Johnson would react to knowing that tidbit.

Donald Trump said his directive aims to return the United States to its leadership role in space travel. I do hope it comes to pass.

NASA already is developing a new launch vehicle it hopes will be ready for deployment on missions to the moon and beyond. There’s launch date set yet. Indeed, test flights are still beyond the foreseeable future.

“NASA looks forward to supporting the president’s directive strategically aligning our work to return humans to the moon, travel to Mars and opening the deeper solar system beyond,” said acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot.

Of course it does. It should.

President Kennedy declared in 1961 that the United States would send humans to the moon “and return (them) safely to the Earth” by the end of the 1960s. “We don’t do these because they are easy,” he said. “We do them because they are hard.”

He energized the nation, which was caught flat-footed when the then-Soviet Union was first to launch a satellite and then was first to send a human into space. JFK was having no part of playing second fiddle to the Soviets.

We aren’t engaged in a Cold War these days, although that’s becoming more debatable in light of the current geopolitical climate.

Still, my hope is that the president’s directive lights a fire under NASA’s engineers and scientists as they continue their work to restore our country to its place as the world’s premier space trailblazer.

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