Staff & Sling

Joseph E. Hébert, Ph.D.

98119 N 3745 Rd
Okemah, OK  74859
918 623 3078

The Last Shuttle

8 July, 2011. Nasa launched the final shuttle on its final mission today. It went to bring supplies to the International Space Station.

I remember the Mir and Skylab space stations. And I remember when their orbits finally gave way to gravity, each in turn crashing to Earth. Now the shuttle too, in a few days hence, will make its final descent back to Earth.

I remember much of our national space adventures. I can't say that I remember Ed White's first space walk, but I remember the Apollo-Soyuz rendezvous.

And of course I remember watching Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin take those giant leaps for mankind back on 21 July, 1969. I've even got the VHS Tape compilation of the ABC News broadcasts chronicling the Apollo 11 mission, just so my boys could share in the experience (albeit a few decades later).

Of course, not all of my memories of space exploration are so fond. I don't remember the tragedy of Apollo 1, but I remember the tragedy of the Challenger. I was living and working in Lake Charles, LA at the time, and it was no secret that I was just a touch jealous of Christa McAuliffe getting to go into space. I remember one of my co-workers asking if I still wanted to go up in the shuttle. Without hesitation I told him if they wanted to launch again tomorrow, I'd leave that instant.

I also remember the explosion of the Shuttle Columbia. I don't just remember where I was. I remember the event. I was sitting with my wife, Kat, in our living room in Richardson, TX, watching television. We both heard a boom to the south and looked at each other quizzically. It wasn't long before the news broke about the disaster and we both immediately realized what we had heard.

So I suppose it's understandable that I have a fond place in my heart for Nasa. It was more than just a family vacation destination from my childhood. It was the stuff of my boyhood dreams.

But now it's time to put away childish things. Yes, as sad a day as this is, I believe it is for the best that the United States government get out of space exploration. Why? Simple. So space exploration can stop being the stuff of boyhood dreams; so we can all start living the dream.

"Oh! But space travel is too expensive. If the government doesn't do it no one will."

In a word, hogwash! It's so expensive because the government does it.

Once upon a time the United States Government was at war with Spain. Desiring a technological advantage, the federal government gave a $50,000 grant to Samuel Pierpont Langley for the purpose of developing an engine capable of producing enough power-to-weight in order to achieve and sustain flight. Then they gave him an additional $70,000 to develop an airplane capable of carrying a man. They wanted to be able to observe Spanish forces from above. $120,000 later Langley had only two failed launches to show for all that expense.

A week after Langley's second failed attempt, two bicycle mechanic brothers from Ohio, Orville and Wilbur Wright, flew their airplane, the first airplane, at Kitty Hawk, and they did it with a budget of only $8000.

So no. I do not believe that if it is to be done, only the government can do it. I believe history has proven that if is to be done well, that is efficiently, effectively, profitably, it must be done by individuals in the private sector. Indeed, I truly believe that if they just get out of the way, the government can finally open the Final Frontier.

If you had demanded that the NIH solve the problem of polio not through independent, investigator-driven discovery research but by means of a centrally directed program, the odds are very strong that you would get the very best iron lungs in the world--portable iron lungs, transistorized iron lungs--but you wouldn't get the vaccine that eradicated polio.

Samuel Broder,
Director of the National Cancer Institute