In the early Summer of of 1987, I took a job with Manpower at Honeywell in Clearwater, Florida. I was assigned to be a secretary for one of the program engineers in the Shuttle division. I learned a lot about aerospace engineering and how governments built space programs. By April 1, 1988, I was given a permanent job as the Project Administrator of the Space Station program. It was a very different idea then. The space station being built now is scaled down from the hopes of the late 80s. My job was to liason between all the engineers and our customer, McDonnell Douglas. By October of 1989, I was laid off in a major "down-sizing" in the company (over 5000 employees company wide, many more cuts were to follow).
In many ways I was proud of my small contribution to the space program. As a kid, I remember the moon landing vividly and I remember a 6th grade science teacher who challenged us to think about space and what it meant to our little planet.
I cried when I watched the video above. I was inspired by our space program and now it seems like it will go the way of all other great American dreams. It will be commodified and sold off to high bidders who will then fashion it as a profitable toys instead of highest aspirations. I spent the week watching old Star Trek episodes and thinking to myself how different the future is from what it was imagined. Star Trek of the 60s makes frequent references to the space program of the 1990s and early 21st century. Most of its references are laughable and seem silly in light of what really has happened.
Some of it is a good -- I mean we were supposed to have had a great World War III with a mass eugenics program and millions, if not billions, dying (check out the first appearance of Kahn in Space Seed for more details. But we also were supposed to be united as a planet and venturing out into deeper and deeper space by now. And we have not.
As a sociologist, I am aware of some of the problems with how the space program developed. The language of the "final frontier" is fraught with colonialism, ethnocentricism and xenophobic references that go unexamined. I know money is needed for more pressing problems and that many progressives fear the space program as much as they do our military industrial complex. There is a definite connection. The builders of the space station almost all have military divisions. And, of course, Reagan's star wars programs of the 1980s were both silly and frightening.
But, dammit, I miss the naivety of the early space program. I miss the feeling of pride and wonder. I miss the visions of a possible future where major human conditions could be solved and equality was the natural outcome. I watch the early Star Trek episodes and I want to live in a place where people are equal. Okay, there is a lot of sexist stuff, but for the 60s, having women in positions of power and working on ships was radical.
So this past week has been a bit emotional for me. Wednesday, July 20th, was not only the 42nd anniversary of the moon landing, but also it would have been my son's 22nd birthday. Thursday, July 21st, was the end of the Shuttle era and there isn't really a whole lot in the works as Congress spends its time posturing over the so-called debt crisis and NASA officials are all smiles about the comming "commercial era."
I feel old. It doesn't help that this coming Thursday, I will turn 54. I miss so many things and I am saddened by the world as it is because I had a vision of what it could be.
But I do know that it can be better. My favorite line from Apollo 13 comes early in the movie, when Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks) is talking to his wife Marilyn (Kathleen Quinlan) right after the moon walk:
"From now on, we live in a world where man has walked on the moon. And it's not a miracle, we just decided to go"
We could decide again. All we need is the vision.
5 hours ago