Ghosts Haunt Kennedy Space Center
I drove through Titusville, Florida the other day. The city is short 8,000 people, and it isn’t because of a late season hurricane. The city has lots of empty store fronts, empty restaurants and empty apartments. The boarded up store fronts have the feel of a storm tossed ghost town without the storm debris. Titusville was home to the Kennedy Space Center. My wife and I took the tour. The bus ride and parking cost $110 each. Nothing is free as you journey through the past.
Spaceflight is no small effort. The spacecraft are huge. The human ingenuity was immense and the costs were equally overwhelming. Well, they were, but now the spacecraft stored outside in the salt air are slowly corroding away unless they are preserved or moved inside. What these men and women did is a monument to human ability, but nothing is free. As I left the space center, I denied myself their 8 dollar salad and left feeling empty.
On the tour, I heard President Kennedy’s speech announcing the formation of the Apollo program to send Americans to the moon. His speech was supposed to inspire. Nostalgic videos replay political speeches from the 1960s that sold the space program to our nation. The videos also showcase the self-indulgent and pathetic 60s when the space program was born. They certainly document that stoned people can’t dress or dance. NASA’s goals also changed with time. The space program was a strategic and technological program at first. It changed to an inward-facing program in support of environmental sensing. The space station and space shuttle were sold as essential programs to deliver breakthrough low cost access to space. Now the space shuttle has been replaced by low-cost reusable spacecraft. The truth comes out in time, as does the real cost of falsehood.
Old black and white videos showed horn-rimmed engineers explaining the details of how rockets work. Times change, and the recent videos show colorfully dressed children telling us about their dreams of spaceflight. Why do they assume we are all nostalgic for 1960s? Why do they assume we look to children for some kind of inspiration or feel-good fluff? We’ve lost our will to insist we know right from wrong and what lies ahead in our nation’s future. I think the blindness is deliberate.
President Kennedy, and many presidents since, built the space program on debts they could not pay or repay. The US space program was charged on the nation’s credit card. The space complex is now a ghost town. The pads are vacant. The hangars are largely empty. Some of the hangars are rented out to private contractors for private space ventures. There was never a plan for space exploration beyond the next politically-motivated program. Call it research or exploring planet earth from space, but it was also a jobs program for high-tech workers. I call it welfare for PhDs. Needless to say, my point of view was not presented in the several videos shown on the NASA tour bus and displays. Only a few maintenance crews are in the parking lots.
Back in Titusville, the sign at the fast food restaurant was held together with a sun-burnt cargo strap. I learned more than I’d forgotten about the space program. Men worked technological miracles in the age of the slide rule. They landed on the moon under manual control as their computers failed onboard the Lunar Excursion Module. Their moral standards of the time did not match their technological standards. Now we have weeds growing through the concrete like a scene from Atlas Shrugged. Today we can not duplicate our past achievements even if they cost a small fraction of their original cost. Today our credit card is maxed out.
The past has much to teach us if we will but look.
Robert, the maintenance crew