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THE WEIRS TIMES, Thursday, April 22, 2010

METZLER from 1

Moon landing on a flicker- ing Black and white TV on a cool Vermont evening. Years earlier, I remember that the first American in space (before John Glenn) was actually New Hamp- shire native Alan Shepard. Yet, I’m not one of that dwindling band who fol- lows shuttle launches and landings with the rapt at- tention as Americans did in the 1960’s during proj- ects Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo. But even during the hey-

day of NASA’s golden years, people incessantly yam- mered, “We are sending millions to the moon, why not use this for projects on Earth”? Good question. Now look at your computer screen where you may be viewing this article, do you have a mobile/cell phone, are you familiar with the internet? So much of this technology emerged as a result of the space program which miniaturized cir- cuits and communications and subsequently made it affordable and available to the masses. For example, even a de-

cade ago the average car carried more on-board computer technology than the Apollo 11 spacecraft. What the NASA cuts are

about is not eliminating the space agency, nor even seriously cutting its $19 billion budget, but rather narrowing its vision and especially its horizons. The space program was always about horizons—not just going to the Moon and beyond, but about push- ing both the geographic and philosophical horizon and political standing of the USA as a global play- er. This is what’s being trimmed and what’s being mortgaged. Indeed the U.S space

program has been a near singular player in manned space flight—really only the Russians have per- fected this on a similar scale, and People’s Chi- na has relatively recently launched a number of suc- cessful flights. But let’s not forget that even the high tech European Space Agency (ESA), while suc- cessfully launching satel- lites, has never carried out a manned launch. Nor has

space program a genera- tion ago. But today America is

becoming less the land of scientific vision and more the land of earthly en- titlements; less the land of pride and promise, and more the place of pedes- trian programs. The U.S. Capitol building

stands majestically at the head of the Washington Mall, to its one side sits the Smithsonian’s Air and

Japan. The cancellation of the

Space Shuttle program, after three more missions, will cost 9,000 jobs. End- ing the revamped Moon program may cost a further 20,000 engineering and scientific positions. Still Obama told a skeptical audience at Florida’s Ken- nedy Space Center, “I am 100 percent committed to the mission of NASA and its future.” Really? With the cancellation of

the Space Shuttle program and scrapping the planned new Moon missions, is Obama now essentially planning to outsource ele- ments of manned space flight to the Russians? Shall astronauts go to the International Space Station via the Soyuz program? Are we losing our scientific edge? The famous movie “The

Right Stuff” chronicled the early stages of the 1960’s space race with the Sovi- ets, the gripping “Apollo 13” presented the saga of saving the near- disas- trous 1970 mission. Both films projected the political and scientific vision which clearly characterized the

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Space Museum, an amaz- ing assembly of flight from the Wright Brothers to the unique brotherhood of the Space Program. It’s a place which still celebrates “The Right Stuff.” Shall the “new” NASA be able to achieve the same?

John J. Metzler is a Unit-

ed Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues.

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