Obama and the vision thing

25 03 2009

We choose to go to the moon. 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.

Compared with John Kennedy’s space agenda speech in 1961 from which this extract comes Barack Obama’s syndicated address to the world in the run up to the G20 is a fairly dull affair. You may say that Obama has his hands tied by the economic recession,but Kennedy made his speech at the height of the Cold War,when nuclear meltdown seemed to be on the cards.

If Obama announced that his priority was to land a manned mission on Mars,something which is beyond our current technological ability, he would no doubt be met by a mixture of hostility and bafflement. Hostility from those who see any attempt to extend mankind’s dominion as an affront to nature and bafflement from the many about how this could impact positively on their lives compared with other priorities.

Yet if you go through Kennedy’s speech and substitute Mars for the Moon (and leave out the Cold War rhetoric) you have  powerful claims for exploration and experimentation with all the benefits and risks they involve which are as relevant now as they were nearly fifty years ago. Kennedy’s speech sums up the gains that would be made from technological advance,economic progress and knowledge that  come from harnessing a nation’s efforts on trying to achieve the impossible.

Kennedy’s speech includes a description of human development that locates mankind as being currently at the beginning of our development. I have reproduced it below. What we need to hear from Obama is something along these lines. Something that really does carry the audacity of hope.

No man can fully grasp how far and how fast we have come, but condense, if you will, the 50,000 years of man’s recorded history in a time span of but a half-century. Stated in these terms, we know very little about the first 40 years, except at the end of them advanced man had learned to use the skins of animals to cover them. Then about 10 years ago, under this standard, man emerged from his caves to construct other kinds of shelter. Only five years ago man learned to write and use a cart with wheels. Christianity began less than two years ago. The printing press came this year, and then less than two months ago, during this whole 50-year span of human history, the steam engine provided a new source of power. Newton explored the meaning of gravity. Last month electric lights and telephones and automobiles and airplanes became available. Only last week did we develop penicillin and television and nuclear power, and now if America’s new spacecraft succeeds in reaching Venus, we will have literally reached the stars before midnight tonight.



4 responses

20 07 2009
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[…] 20 07 2009 This blog already said most of what it wanted to say about the moon landing long before the 40th anniversary. So let us discuss Mars […]

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[…] is the inspirational aspect of space travel which is probably the most important aspect of it. As John F Kennedy understood, space travel has many potential economic benefits and acts as a huge boost to […]

25 01 2010
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12 04 2010
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