Need a Lift? Ask the Russians!

05/26/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

It was one of the last things he said on earth. President John F. Kennedy spoke to a group at an Air Force base in Texas on the last full day of his life. He spoke about America's space program. Typically, the learned, witty Kennedy started with a story:

"Frank O'Connor, the Irish writer, tells in one of his books how as a boy, he and his friends would make their way across the countryside and when they came to an orchard wall that seemed too high and too doubtful to try and too difficult to permit their voyage to continue, they took off their hats and tossed them over the wall - and then they had no choice but to follow them."

Then he told his listeners: America has thrown her hat over the wall of space--and we have no choice but to follow it.

That was leadership. That was vision. That was soaring rhetoric. President Kennedy was the one who inspired this nation to undertake a great adventure. He alone understood that we had no choice but to go to the Moon. He alone had the skill to take that idea from the drawing boards of engineers and the laboratories of scientists and give it wings. He alone could give us a great national goal and the will to meet it.

One of the many, many things that have been lost in the endless, droning 14-month filibuster on nationalizing health care is the kind of attention we used to give to other important goals.

With the media focusing like a laser on health care, we have passed over a story that is stunning in its implications: The United States under President Obama is willingly giving up leadership in space. We are giving way to Russia and China.

That's because President Obama's budget eliminates funding for a return to the Moon.

Who cares? The Apollo 11 Moon landing was not viewed as important enough by 300 professional historians and teachers of social studies to be included in the proposed National History Standards back in 1994. Those dumbed-down standards were a catalogue of oppression and injustice that led columnist George Will to call them "anti-American history standards". Although those standards were rejected 99-1 by the U.S. Senate (with even liberal Ted Kennedy voting thumbs down), the dark view they take of American history has nonetheless come to dominate too much of our nation's classrooms.

How else can we explain the fact that, aside from Charles Krauthammer's eloquent columns, there has been virtually no cry of protest as Obama canceled the Constellation program that would have taken America back to the Moon? Krauthammer points out that the manned space program would have cost only 1/300 of the stimulus package the President insisted we must pass.

Astronaut Harrison Schmitt's book Return to the Moon, shows what pearls we are casting away in our myopic view of national interest. Schmitt is one of only twelve men to walk on the lunar surface. He's a trained geologist. Schmitt believes the Moon contains vast amounts of Helium-3, a lightweight isotope of the stuff in our toy balloons. Helium-3, Schmitt says, could fuel nuclear fusion plants.

"Extracting helium-3 from the Moon and returning it to Earth would, of course, be difficult, but the potential rewards would be staggering for those who embarked upon this venture. Helium-3 could help free the United States -- and the world -- from dependence on fossil fuels," Schmitt writes.

Think of it -- no more dependence of polluting oil or coal, no more dangerous reliance on unstable Mideast tyrannies, an environmentally friendly way to generate electricity.

If this administration believes -- as it repeatedly says it believes--that the gravest threat to human life on earth is not terrorists getting nuclear weapons but global warming, how can they justify not exploring the Moon?

For now, Constellation has been grounded. If we need a lift into space, we'll have to ask the Russians. Or the Chinese.

Barack Obama did not hesitate to kill the dream of Jack Kemp to bring our inner cities out of poverty with enterprise zones and school choice. Too bad. Kemp was a pro-life, conservative Republican. But how can President Obama justify killing Jack Kennedy's dream, too?

Ken Blackwell and Bob Morrison are senior fellows at the Family Research Council.