Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Feb. 3: Obama Doesn't Reach For the Stars (At Least Not Yet)

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Maybe it was because of where he was July 20, 1969.

While Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were taking their first steps on the moon, soon-to-be 8-year-old Barack Obama was living in Indonesia. Maybe there was television coverage, but perhaps not on the caliber of what could be experienced in the United States.

Obama, as he wrote in his excellent memoir "Dreams From My Father," was also beginning to go through the identity crisis that would consume him for most of the next two decades.

In any case, perhaps he wasn't touched by the Apollo 11 moon landing the way many other Americans were. If he had been, perhaps he would have done more for near-term space exploration in the budget he unveiled this week.

The return to the moon that had been proposed by President George W. Bush has been scrapped. Obama's focus for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, better known as NASA, will be this planet, for the time being.

In fairness, Obama also wants research into new technologies for longer space missions, going deeper into space - eventually. That shift will save NASA jobs, but will hurt the contractors who were counting on moon missions, as well as supporters in Central Florida and East Texas, the hubs of manned space exploration.

It will also hurt this country in a more fundamental way.

The Apollo moon landings came in a country wearied by the Vietnam War and economic struggles. Armstrong, Aldrin, Michael Collins and the others who travelled to the moon between 1968-72 inspired others the way Charles Lindbergh had inspired them.

It's true that Obama is pragmatic. But space exploration requires much more. It requires being a dreamer.

In the wake of the budget announcement comes news that Iran has launched live animals into space. Perhaps competition from a foe - the way the Soviet Union competed with the United States in the moon race during the 1960s - can provide a kick.

This country needs to reach for the stars. So does President Obama.

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