As I sat in the Colombo, Sri Lanka home and office of the late Sir Arthur C. Clarke (author of 2001: A Space Odyssey), it was clear that he was the greatest living proponent of human space travel.
Beyond the impressive awards from NASA and Jet Propulsion Labs and many press articles about Clarke's 60-year cheerleading role, there was an even more impressive display. Mounted on the wall above his desk was a massive, 4ft. x 4ft. x 6in. deep, glass framed case that contained a piece of the Moon. I'm not discussing a moon rock; I'm talking about an actual 2ft. x 2ft. x 4in. section of the lunar surface that seemed to have been jack-hammered out of the Moon's crust. A plaque stated simply: "To Sir Arthur C. Clarke from a Grateful NASA Apollo 11."
As a ten-year-old boy at summer camp in Maine in 1969, I had been awakened in the middle of the night, with 300 other campers, and led up to the big log-cabin camp lodge to watch the moon walk. What a memorable spectacle!! Memorable is not the word. The experience was unforgettable.
America was crowned king that night as the world looked on, enthralled... Americans had achieved a mind-boggling conquest in the face of extreme change: Vietnam, Flower Power, political turmoil, feminism and the sexual revolution.
The image of John F. Kennedy challenging this great country to get to the moon first was enshrined as one of history's great human endeavors. The USA was first and that meant so much to so many Americans who were struggling to make sense of the world and our place in it.
Since then, innumerable inventions, conveniences and life-saving products and technologies have made their way from the Moon back to Earth and store shelves, the Internet and hospitals.
I, for one, never questioned the value proposition of the investment versus the results of the space program. The ROI, as a business executive might say, was irrefutable.
Cut to today, 62 years later and Obama is issuing a diktat that there's to be no more NASA Lunar Program or Space Shuttle due to 'budget cuts.' Is that insane?
By what right does this new, inexperienced president decide to completely do away with a human achievement that a predecessor accomplished with great fanfare, exaltation and benefit to humanity? (A Democratic predecessor at that!) What illustrious results has Obama ever produced?
Does Obama talk to no one, not even to the American people, before he makes a decision of this magnitude? Whom does he consult? Why are we, the people, not told of the mechanics of this momentous decision?
I thought I'd go out of my mind when Obama made this announcement. I'm not alone. Harrison Schmitt, an Apollo 17 astronaut and space-policy expert said, "It's bad for the country. This administration really does not believe in American exceptionalism." This plays right into the hands of Conservatives who've been saying that Obama does not believe in or love America and would make a lousy president.
Texas Governor Rick Perry also rightly laid into the president for this travesty.
Whether you support and love this president or loathe him and want him impeached, the decision to defund NASA is stupid, short-sighted and selfish.
If it was made for economic reasons -- budget cuts, as this administration avers -- why fund the creation of a Mars Mission at an even higher level? It makes no sense.
I was discussing this ridiculous decision with a friend recently and we ventured a guess what the budget savings would be if a president used budget cuts as a rationale for closing down NASA completely. His guess was $50 billion; mine was $100 billion. Take a guess at NASA's 2009 budget. It was a meager $17.6 billion; there would be no tremendous impact of this kind of savings and what would we potentially lose in research, development and technological gain?
In this frightful economy, terminating thousands of NASA jobs and losing those skills, canceling thousands of private-sector contracts (eliminating thousands more jobs) and simultaneously planning on going to Mars is not only inadvisable but downright moronic.
Now Obama has done some quick and crafty back-peddling on the subject after a ham-handed and bumbling announcement that led any reasonable person to presume that NASA was being closed and shuttered.
His spin team says they're actually increasing funds to NASA. They say that the target is no longer another Moon walk by 2020, as George W. Bush had envisioned, but Mars. No matter, it's all political posturing. Just listen to the astronauts, the space teams at NASA and others at JPL to truly understand that Obama and his team of over-educated but untested political cronies are forever moving the goalposts to some vague and absurd new vision purely for Democratic Party political gain.
Despite Kennedy's awe-inspiring leadership on space exploration, the Democrats have never liked or appreciated NASA. It simply takes too much money from other big entitlement programs for American minorities that deliver them votes.
And, as President, Obama has indisputably made this most appalling decision.
Sir Arthur C. Clarke, who died in 2008, must be turning in his grave. Or weeping. Or both.