The Last American Rocket Ride ……

by R Lunde

If you’ve never seen one go … it is an awesome sight. The ignition. A tail fire brighter than the sun. The smoke billowing. The impact of the shock wave. The awesome deep basso sound of rolling thunder. The lift off. The arc into the sky. There is nothing else quite like a NASA shuttle launch.

It all started with Sputnik in 1957. The Russians surprised and stunned the American psych. Then on April 12, 1961 Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space.  President John F. Kennedy in a speech to a joint session of Congress on May 25th, 1961 committed American’s to land a man on the moon within the decade … and we did.

“This Nation has tossed its cap over the wall of space, and we have no choice but to follow it. Whatever the difficulties, they will be overcome. Whatever the hazards, they must be guarded against.” JFK

50 years later, for the US, it ended last Friday as the Atlantis lifted to space. We went to the moon and back. The shuttle program built a magnificent space station … to which US astronauts, henceforth, will access by riding Russian rockets. Last Friday was the last American rocket ride.

President Obama ended the space shuttle program this year and also cancelled the Constellation program which was the planned successor to the shuttle. Republicans and Democrats stood silently bye. Our leaders left us with no task, no mission, no inspiration, no ‘what’s next?’

The space shuttle program cost the American taxpayer around $7 billion per year. That is a lot of money, but consider that Iraq cost around $10 billion per month … and US consumers spend over $154 billion per year on alcohol. And … we spend a little over $ 7 billion on dog food. So because American political leadership was not willing to spend per year what the American people spend to feed their dogs, some 9,000 of America’s smartest will be laid off in a few weeks and an exceptional American era will end.

Many of you will not remember John F. Kennedy as other than an assassinated President.  But for those of us from his era, we remember a man of ideas, courage and inspiration. He was a leader who could calm our fears, strengthen our resolve and galvanize a nation to action.

He talked about or Nation and why we should lead the world to the stars. Following is an excerpt from his September 12th, 1962 speech at Rice University in Texas. He had a majesty of words not unlike the majesty of flight of our former shuttle fleet.

“Yet the vows of this Nation can only be fulfilled if we in this Nation are first, and, therefore, we intend to be first. In short, our leadership in science and in industry, our hopes for peace and security, our obligations to ourselves as well as others, all require us to make this effort, to solve these mysteries, to solve them for the good of all men, and to become the world’s leading space-faring nation.

     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. I do not say the we should or will go unprotected against the hostile misuse of space any more than we go unprotected against the hostile use of land or sea, but I do say that space can be explored and mastered without feeding the fires of war, without repeating the mistakes that man has made in extending his writ around this globe of ours.

     There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation many never come again. But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?

     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, and the others, too.

     It is for these reasons that I regard the decision last year to shift our efforts in space from low to high gear as among the most important decisions that will be made during my incumbency in the office of the Presidency.”

Below are links to archived speeches of President Kennedy that relate to our space program. Listen to the man and read his words.

When I worked at Leo Burnett we were constantly reminded of Leo’s famous ‘motto’ quote, “If you reach for the stars you might not quite get one, but you won’t come up with a handful of mud either.’ I hope our leaders will keep us reaching for the stars.


A little research note: The US now spends more in 5 days in Afghanistan than the entire yearly NASA budget.