July 18th, 2005

New Tilley Hat

Happy New Year!

Year of our Moon Landing 36 (today's Bartcop-E column)

Apollo 11 landed on the moon July 20, 1969 CE, ushering in a new era in human history. Each year we celebrate the New Year with a look back and a look forward. At the start of YML 36, let's take the time to count our blessings.

The US Space Program was the most successful undertaking in human history. Not only did it accomplish it's goal, stated a few years after inception as "putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade," but the knowledge gained and resources developed have benefited all mankind.

Originally, the space program was started in a panic after the Russians launched Sputnik on October 4, 1957. We had been leisurely talking about sending up satellites, as part of the defense program that included such related projects as the interstate highway system. The ability to launch satellites was, after all, really about the ability to launch and target nuclear missiles. When the Russians proved they could do it first, we hunkered down and started NASA and ARPA and the race was on.

One of the chief spin offs of the space program was the internet. Originally set up by ARPA (Advanced Research Projects Agency) as ARPAnet and recognized by Sen. Edward Kennedy in 1969, the technology improved and to the point where Al Gore recognized its importance and promoted its public use. (Republicans lied, as usual, but as Vint Cerf put it, "Gore provided much-needed political support for the speedy privatization of the Internet when the time arrived for it to become a commercially-driven operation.")

From weather satellites to lipstick, the benefits of the space program have improved your life. Since 1976, NASA has published Spinoff that you can order free (hard copy or CD!). A lot of the following information is from the Spinoff web site. Indeed, after the first few from earlier than 1976, I'm just going to randomly search the database to come up with interesting spin offs.

partial list of spinoffs from the 60s to the 00sCollapse )
Geeze, just exploring the NASA database is humbling. There are lists of spin offs at The Space Place and the NASA Kids site is fun for kids and... well, you get the picture. The space program has more than paid for the money we put into it.

It was no coincidence that the two superpowers in the last century were marked by space programs. And it's no coincidence that the only remaining superpower is the country with the largest investment in R&D. Money spent looking into space reaps big rewards on the ground.

Conservative politics have held back progress, but the bold vision held by liberals such as JFK should not be forgotten. On this New Years Day, let us celebrate and look ahead!