But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas? We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

JFK, speech given at Rice University in Houston, Texas on September 12, 1962.

In December of 1903 two Midwesterners ushered in a new era for human civilization on a lonely beach some 700 miles from their home in Dayton. Together they proved that sustained powered flight was possible. By 1905 they had perfected the world’s first fixed wing aircraft. Yet the US government wouldn’t see the value of their craft until they reluctantly signed a contract in 1908, beginning a long standing tradition of the US government failing to fund important aerospace projects.

The Wright Flyer ushered in an era of amazing progress. Though modern man had taken thousands of years to learn how to fly it would be just 66 years after the Wrights first flew in Kitty Hawk that man would first set foot on the moon. Surely mankind would reach new and greater heights in the years that would follow? Yet here we are, nearly 40 years after man first set foot on the moon. Not only have we not expanded our horizons, but we have even lost the ability to go back. Concerns such as budget cuts have left numerous spacecraft unfinished in hangers around the nation, and heralded the death of many successful projects. What happened to the visionaries in the US government? What happened to those who had the courage to aim higher? What sort of fool cancels a project which has successfully built and tested the fastest aircraft ever conceived? In the past we strove for these goals because we understood the vision behind such grand things. Now it appears our leaders only understand bureaucracy. Where once we challenged ourselves by purposefully tackling those problems which seemed insurmountable now we see fit to let dreams die.

With NASA now promising that we will return to the moon by 2020, I am filled with the mixed emotions of excitement and doubt. Will even this project, the utterly unambitious goal of establishing our self on the moon, a mere 50 years after we first landed, ever get off the ground? Or will it instead fall prey to the lack of vision our leaders all seem to share? I don’t know if I believe NASA will ever get back to the moon. I have become so jaded by the countless canceled and aborted projects, budget shortfalls, and other pointless obstacles which have haunted NASA that I can muster little to no excitement over this prospect. Why is it that Kennedy could get us to the moon when no one else had even tried, yet today our leaders don’t seem capable of getting us back to someplace we have already been. The failure of our space program should be a source of shame for all Americans. We have not failed because we lack the ability, or the knowledge. Nor is it the case that we lack competent scientists. We have failed because our leaders are so spineless that they refuse to reach for the stars.

But all hope is not lost. There may be people and projects in our future which do indeed have the courage to press ever forwards. Maybe they will be enough for us to reclaim our place in the history of aerospace innovation. Whatever the case may be I can say that two years ago, on the shores of Lake Winnebago, I felt excited and hopeful again. While witnessing one of the last flights of SpaceShip One I realized that not everyone has forgotten that dreams are important. On that day in the hearts and minds of the people present the flame first ignited by two brothers from Ohio, and later rekindled on the surface of the moon by another Ohioan, still burned bright.

-Angry Midwesterner

Angry Midwesterner