Ronald Grey

The Shuttle Era

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Source: NASA

No Limit to American Spirit

“No airship will ever fly from New York to Paris.”

Less than twenty years after the legendary Wilbur Wright forecast the limit of flight, Wright’s limit was surpassed by the Spirit of St. Louis, in a century during which the United States continued surpassing impossible limits that included the first Apollo mission to land on the Moon.

Spacefaring Civilization

But with the launch of Space Transportation System (STS) 133, space shuttle Discovery’s final mission, the United States could begin to discover limits in the American spirit, for a reason similar to that depicted in a book about space exploration.

In the early 1400s, the Ming emperors of China initiated an ambitious program of global exploration.  They constructed fleets of huge oceangoing vessels and sent them off on voyages of discovery.  Sailing south and then west, the Chinese admirals explored Indonesia, then Java, and went on to discover India and then the Arabic civilizations of the Middle East.  Then, turning south, they explored the east coast of Africa and discovered Madagascar.  Had they been allowed to continue, in a very few years the Chinese fleets would have rounded the Cape of Good Hope and been in position to sail north and discover Europe.  However, the Confucian bureaucrats who advised the emperor considered information about the outside world and other civilizations and philosophies to be intrinsically worthless and potentially destabilizing to the divine kingdom, and so they convinced the emperor to have his fleets recalled and the ships destroyed.  As a result, Chinese civilization pulled inward, only to be discovered itself by European seafarers a century later.

Entering Space argues for American leadership to keep breaking limits in the course of human events, from a global civilization to our ultimate fate as a spacefaring civilization – colonizing our solar system on the way to other galaxies – or risk being surpassed like the Ming 600 years ago.

“China launched its first manned space flight in 2003 and plans an unmanned moon landing in 2012,” the Los Angeles Times reported, “with a possible manned lunar mission to follow in 2017 — marking new milestones in its space program while those in the U.S. and elsewhere face tightened budgets.”

To Mars and Beyond

Dedicated to a management manifesto for “faster, better, cheaper,” the United States can retain its leadership at the forefront of exploration, with low-cost innovation in the American space program that still allows for a possibility to surpass the limits implied in a challenge set forth by President George Bush on the twentieth anniversary of civilization’s first leap to the lunar surface.  “Before Apollo celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of its landing on the Moon, the American flag should be planted on Mars.”

 References

Michael Collins, Mission to Mars: An Astronaut’s Vision of Our Future in Space (New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1990).

Tom D. Crouch, Aiming for the Stars: The Dreamers and Doers of the Space Age (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1999).

Howard E. McCurdy, Faster, Better, Cheaper: Low-Cost Innovation in the U.S. Space Program (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001).

Robert Zubrin, Entering Space: Creating a Spacefaring Civilization (New York: Penguin Putnam, 1999).

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