Friday, July 8, 2011
Camp Connell, Ca -- The first time I watched a man fly into space from the sands of Cape Canaveral, in 1965, I thought it was the most exciting thing I had ever seen in my life.
I managed to calm down long enough to write a story for the Miami Herald about the adventures the crew of Gemini 4, including America's first spacewalker Ed White.
But I will never forget the experience.
Any more than I will forget the excitement surrounding the world's first landing of human beings on another body in space -- the moon -- in 1969. I was working at my temporary desk at Mission Control's press center in Houston.
My good friend Louis DeRoche, correspondent for the French Press Agency, popped open a bottle of vermouth (awful stuff) and toasted the event even as he was filing bulletins to the people of Europe and Asia.
"You Americans," he said, "have no idea how important this is to the world."
Alas, Louie was correct.
We really don't get it, and now America's exploring years are behind us.
We can afford wars, and we can afford Wall Street institutional financial rescues, but we have forgotten how to explore. Just can't afford it.
Back when space was big news the television networks would start coverage in the middle of the night and stay live on the air until the flights ended. Gradually they backed off, of course, but they still reported constantly on the dangerous adventure of the men flying in space, carrying the American flag as the world leader in exploration.
Today the main networks devoted about five minutes or air time after liftoff, and cut away to commercials and other programs (including cooking shows) before the shuttle reached earth orbit.
Good things never last forever, but there is something very sad about a nation that seeks instant gratification from news of a murder trial in Florida, or a celebrity's drug problems, and doesn't care about exploring the universe.
I am reasonably optimistic that my grandchildren will live to see the United States send men and women into space again. I am sure a later generation will have the will and the means.
But I think the prediction the next manned space flight from the U.S. might happen in ten years or so is way off.
I do not expect to live long enough to see another U.S. manned space flight.
And that ticks me off.