Over at ComicMix yesterday, my blood-buddy and secret lover John Ostrander wrote about Star Trek – to be specific, how the sense of wonder generated by that show inspired Americans. I was planning on covering somewhat similar turf, and, in this venue, I remain undeterred.
Both of us were motivated by Neil deGrasse Tyson’s appearances last week on The Daily Show and Real Time. He’s been flacking his new book, Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier; I do not know if he realizes the heavy burden that rests on his shoulders. He is a one-man inspiration factory.
I’ve been wrestling with the issue of the program’s cost/benefit analysis for years. Yes, space exploration is important and it obviously has given us a great many technological advances – but can we afford it? With all the problems in our nation – environment, over-population, social inequity, health care, growing religious and tribal intolerance, a political structure that is so far beyond functional that it is actually a great evil (hiya, Olympia Snow!), how can we re-kickstart the massively cash intensive space program?
About the beginning of the year, the answer finally dawned on me and I’ve been reality testing it for two months. The space program of the 1960s was inspired by people who grew up reading Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, Isaac Asimov, Lester del Rey, Leigh Brackett, Clifford D. Simak, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Theodore Sturgeon, Judith Merril and so many others. In turn, their efforts inspired the great inventions of the 1980s: MS-DOS, the Apple Macintosh, the human growth hormone, virtual reality (at least as a concept), compact discs, Doppler radar, cloning, and HDTV, to name but a few.
Oh, and Prozac.
What inspired these inventors? If you look back at the various interviews published at the time, you’ll find the keystone inspiration was the space program. Our quest into “outer space,” our landing on the moon, the Space Shuttle missions, and even – and perhaps specifically – the “failed” Apollo 1 and 13 missions. I was 10 years old when Alan Shepard rode Freedom 7. As a long-time comic book and science fiction reader (yeah, I was as precocious as I was obnoxious), watching this event and the subsequent launches live on teevee with my schoolmates fed my already overactive sense of wonder. How many young inventors were similarly inspired?
On Real Time last Friday, Bill Maher asked Tyson to list some of the day-to-day benefits granted to us by the space program of yore. He responded like the scientist he is: in order to get stuff into outer space, we had to figure out how to miniaturize everything. It costs $10,000 a pound to send something up there (“up” being relative). We had to invent the stuff that quickly led to the development of computers – particularly home computers – and to the creation of our current medical technology, hybrid engines, communications, water filtration, and so much more. It’s extended our lives and raised our quality of life. It has brought contemporary advances to places that, at the time Alan Shepard put on the big helmet, still lived in the Dark Ages.
So the issue for me has turned from “how can we afford it” to “how can we not?”
Buck Rogers’ Red Cat brother Mike Gold performs the weekly two-hour Weird Sounds Inside The Gold Mind ass-kicking rock, blues and blather radio show on The Point, www.getthepointradio.com, every Sunday at 7:00 PM Eastern, replayed three times during the week (check the website above for times) and available On Demand at the same place.