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Apollo 17 40 years ago today and the Fiscal Cliff… December 7, 2012

Posted by JP in Discussion, Politics, Uncategorized.
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Apollo 17, the last of the missions to land men on the moon, began 40 years ago today.

On board the mighty moon booster were three astronauts. Eugene Cernan, a veteran of two prior missions including the “dress rehearsal” for the first lunar landing three years earlier, commanded Apollo 17 and flew the lunar module “Challenger” to a landing in the Taurus-Littrow valley. Ronald Evans served as the pilot of the command module “America” that remained in lunar orbit until it was time for the three voyagers to return to Earth, and lunar module pilot Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, who like Evans marked another first with the launch of Apollo 17 — his first time in space.

On September 12, 1962 President John F. Kennedy said this:

Those who came before us made certain that this country rode the first waves of the industrial revolutions, the first waves of modern invention, and the first wave of nuclear power, and this generation does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of space. We mean to be a part of it–we mean to lead it. For the eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond, and we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace. We have vowed that we shall not see space filled with weapons of mass destruction, but with instruments of knowledge and understanding.

Yet the vows of this Nation can only be fulfilled if we in this Nation are first, and, therefore, we intend to be first. In short, our leadership in science and in industry, our hopes for peace and security, our obligations to ourselves as well as others, all require us to make this effort, to solve these mysteries, to solve them for the good of all men, and to become the world’s leading space-faring nation.

We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war. I do not say the we should or will go unprotected against the hostile misuse of space any more than we go unprotected against the hostile use of land or sea, but I do say that space can be explored and mastered without feeding the fires of war, without repeating the mistakes that man has made in extending his writ around this globe of ours.

There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation many never come again. But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

10 years later (in the decade JFK referenced) the last Apollo mission launched, and this nation witnessed the last landing and last American to walk on the moon in our lifetime.

Now, 40 years later this nation is reeling from seemingly impossible difficulties – nations in turmoil and suffering from political and economic devastation; our society reeling from a debilitating recession and sorely needing leadership and political cooperation in order to recover and prosper.

This country has always been a nation of achievement, a society known to rise above disagreements and ideologies to meet great challenges and solve great problems. This country built a railroad spanning 3500 miles and connecting the two opposing coasts. We joined together to fight in two world wars, defending our interests and protecting/liberating nations abroad.

We joined together to achieve greatness by developing a space program and putting a man on the moon in a time when our technology was so primitive a computer that now sits in our laps would have taken up the space of an entire house. As a nation we gathered and hoped and prayed for those astronauts of Apollo 13 as they somehow managed to return to earth safely despite the devastation to their spacecraft.

Yes, this nation has a long history of joining together, of putting aside partisanship and half-blind ideology in order to accomplish greatness. Though it has been over 40 years since we as a country have behaved as such, now is the time once again.

We are faced with overwhelming challenges yet we must remember what brought us here – community, unity, drive, and a focus on achieving something greater than our individual parts. We are a nation of synergism when the odds are against us. We are a nation where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts – although it seems that this generation has forgotten that legacy.

Our leaders in Washington D.C. must remember that legacy. They must strive to achieve that synergy and put aside their selfishness and partisan desires to do what needs to be done; to join together as Americans to achieve that which seemingly cannot be achieved, to make the decisions necessary for the success of this country in spite of differing ideologies and desires – to focus on what is needed rather than what is wanted.

We must look to the selflessness of the past and take the example of the Apollo program to heart and we must remember another appeal from President Kennedy:

So let us begin anew — remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.

Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us. And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.

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