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Last Call to be World Leader

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"Where is that moon, that leads to your soul?"

- Aromabar

Legend has it that Kaguya descended from a race of moon people. She was an extraordinary beauty with hair of gold, and Earthmen became obsessed with her. Alas, one day she was obliged by her moon family to return home. Extraterrestrials swooped down and scooped her up. Distraught, the emperor composed a letter and had it carried to the highest mount in the land. The emperor's emissaries than burnt the letter in the hope that Kaguya would receive his message in the smoke that twirled upwards. They also burnt the emperor's precious elixir of immortality because he could not bear to live forever without his beloved Kaguya. And so one thousand years ago Mount Fuji (immortality) got its name. Today, Mount Fuji still vents a little volcanic fury every once in a blue moon.

Is there a link between heavenly bodies like the moon and events on Earth? If not, could the age of space exploration deliver what astrology could not? The march of technology is bringing mankind ever closer to other worlds. It took just 66 years to get from Kitty Hawk to the Sea of Tranquility and now it is nearly a certainty that within another hundred years new technologies will make rocket propulsion as obsolete as the McDonnell Douglas DC-3 is today. It would also seem that the discovery of exobiology is inevitable. When that occurs, there will be no doubt left that what happens in outer space effects human events on Earth because people of every horoscope will be shaken by the news. If contact is made with intelligent life, the effect will be beyond description. For sure, an unprecedented era of unity and brotherhood will be ushered in on Earth.

With or without ET, the nation that keeps and establishes its leadership in outer space now will be number one on Earth in the 21st century and beyond. This puts the United States at a crossroads of spending priorities. The world is fast catching up to the 1969 -- 1973 Apollo missions and countries that were pre-industrial 40 years ago are now sending homemade rockets to rendezvous with the moon. As Michael T. Klare has pointed out, in 2008 the Central Intelligence Agency issued the latest in a series of publications intended to guide the incoming Obama administration. It says that America's future role as world leader is in serious doubt. Peering into its analytic crystal ball in a report entitled Global Trends 2025, it predicted that America's global preeminence would gradually disappear over the next 15 years -- in conjunction with the rise of new global powerhouses, especially China and India. The report examined many facets of the future strategic environment, but its most startling, and news-making, finding concerned the projected long-term erosion of American dominance and the emergence of new global competitors. "Although the United States is likely to remain the single most powerful actor in 2025, the country's relative strength -- even in the military realm -- will decline and U.S. leverage will become more constrained."

Interestingly, the decline in America's might dovetails with in an incomprehensible $680 billion "defense" budget for fiscal 2010, including $130 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in a bill signed by President Obama just this week. The United States budget for war and weaponry is now equal to the total military spending of the following 29 big spenders combined, including China, Russia, Germany, Japan, India, Pakistan, England, France and Iran. America's astonishing waste of the public purse on guns is sheer lunacy. Overspending on arms does not make a nation more secure anymore than overdosing on a vaccine bolsters immunity to disease. But let that be a topic for another day.

If America reduced its war budget by 20% and increased NASA's budget by the same dollar amount, untold benefits would flow to the United States without raising taxes. Exhaustive studies have been done showing that military spending is extremely capital-intensive and tax dollars create more employment in the civilian sector. The press has done hundreds of exposés showing that the armed services grossly overpay for their equipment. It doesn't take a telescope to see that the dumb invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, dumb because they did not secure benefits for the United States at a cost of nearly one thousand thousand million dollars and counting, have been a colossal waste of money. Had this same money been invested in NASA, not only would America be the undisputed global power, it would be the supreme power of the solar system! American space stations, moon bases and men on Mars would be the new wonder of the world. The spin-off industries and technologies would be out of this world. And still, America's military would be ahead of all the rest. A single aircraft carrier battle group has more advanced fighter aircraft and firepower than the combined Air Force and Navy of almost every country on earth. America has 13 such battle groups. Russia has one and China is on track to get its first (a 25-year-old Soviet era aircraft carrier) within a few years. As M.C. Hammer put it, "can't touch this."

As for the powerful defense contractor lobbyists, let them lobby for Boeing, Grumman, McDonnell Douglas and Raytheon to get the multi-billion-dollar contracts to make America second to none in space. There is much crossover from military technology to space exploration.

The day of reckoning is approaching like an asteroid.

America's leadership in the sciences is waning. Take a stroll across college campuses in America today. Go to the engineering, physics and mathematics departments and do an informal survey. How many of the professors and students are foreign? Go to the celebrated campuses of Google and Microsoft. You will find that a large proportion of people in the technology field at American firms, people trained in mathematics, are not the product of America's secondary schools. They are visitors on visas, immigrants or the children of immigrants to America who succeeded at the university level. The immigration of scientific talent (Einstein is the most notable example), derisively known as the brain drain to America, is an important factor in America's continued technological and military prowess in the face of a national student body generally averse to math. Without a Sputnik scare, America is happy to rely on imported brains to fill the education gap just as it relies on millions of unskilled workers from south of the border to do a laundry list of unpleasant and low-paying jobs. As research facilities, technology and living standards improve around the world, scientists will be less compelled to go west in search of a brighter future. Telecommuting makes it easy for firms to bypass U.S. based brain workers such as computer programmers altogether, increasing competition and putting downward pressure on wages in the U.S. and upward pressure in other countries, reducing the incentive to immigrate.

Now if someone could only find a way to outsource all the highly overpaid U.S. lawyer, corporate executive, insurance company and Wall Streeter jobs to India and Mexico, real American productivity would get a big boost as the risk and cost of doing business falls. Litigation caps and bonus reform would be an indispensable part of this process. But I digress.

In 2007 the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency sent a satellite named Kaguya to the moon.

Let a Space Age renaissance begin. It will not require new taxes. May swords be broken into space probes and Star Wars remain a fiction movie. Let America marshal its vast resources in the self-interested pursuit of innovation and science in space for the greatness of a nation and the benefit of the world. Otherwise, Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Uhuru may not ride a ship called the Enterprise.

"I repeat the call I made last summer at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, when I spoke about the future of the space program. It is time we sailed the sea of space once more in a bold, expansive space vision. To achieve such a goal we need strong leaders, for to sustain a growing and momentous effort in space may require that we reject a defeatist mentality that mires us in second place, reject the loss of jobs that lack of leadership would cause, and that we set our sights higher, that if needed we sail against the wind. Not everyone will understand this need for America to lead the world in space. In his grand novel about the space program, author James Michener put it plainly. "The world is called dark," Michener wrote, "not because the sun fails to shine, but because people fail to see the light." So let there be light.
President Barack Obama, the rest is up to you."

- Col. Buzz Aldrin, 79, the second man to walk on the moon.

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