Neil Armstrong is dead. The space shuttle program is no more. The Constellation program has been canceled, and the main spacecraft is a wheezy 50-year-old Soyuz. Our cosmic escapades feel distant. All those memories of daring men and women of “The Right Stuff” will soon be lost in time, like tears in rain, unless as a species we recognize the urgent need to venture to the stars.
On Jan. 31, NASA honored all the members of Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia who perished while “furthering the cause of exploration and discovery.” Surely they would be devastated that their bravery and sacrifice might have been in vain as the great American pioneer flame gutters in the winds of political expediency.
Manned space travel is essential to both inspire and safeguard humanity. The challenge to cross the void between worlds is monumental. If we fail to accept this obstacle, mankind will wither, first in spirit and then in body, for in the long run, as former NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said, “a single-planet species will not survive.”
The imperative for manned space is simultaneously offensive and defensive. Offensive because of humanity’s need to grow, explore and be inspired. Defensive because “Earth is too small and fragile a basket for mankind to keep all its eggs in,” as Robert A. Heinlein said.