In October of 1963, the American Space program uprooted me from sweater-cool, intellectual Palo Alto, California (Heaven on Earth to that 14-year-old) and deposited me in hot, humid, excess-obsessed Houston, Texas. My Dad, and subsequently my Mom, had enlisted in the Space Race. Little Joe, Gemini, Apollo, Lunar Module, Apollo Soyuz, Skylab, Getaway Specials, Shuttle in all its various concepts and Shuttle as a vehicle delimited our lives in time and place and content for the next two decades. [To include delaying my departure to the church for my wedding, as my family had to make sure Apollo 15 had splashed down safely with just two good chutes.]
My comic books were NASA Press Manuals; I baby sat for astronaut families; I went to High School with their sometimes tolerable kids. My USAF first assignment out of college was Cape Canaveral. I finished my military career with eight years of guiding military space programs from inception to deployment. I’ve just left the Executive Committee of the National Space Club having been an Officer and Director for thirteen years and President a few years back. Perhaps, along the way, I have modestly influenced the national dialog on Space and America’s place in it.
Whether we joined and led the exploration of space, both manned and unmanned, for the right reasons will always be debated. Whether we have decided to place the fate of American civil manned space activities solely in the hands of long-term strategic competitors or just drifted into it through lack of leadership is also debatable. Whether we have made ourselves hostage to the political agendas of others is not. Whether we have once again initiated the physical and intellectual atrophy of a major portion of our civil space capability is not.
At 5:57 a.m. EDT, the Untied States became an also ran in Manned Space. No matter the revisionist apologisms (aka spin), we have junked the car and from now on must take a taxi — a taxi run by a paranoid strategic competitor with a deep store of animus toward us as a country.
There is a, likely apocryphal, story of Calvin Coolidge having said ”Why can’t [the Army and Navy] just buy one airplane, and take turns flying it?” Somehow we seem to have drifted back to the same quality of discourse on American Manned Space Activities.