Friday, August 24, 2007

Did Sputnik launch your dreams -- or your career?

Today I filled out American Public Media’s survey entitled “Did Sputnik launch your dreams -- or your career?”  Although I was not born yet, it very much effected my path in life.  Here is what I had to say.


What story can you tell, if any, that embodies Sputnik's effect?


Only that in 1972, I was 5, my father and I went out and looked at the full moon from our front porch and told me that right then there were men walking on the moon.  I never forgot that.  The whole thing was triggered by Sputnik


What in your career and life can you trace back to the Sputnik launch?


In 1985, I went to Florida Institute of Technology to study the Space Sciences.  In 1990, I started work as a contractor for NASA.  I am a product of the Space Age.


In your experience and observations, what are the specific, lasting effects of Sputnik (cultural, technological, etc.)?


The whole modern Science Fiction genre got it start during that time of the space race.  Young people like myself were fired up with visions of colonies on the Moon and Mars.  In many ways, those of us of the X-generation that grew up in the wake of the space race feel that the government ripped us off.  There was some serious failure to carry through to the next level.  Now that we are older and have our own money, some of us are saying "to hell with the government" and now you see the fledgling new space craft and space travel private industry.  I think if you were to interview many of the players in this new private race to space you would find them disillusioned by a lack of government follow through on the dream of bringing humans to space.


How would you compare/contrast America's response to Sputnik and its response to today's threats of global terrorism, a rising China, or global warming?


Modern US society is one of entitlement.  There is no such thing as sacrifice in our cultural system.  I see this in the unwillingness for others to kick in cash(taxes) to support the war.  Even though I disagree with the war, I think only a small percentage of Americans are actually sacrificing for it.  I think our managers (not leaders - there is no leadership in the White House) are content to not force the point in fear of losing more support.


Back to the question at hand.  I think we need a mobilization on the Global Warming thing.  Where are the leaders?  Can America change course to one that involves sacrifice?  The space race was a great technical accomplishment.  I think WW2 was a better example of a people coming together to achieve something large.


The rise of China is of little worry to me.  I know that they will be the next world super power.  The US will take a back seat with Russia and the EU.  The reason this is coming about is simply because they are willing to lead.  The US is unwilling to lead the world.  It has turned in on itself.  Always concerned with the “best interest of the US”, we will never lead the world again until we can really engage with interests outside of the US.


As for global terrorism:  The US approach is to smother the fire in coal.  Until we stop feeding weapons to unstable areas thinking that will stabilize it. Until we stop treating others as second class people.  Until we stop trying to impose the "Right" way of doing things.  People will continue to resent us.  Only fighting poverty, creating economic opportunity, ending hunger, encouraging human rights, and acknowledging of the great contributions of other cultures, will we get some traction in the world.  Could we start such a project on the scale of the space race?  I would hope so.


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