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Thursday, April 28, 2011

WHY ARE WE DUMPING THE SPACE PROGRAM?

The last launch of the space shuttle program is scheduled for June 28th (Atlantis). Following this, America's role in space can be described as "foggy" at best. There is talk about a trip to Mars, a return to the moon, but nothing definitive. In these troubling economic times a lot of people are basically saying, "Good riddance," as they view this as a drain of our financial resources which should be re-channeled to social issues at home. This is actually an old argument as there were a lot of people back in the 60's who were adamantly against the space race for the same reason. What these people never understood, and still do not, was the impact the space race had on our economy and culture.

NASA's space program did more than just put a man on the moon. It stimulated innovation in technology, created industries, and forced the country to excel in education. Computer technology alone underwent dramatic changes as a result of the space program, thereby creating jobs and fueled the economy. The same was true in the areas of electronics, aerospace engineering, and telecommunications. Food and clothing also benefited from this research and development, not to mention transportation and construction. Consider this, most of the electronic luxuries we enjoy today can be attributed to the space race of the 1960's, such as computers, cell phones, photography, microwave ovens, television and radio, etc. Would these luxuries have been created without the space program? Maybe, over time, but it was the space race that forced us to respond and accelerate the pace of development. Only after being challenged by President Kennedy were the American people able to focus on a difficult problem which inspired some rather ingenious solutions. This was truly an instance where "Necessity is the mother of invention," and the beneficiaries of all this were American workers who learned new trades and prospered in new industries resulting from the program. In addition to creating new businesses, it reinvigorated older companies who had become somewhat staid.

In his memorable speech at Rice University in 1962, Kennedy admonished the country, "We choose to go to the moon in this decade, and do the other things, not because they are easy; but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills; because that challenge is one that we're willing to accept; one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win - and the others, too."

At the time, many people, including members of his own party, thought the president was crazy for announcing such an ambitious goal, regardless if it was perceived as another front in the Cold War. Some simply misunderstood his message. Basically, he was telling the country we could no longer afford to be complacent. True, we had won World War II and prospered in the 1950's, but America had fallen into a rut and Kennedy used it to not only challenge the perceived Soviet threat but to stimulate the American economy. Not surprising, it worked, and consequently the 1960's are remembered as the "Go-Go" years in business.

So here we are nearly 50 long years after the Kennedy speech and the country has once again become complacent in terms of our national goals, be it in space, transportation, energy, below the seas, health or whatever. We are drifting without a compass which is unsettling to a lot of people, including yours truly. We have to become less reactive and more proactive in our affairs, thereby controlling our destiny as opposed to having others dictate our agenda. I'm all in favor of helping others, not so much from handouts, but by leadership and giving the country a clear sense of direction. Americans are not afraid of challenges, all we want is a sense of purpose and a game plan for getting to our destination.

Let's hope the country can find its way after Atlantis returns from space this summer and is mothballed away in a museum someplace.

Keep the Faith!

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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

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