WOW! I am feeling a Buck Rogers moment coming on.
Yeah, I know. Nobody really knows what that means any more. Actutally, I never saw a Buck Rogers movie, either. But it's, like, uh, you know, a shared generic sci fi experience.
OK. Here's the thing. There is non-frozen water on Mars! People! This is, like, you know, humongous! And do you hear about this on the campaign trail? No! Did the president of the United States make a prime time TV speech? No! Did Pope Francis praise the heavens from a whole different perspective? Duh. Do these people not watch trailers for "The Martian"? What happened to all the hoopla for "Interstellar"? Doesn't anybody remember Sandra Bullock in "Gravity"? I mean, really, didn't they see Bill Nye the Science Guy actually twitch (a little) in excitement? It's been such a tedious year, what with all the bad economic news and political ho-hum, that you'd think the possibility that an environment on Mars that could make life possible is tremendous. There's already speculation that if there's water on Mars, rocket fuel could be manufactured there! I want NASA back.CartoonDavies' latest cartoon: Transition of powerCommentSubmit your letterReader essaysGet published in Newsday
I know Mark and Scott Kelly, the astronaut twins, are doing their best. But, frankly, NASA is a shell, so to speak, of its former self.
Folks, we have to get serious about space again. We need the injection of self-confidence, the boost to morale, the thrill of innovation that we got from going to the Moon.
The argument for disemboweling NASA was that with the money we would feed the poor, comfort the afflicted, educate the ignorant and solve climate change. Well, we are rebuilding the Capitol Dome.
Americans are desperate for a sign that we are still The Nation to Be Dealt With. President Obama announced early on in his presidency that NASA was re-emergent. He said on April 15, 2010, in a speech I well remember, that he would (propose to) increase NASA spending by $6 billion over five years and finish designing a heavy-lift launch vehicle by 2015. He promised a crewed mission to Mars by the mid 2030s.
That is still the official NASA mission. The Nation's Journey to Mars continues. But funding is lagging. We're talking $18 billion a year (less than the agency received in 2010 when Obama made his Big Speech) and no signs of a big increase. (The last government shutdown cost us $25 billion.) Let's face it. We're dealing with a Republican Congress that doesn't even accept the scientific fact of man-made climate change, the only legislature of a developed nation that is so backward. Mars is hardly on the horizon, at least not for us. Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, does not even accept the theory of evolution, insisting it is an "incredible" fairy tale. He is now the second highest polling GOP candidate in the presidential race.
Rush Limbaugh, the entertainer, suggests that he doesn't believe NASA's claim of liquid water on Mars. "What's to stop them from making up something that happened on Mars that will help advance their left-wing agenda on this planet?" Huh? NASA has a left-wing agenda on this planet? NASA has enough money to have an agenda? Aren't we embarrassed that we need Russians to let us on the space station? America, we need some excitement (that is, not of the devastating depression/recession, your 401(k) has tanked kind of thrill). Many of us remember the day we landed on the Moon. Yes, we've sort of lost our national taste for Tang, but that was a GREAT DAY! Why can't we do something really cool like that again? Well, the Blood Moon was nice while it lasted.
(I really, really want NASA back. I think most of us do.)
Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service.