On Saturday, SpaceX Astronauts, Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken made history when their first of it's kind Crew Dragon spaceship was launched into space by the Falkon 9 rocket. Finally, after nearly a decade of having to hitch a ride from the Russians, the United States is back to launching manned space missions from American soil.
But, the resounding success of the launch of the SpaceX Crew Dragon is a much bigger impact than anyone could ever imagine.
This goes way beyond launching rockets, but it is also the first endeavor of a private company launching humans into space. It's been decades since Americans have felt pride in being successful in space. It's happened again.
On top of being stagnant for nearly a decade, it has also been just over 50 years since Apollo 11 landed on the surface of the moon, one of the most pivotal moments in United States history. This feat was very the result of American Excellence and ingenuity and had the entire nation united in common purpose and American Pride.
Last year as I watched all of the anniversary coverage and then Saturday as I watched coverage of this massive undertaking, I couldn't help but wonder, what has happened to America’s drive and passion for excellence. Why did it take so long to be excited again?
We used to do extraordinary things because it was the right thing to do and simply to prove the seemingly impossible was indeed, possible if we had people with the vision to see it though. Nothing personifies this drive for excellence in the way that our the US space program once did.
What does this all have to do with politics? EVERYTHING! Indulge me for a moment.
During the 1950’s the United States was deeply embedded in the Cold War against the former Soviet Union. We were fiercely competing to beat the Soviet Union at everything, especially to be the first into space and beyond. When they ended up being the first, that American drive for excellence kept us from just siting there and giving up. Instead, we continued, got better and had many firsts.
Then in 1961, President John F. Kennedy gave that famous speech where he challenged our great nation to land a man on the moon and return him safely back to earth by the end of that decade. Though he did not live to see it through, America rose to the challenge. The race was on to meet that timeline.
However, in early 1967, we lost Apollo 1 and three astronauts in a fire on the launch pad. Once again, we didn’t just sit there and give up, we continued. A short time later, the missions resumed. We were determined to meet Kennedy’s challenge. And in July, 1969, we achieved the goal of landing a man on the moon, and returning him safely back to Earth.
The moon landing was a watershed moment in US History. We were unstoppable!
Fast forward a few years, our mentality had significantly changed, for the worse.
Suddenly, the Apollo program was cancelled because it was ‘too expensive.' Budget cuts shifted the goal from huge initiatives to the space shuttles and a small station. We no longer had the drive to do the impossible. Americans had quite literally gotten bored with going to the moon.
A sad testament to the Liberalism of the 1970's.
In spite of that, the space program created visions of huge space stations, moon bases, even flying to Mars. Every child on the planet saw astronauts as heroes and many wanted to be one as well.
I was no different. As a young teenager in the 1980's, I had my mind in the stars. I read books, loved Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica. Me and my friends pretended like we were flying ships throughout the galaxy.
NASA started the space shuttle program, which had an elegant launch vehicle planned that could take off from an airport, launch the shuttle into space, then the launcher would safely return to earth.
Unfortunately, budget cuts caused the design to change to booster rockets. The shuttle program was to be a part of a huge space station, but because of those same cuts, the shuttle basically became the program.
That came to a head in January of 1986 when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after launch. This was a truly devastating moment for the nation as a whole.
NASA was so desperate to have excitement again, that they had a huge PR campaign around their Teacher in Space program. This was exciting, at least to NASA leaders, because it would mark the first civilian to go into space and got NASA some much needed attention.
NASA leaders gave in to tremendous pressure and did not listen to engineers who were begging not to launch due to the coldest conditions ever on a shuttle lunch. Because of that failure, the Challenger and its seven astronauts were lost.
Our drive was lost. Instead of doing things because they were hard, many had the the mentality that it was 'too hard.' Because of that mindset, this time it took us over 900 days to return to space. The focus had completely shifted from pushing ourselves to excel to being afraid to take risks.
A few years ago the aging shuttles went into retirement and the United States, the nation that went to the moon and back, now had to hitch rides with the Russians. How’s that for Irony? Until this week, we had no manned space program to speak of. We lost our greatness.
The devolving of our space program is just one example of what is happening to our great nation as a whole.
The difference? It’s quite obvious. Back then, we had visionaries for leaders. They inspired us to WIN, no matter the cost. Risk was part of the game. Any expense was tiny compared to the benefits. As Kennedy put it, ‘we do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.’
Too often, we have had leaders who chose not to challenge us, but to make us lazy. They lacked vision, basically sucking all of our drive and innovation out of our heads. The growing mentality to punish those who succeed and discourage others from even trying to succeed. We can no longer attempted things that were bold, simply because they were viewed as too expensive and dangerous.
Under President Obama, NASA's mission shift was basically to make sure nobody got into space. On top of that we no longer wanted to compete with other nations, it was all about cooperation. In other words, we have been witnessing the ‘wussification’ of our country. Since when is competition a bad thing?
Maybe, but then something happened that we did not expect, a chance to change all that. Conventional politics needed to take a back seat to someone unconventional to once again, bring attention and excitement to American excellence, and especially American excellence in space.
Yes, I am referring to President Trump. His hyper-focus on American excellence has once again unleashed the American machine to attain new heights. The Space program is no different.
His proposed 'Space Force' was a way to get us in the drivers seat again. Of course, there are many, especially Democrats, who were laughing at the idea. Then again, there were many who laughed at Kennedy for daring to propose something so bold and unconventional back then.
Sure, the name may sound a little off the wall at first, but let's focus on the President's VISION. Regardless of what you may think of him as a person, as leader he is saying things that inspire and challenge us to work hard to bring about prosperity by leading the world in achievement.
At least he is trying something. That's more than the nothing we have had for years. In fact, Trump's changes in NASA's leadership was a huge impact.
Now, instead of NASA controlling everything, they released the reigns so that SpaceX was in the drivers seat and NASA helped. NASA's mission had once again become that of making sure Americans launch people into space.
Like Trump, Elon Musk is a visionary. Without NASA dictating things, Musk was able to do the unexpected. Just like he took electric cars from nothing more than a glorified go-cart, to the amazing innovation of the Tesla, Elon Musk created something amazing for space travel as well.
Not only did he care about efficiency and astronaut safety, he also wanted the Crew Dragon spaceship 'to be beautiful.' You see this elegance from the outside, to the touch heads up display inside the Dragon, to the very space suits worn by Bob and Doug. No longer are the spaceships filled with outdated buttons, switches, dials, and other clutter.
The tide has turned. I guarantee this is the start of something wonderful. I have no doubt that the first Americans on Mars will likely get there on board a spaceship envisioned my Elon Musk.
Last summer, we celebrated what we achieved more 50 years ago, now it's about time that we have something new to celebrate. It has been way too long and because of politics, all we have basically done is underachieve. The best thing that President Trump did was to make the government get out of the way and let the innovators lead.
This is more proof that American ingenuity and the American spirit is what will drive us out to the final frontier, not the government. America has taken the lead once again. With the Dragon, we will not go quietly into the night. Why? Because we are Americans and the final frontier awaits us.