By Jeff Girod
Space! The final frontier—unless you’re the United States, in which case we’ll sit the next one out because zero gravity is apparently getting too pricey. (Have you seen the cost of unleaded rocket fuel lately?)
Last week’s launch of the Atlantis marked the 135th and final mission of a NASA space shuttle. And when its crew lands after a 12-day trip, it will mark the first time in literally decades that the United States will have no way to lift humans into orbit (not counting the hypnotic, out-of-this-world voice of one Michael Bolton).
From this point forward, if American astronauts want to take a journey to space, we will have to rely on the Russian space agency. The Russians?! Why, it seems like only yesterday Rocky Balboa was punching a Russian in his big, fat, freedom-hating face. And now we’re thumbing rides like some kind of freeloading goodtime hobo, just hoping somebody will pull over their rocket ship and let us squeeze into the rumble seat.
Since April 1981, space shuttles have carried 355 astronauts a half-billion miles in space, circling the earth 20,830 times. Shuttles have also cost $196 billion during those 30 years, costing 14 lives and only managing to complete half of their scheduled missions, according to The Associated Press. Still, that’s a better track record than my last flight on JetBlue. (No tiny neck pillows and the in-flight movie was Marmaduke.)
NASA has no clear plans for future manned space flights and no designs for a spacecraft to succeed the shuttle. And even if NASA did, anything on the drawing board could take years, possibly decades to test and complete. That means I’ll probably have to live to 120 to realize my childhood dream of working at an interplanetary factory named Spacely’s Sprockets, or having a robot maid named Rosie and a floating dog named Astro.
More importantly, the United States is no longer going to be numero uno when it comes to space travel and that’s tragic. Because there’s only one flag planted on that moon and it’s ours, baby. That hunk of Swiss cheese might as well be our 51st state, but what’s going to become of the rest of the solar system? Almost every other nation is still taking strides in the space race and do you really want a foreigner sticking a flagpole in Uranus?
I’m not saying our space program hasn’t been expensive, but lots of things in this country are expensive. The stimulus package, bank bailouts, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—all totaled have cost our country billions in taxes and untold lost services that could have been spent more wisely. (I’m still hoping for a government bailout for The Paul Reiser Show.)
And what has any of it really bought us? I’m still the same frustrated sap paying $4 a gallon for gas, trapped in a too-small house I paid too much for, going nowhere in an underpaying job, somehow thankful I haven’t been downsized yet. Gee, thanks, America.
So why not throw a few more hundred billion dollars at the space program, because damn if I don’t want to see people hopping around Mars. But don’t take my word for it . . .
“If we don’t do it, China, India, Russia or some other country will take the lead,” said Eileen Collins, Columbia astronaut, the first woman to command a space shuttle, and pretty much the baddest chick in this or any atmosphere. “Great nations explore. Great nations invest in their future. The U.S.A. cannot give that up.”
Maybe I’m going to sound like an egocentric nationalistic yahoo when I say this, but: America should always be better at some things than everyone else—like barbecuing, gangsta rap and flying 18,000 miles an hour with a million pounds of explosive fuel strapped to our bellies.
Maybe the shuttle has gotten old and busted. Maybe it does cost a lot of money. But it’s still space, man. And that’s cooler than anything anyone is doing anywhere.
Besides, do you really want India taking responsibility for humankind’s colonization of Mars? INDIA??? Have you ever tried calling an IT department in Bangalore?
Contact Jeff Girod at email@example.com.