NASA's shuttle scuttle speaks volumes of America's path to mediocrity

by Mark Larson |

It's not about what it seems. During a recent trip to Florida I again visited the Kennedy Space Center and Astronaut Hall of Fame. As a self-professed "space geek" —as most of us in the Baby Boom are—I am saddened by the end of the shuttle program and the related loss of jobs as NASA retools, attempting to figure out what to do next in its public-private partnerships. The agency is also more consumed with "climate change" and seemingly anything else, except doing what they have done best.

But all of that is not what bothers me most. There's much more.

Analyzing the situation, it's easy to assume that what's on the surface is the key point on the subject. You've heard the lines:

We can't afford it anymore.

There are so many problems here at home.

Why does it all matter anyway?

The facts are that much of the technology we enjoy in our everyday lives came from space program advances, and the U.S. spends less than one half cent out of every tax dollar on NASA entities. There's more to be done, and leaders in other countries know it, so they're content to leave us in the dust.

While there will always be, and should be, debates about how our elected officials spend money, it's important to consider that a mere $2 billion annually could have kept one of our three Space Shuttle orbiters flying for many years, accomplishing new goals and maintaining thousands of jobs. One of the vehicles had another 50 to 75 trips in it, but it will now be displayed in a museum, as will the remaining fleet—a testimony to America's past triumphs.

Meanwhile, there are billions of dollars in "unspent TARP money," that "troubled assets" fund that we were told would jump-start employment. A small portion of those funds could have been used for NASA and provided jobs. With the right shift in focus, Lord willing, there's still time to avoid further American decline.


Satisfied with mediocrity
As I drove around the coast in Florida the evidence of killed-off programs is everywhere, dramatic since my visit last year. Foreclosed homes, empty store fronts, businesses hanging by a thread … all monuments to dreams that reached the end of the road when the White House went back on "I will keep your jobs" promises made by then-candidate Sen. Obama in 2008. Estimates of job losses that began in 2011 are in the thousands, not counting the ripple effect on local communities.

Politicians could use some remedial math courses here. It may come as a surprise to many that pulling the plug on 7,000 to 10,000 jobs and promising/hoping to create 2,500 "new program" options in their place is still a big net loss.

As depressing as the economics are, they're not my core concern.

As I toured the sites of America's 50-plus years in space exploration I realized that the biggest issue now is how we are allowing our country to accept, and maybe even desire, mediocrity, and not just in this arena.

Once we stop striving, taking risks and indeed embracing a healthy sense of pride in our accomplishments powered by God-given abilities, we cease to be a great nation. What's happening in Florida mirrors what's going on around the country.


Quest for exceptionalism
Much has been said about "American Exceptionalism," and it's crucial. Maybe it's due to the tough recession years and fears of the future, but somehow in a blink of an eye we are in danger of forgetting what we do best.

Political correctness has duped many of us into thinking the goal is to simply get by, not trying to be the best or to win. Working hard to be an exception to the rest, powered by individual responsibility, has given way to a false sense of security and addiction to government "benefits" of all kinds. This has caused too many citizens to keep quiet when they should be sounding the alarm that we're in danger of losing what has made America unique in the world.

The space program is a picture of this, too, as we can no longer launch our astronauts into low earth orbit—but the Russians and Chinese can. And Russia charges us tens of millions of dollars per seat to ferry Americans to the International Space Station. The message to our kids is this: We are nothing special. The USA is just like every other country on earth, and we want to keep it that way.


Watered down interest
On my Florida journey I noticed some other things that make my point. At Disney's Epcot theme park, there's a very large pavilion that celebrates the United States. In all of its retro glory recalling colonial days, I saw that there are no longer turnstyles to help control crowds in the building. The numbers of people who want to get a sense of our history are smaller, and midday during Easter week break I was alone walking through the gallery of American historical artifacts, a fascinating exhibit, though watered down with political correctness at times. It was uninteresting to most American visitors.

I also observed that most voices I heard were from other countries.

This was even more pronounced at Kennedy Space Center. I had a strange sense of a world coming to pay its respects to a nation that once had no problem stepping up and striving for the best, pressing toward goals, with a sense of God-given energy to be the very best—indeed, a bright "city on a hill," shining for the world to see.

While America contemplates too much "what's in it for me" and expects more freebies from Uncle Sam, the rest of the world will pass us by. But shouldn't we prayerfully consider what's going on and work to change course while there's still time?

I don't believe God has blessed us for more than 235 years to blow our opportunities and to become an "also-ran" nation.


Larson is a veteran Southern California radio/television personality and media consultant. He can be heard daily in San Diego on KCBQ 1170AM from 6 to 9 a.m. and on KPRZ 1210AM from 2 to 4 p.m. E-mail: mark@marklarson.com.

Published, May 2012
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