Letters

Letters 07-21-2014

Disheartened

While observing Fox News, it was disheartening to see what their viewers were subjected to. It seems the Republicans’ far right wing extremists are conveying their idealistic visions against various nationalities, social diversities or political beliefs with an absence of emotion concerning women’s health issues, children’s rights, voter suppression, Seniors, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid...

Things That Matter

All of us in small towns and large not only have the right to speak on behalf of our neighbors and ourselves, we have the duty and responsibility to do so -- and 238 years ago, we made a clear Declaration to do just that...

An Anecdote Driven Mind

So, is Thomas Kachadurian now the Northern Express’ official resident ranter? His recent factfree, hard-hearted column suggests it. While others complain about the poor condition of Michigan’s roads and highways, he rants against those we employ to fix them...

No On Prop 1

Are we being conned? Are those urging us to say “yes” to supposedly ”revenue neutral” ballot proposal 1 on August 5 telling us all the pertinent facts? Proposal 1 would eliminate the personal property tax businesses pay to local governments, replacing its revenue with a share of Michigan’s 6 percent use tax paid by us all on out-of-state purchases, hotel accommodations, some equipment rentals, and telecommunications...

Fix VA Tragedy

The problems within the Veterans Administration identified under former President Bush continue to hinder the delivery of quality health care to the influx of physically wounded and emotionally damaged young men and women...

Women Take Note

I find an interesting link between the Supreme Court Hobby Lobby and the crisis on the southern border. Angry protesters shout at children to go home. These children are scared, tired, hungry and thirsty, sent to US prisons awaiting deportation to a country where they may very likely be killed...


Home · Articles · News · Other Opinions · What‘s over that...
. . . .

What‘s over that hill?

Stephen Tuttle - August 1st, 2011
What’s Over That Hill?
The United States is out of the human space travel business. The recently
landed Endeavor mission was the last of our shuttle flights and we no
longer have any kind of program of our own to transport our astronauts
into space. At the very least, we’re taking a long hiatus.
The next time American men and women go to space it will be as
hitchhikers, bumming a ride on a Russian craft. We’ve become that member
of the carpool who no longer has a car.
Exploring those lights in the night sky has long been a fascination of
human beings. What’s out there, or might be, is part of myth and lore
going back millenia.
The cornerstone on which rocketry and space exploration sits goes all the
way back to the 17th century and Sir Isaac Newton’s laws of gravity and
motion. It just took us three centuries to figure out how to apply them.
Robert Goddard made quantum leaps in theoretical rocketry in the early
part of the 20th century and by World War II Britain, the United States
and Germany were all hell-bent on developing rockets that could be used as
weapons. War is always an excellent incentive for scientific
breakthroughs.
By the late 1950s, the Germans and British were no longer in the space
race but the late and unlamented Soviet Union and the United States were
locked in battle. The Soviets successfully launched their Sputnik, the
first man-made object to orbit earth while emitting a detectable signal,
and the United States was suffering a succession of spectacular, public
failures.
It wasn’t until 1961 when President John Kennedy declared we were going to
the moon that things picked up for us. We were woefully behind the
Soviets, who successfully put the first man into space, the first man into
orbit, the first woman in space, the first space walk and a succession of
other firsts. They even managed to crash a couple of unmanned capsules on
the moon.
We caught up, and more, with the Apollo program. When Neil Armstrong
stepped on the surface of the moon in 1969, we had won the first part of
the space race. Another 11 Americans would leave their footprints on the
dusty lunar surface. The United States was the unquestioned leader in
human space travel.
Many of us assumed this was the beginning of a glorious period of space
exploration, that we would keep going farther and reaching for more. As
President Kennedy said, because it’s the hard thing to do.
We’re not so much into the hard thing, anymore. We can’t even agree on
the easy things.
Which isn’t to suggest we haven’t had some spectacular successes with
unmanned space exploration. Both Voyager and Pioneer satellites wandered
through the solar system and beyond, the Hubble telescope continues to
provide breathtaking photographs of wonders near and very far, we
successfully landed a spacecraft on an asteroid, we put two rovers on Mars
that crept along the surface for months.
Human exploration hasn’t really kept up. Once the moon programs were over
and we moved into the shuttle program, Americans in space didn’t get
beyond the International Space Station (ISS). The ISS is another
technological marvel and it is remarkable that it has been continuously
occupied by humans for more than a decade.
But the ISS, depending on it’s orbit, is somewhere between 180 and 280
miles from earth. That’s not very adventuresome at all. It’s as if we
set out from Traverse City to explore the world and decided to stop before
we made it to Chicago. And we now have to catch a ride with someone else
just to get that far.
Aside from the pure science and joy of discovery, the space program has
given us a bounty of practical applications. MRI machines and CAT and PET
scanners, much of nuclear medicine, water purification systems, cordless
tools, hazardous gas sensors, ATM technology and more than 1,600 other
direct spin-offs have resulted in tens of thousands of jobs and trillions
of dollars in economic impact.
The science will be slower, the discoveries fewer and the practical
applications less if we’ve surrendered our leadership in space, including
human space travel.
There is a story, likely apocryphal but nonetheless telling, about one of
the first times we successfully landed a craft on Mars capable of taking
photographs. It was immobile but, still, we had landed on Mars and were
about to receive photographs of the landing site.
The photos came streaming down 95 million miles from the Martian surface
in numerical code. Computers converted the code into pixils of imagery
that appeared on a screen as thin horizontal bands. The scientists at the
Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena waited patiently as the narrow bands
stacked one atop another until a photo began to take form.
After many minutes, when the computers had finally completed their
enhancements and corrections, there was, on screen, a picture of the
surface of Mars. A salmon-colored wonderland of rocks and dirt lay in
front of us with a gentle hill on the horizon outlining a pink sky. It
was an astonishing moment in what was a staggering achievement.
The story goes that the silence was broken by someone in the room whose
thirst for discovery was not yet quenched. “I wonder,” he said, “what’s
on the other side of that hill.”
To be sure, we’re capable of creating technological wonders that will show
us what’s over that hill. But if we’ve lost the desire and the will to
see for ourselves then we’ve lost so much more.


 
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