Can you call something news when it happened 40 years ago? Is that all we have anymore? Well it got me thinking... what do we have? I'm not saying nothing happened in the last 40 years, but something's definitely just not the same. There are no universally accepted monumental occasions anymore.
Maybe it's a good thing that Walter Cronkite died last night. Oh please, I don't wish him dead; that's not what I'm saying. But what would the venerable Mr. Cronkite have to report these days? I'm sure he wouldn't have wasted 10+ days on Michael Jackson. If he did have the opportunity to report on the first black President in American history, it would have been something definitive.
But there's not definitive anymore. News has been replaced with the media. And in the media, opinions are everything. Imaging the Moon landing reported in 2009. Instead of the country united in triumph as we put a man on the Moon, it would be reported as some sort of partisan issue, with conservative pundits speaking out against Apollo's budgetary waste, and liberals screaming that we'll ruin the environment of the Moon like we wrecked the Earth.
Even now, I'm hearing discussions about NASA's Man on the Moon by 2020, but it's just not the same. First of all, we did that already. It just lacks the sense of glory. But it's more than that. It's not Jack Kennedy saying that "by the end of this decade [whether I'm shot and killed or not] we will put a man on the surface of the Moon [or at least provide photographs and video that you may choose to interpret as success or an elaborate hoax]."
Nothing is said with the determination of Jack Kennedy anymore. Imagine, if you will, the following, as it it was said by Kennedy. Imagine the presence -- imagine the thick Boston accent -- and then read this much more 21st century statement regarding our space program...
By the end of the next decade, or so, we will put a man on the moon... for the second time. Our greatest minds at NASA -- the ones who keep the market for 20 year old computer hard drive running -- have assured me that, if we can sneak just another 4 million dollars a year into their budget, that can put a man on the moon again within the next 11 years. This is of course if China doesn't beat us to it this time, and replace our optimal landing zone with the new Lunar Wal*Mart production facility, where they intend to make knock-off Barbie dolls out of poisonous moon rock, at half the cost possible here on Earth.OK, maybe I'm a bit harsh here, but really, we should be aiming for better, shouldn't we? The quote I heard on the Moon by 2020 program that really got me is "... if the benefits outweigh the costs". What are the benefits of going to the moon anymore? Are there any?
That being said, if we can beat our old col-war nemesis the Communists, again, only this time the Chinese ones, in this "space race", we will be victorious in our continued domination over the region of space 238,857 miles from us -- a distance many of us have already put on our cars -- and prove ourselves the world power that we have continued to pretend we are since that last time we did it.
It used to be that the space program gave us great leaps in technology. Now it seems our "terrestrial" technology is leaps and bounds ahead of our "space" technology. Just think about computers. What did your home computer look like in 1969? Oh that's right, no such thing. The term home computer was unthinkable unless it referred to a computer roughly the size of your home. Now my HP laptop could produce more computing power than what ran a Mercury rocket. And cars... OK, our cars aren't flying yet, but I can buy one that gets 66 miles to the gallon, runs on vegetable oil, tells me where I'm going (and finds all the Starbucks for me along the way), and still costs under $15,000. Then again, it's built by Germans in Brazil. NASA needs another $4M per year between now and 2020 -- $44 Million extra just to use 1969 technology to push a rocket into space, dump the rocket into the sea, fly a smaller craft to the moon, from which we deploy a 3rd craft (because we still can't land the main craft and make it take off again -- even in 10% gravity), wander about, take a couple more pictures and a couple more moon rocks (in case they've changed since 1969), then rocket back home.
If our space program evolved at half the rate of the rest of our technology, I'd expect to be flying to Jupiter, landing on a ring, getting out and building a landing strip, so next time we can bring the kids. And there's the problem. Our kids won't buy it. The most technologically progressive things in our society are purchased by 15 to 24 year-olds. iPods, laptops, Xbox, and probably a million other devices I don't even know about... a new version of these comes out twice a year, and each time it's 50% smaller, 75% faster, and 120% cooler. If 15-24 year-olds bought space shuttles, they'd run 2000 hours on one battery charge, have touch screen interface (also running iTunes, facebook, and twitter), be piloted by adaptive intutive wii-type controllers, and look roughly like a Lotus Esprit (with a snap-on, colored plastic shell so your space shuttle didn't have to be the same color as your neighbor's).
What would Walter Cronkite say about that?