“I have no desire to do a Mars landing on our own… The U.S. cannot always be the leader, but we can be the inspirational leader through international cooperation.”
Those were the words of NASA chief Charles Bolden when asked about the agencies vision for landing humans on Mars. What an absolutely remarkable statement from the head of an agency whose vision to dominate space once landed men on the moon and set the tone for generations of technology explorers. How far has our nation descended that we would even consider the notion that the bar should be set so low as to say “we cannot be the leader.” Our nation revolutionized the vision of governance and human liberty, saved the world from totalitarianism and continues to lead in technological advancement. If the countering attitude I hear so often continues to prevail, that we should just sit back and not push ourselves further or ruffle feathers to take leadership of the world, that long tradition will die.
If exploring space is worth the cost and the effort, then we had better damn well be the leaders. What point is having an organization like NASA if the vision of its leaders is to be second in space exploration and attempt to inspire by committee rather than taking ownership?
Compare Bolden’s words to John F. Kennedy who said of our desire to lead the world in space exploration:
“We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war.”
“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 are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”
The message of Bolden is basically, “Meh, whatever, if someone else wants to take the lead we join but we have no desire to be first.” Imagine if Kennedy had said “we will go to the moon when everyone else wants to, whatever, if we get there, we get there. Let someone else take the risk.”
When did we, as a nation, stop striking at challenges first and instead face obstacles by shrugging?