Is the USA an incapable nation?
I had to ask. One fact prompted me to do so. The USA, at this time, has no means to send astronauts into space. It is entirely dependent on paying the Russians for the privilege of hitching a ride on its spacecraft. This, to me, seems a very humbling fact.
It is the 50th anniversary of John Glenn’s adventure in space. One would have expected, that, after the passage of 50 years, America would truly have become a spacefaring nation. But no...it seems to be in retreat, in some respects. Fifty years ago, America had the means to send a man into space. Now, they don’t. That is quite a striking fact. Something, clearly, is wrong with modern America.
Let us talk a look at the situation. NASA and America knew for a long time, that the shuttle was to be retired. They knew when it would be retired. Yet, what they did not do, was to ensure that a replacement was ready in time for that retirement. This seems to be a failure of planning, of foresight and, perhaps, the willingness to fund such a replacement. Ultimately, it is a failure of America as a nation.
Everyone imagines that NASA has a huge budget. There is a common assumption that vast sums are being spent on space. However, the true figures are very much smaller. NASA recently announced a 17.7 billion dollar budget request for 2013. My immediate reaction to that: “How pathetic!” It is a miniscule budget compared to the supposed wealth and status of the American nation. The truth is such a small budget (compared to the 3 or 4 trillion spent on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) shows, with overwhelming clarity, that space is simply not a priority, interest or asset of the United States of America. It shows us that space faring is being neglected, indeed, largely ignored. So small is NASA’s budget and the American commitment to space, that the wealth of a few individual billionaires, would be enough to sustain the present level of expenditure, indefinitely. That is nothing.
America was once a great nation – or at least, seemed great. I don’t, however, believe that it is, any longer. The very fact that America is no longer a space faring nation, indicates a precipitous decline in its capabilities and willingness to maintain capabilities. That can only mean that there are profound problems elsewhere that are distracting attention from space efforts.
It seems likely that, in a few decades, another nation will be the world’s leading space nation. That nation could very well be China. If so, America has only one entity to blame: itself. America is wilfully throwing away its lead in the space arena, simply by not caring enough to maintain it. That is emblematic of a nation in decline, a nation that has lost it pride and its ability to sustain its historical advantages.
America is fast becoming an incapable nation – a has been State. I wonder whether it will be seen, in another fifty years time, as the UK is now: a shadow of its former self, a once great power, hanging on to the vestiges of its position, through international tradition alone?
We shall see. What is for certain, however, is that whilst America neglects space and the attendant technologies required to attain it, other nations are forging ahead. The history of space travel was once an American province. The future of space travel is likely to be of a very different origin.
Posted by Valentine Cawley
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