Once upon a time, there was a can-do nation that could do, like, anything. Its President said that a country which had never flown a man in space, which had no idea what it would take to send a man into space, would send a man to the moon within nine years... and made it happen.
It has been thirty-nine years since Apollo 11 lifted off for the Moon. On July 20, 1969, Neal Armstrong set foot on the moon and made the famous statement, "one small step for man, one giant leap for Mankind".
Thirty-nine years later, the United States no longer has the capability to send a man to the moon. It is not just a lack of desire. The sad thing is that we could not return to the moon today if we wanted to. We no longer have the expertise, the technology, or the industrial base to pull off something that big. Twenty years from now, we’re going to look up at the moon, and watch it twinkle as the first Moon city shines in the dark. And erected over that city will be a red flag with a large gold star and four smaller gold stars.
Sadly, can-do America is can’t-do America nowdays. Can’t provide health care for all its people. Can’t solve the problem of homeless junkies shooting up in public restrooms. Can’t built a replacement for the Space Shuttle before the last Shuttle is junked. Can’t find Osama bin Laden. Can’t solve the problem of people’s jobs getting exported overseas. Can’t. Can’t. Can’t. It’s damned depressing, to tell you the truth, to live in a country that’s so obviously over the hill. About the only thing the United States can do nowdays is build military hardware, but even that capability is decaying… the United States, for example, could not build a new M1A2 tank today even if it wanted to. The industrial capacity isn’t there anymore. The gas turbine engine used in the M1 isn’t made anymore. The tooling for the rest of the tank was sold to Egypt. Etc. We’re living on stored Cold War gear, and that gear is going to run out sooner or later, and then what?
I found myself (again) wondering what is wrong with America, and what will it take to fix it? As Gore called for an Apollo sized program to end our dependency on fossil fuels, I wondered if we still have the national strength and will to actually do any such thing.
The knowledge and technology already exist in alternative energy. We know how to make solar, wind, tidal, and biomass power. The challenges of making it more efficient are really rather minor if we make it our national priority.
But America seems to be set in continuing our old ways. We have a sort of national necrophilia, where we're sure that we can get one more ride out of the old corpse. Deficit? Borrow more. Oil prices? Drill more. Our once dominant industries have been sold off piece by piece in the name of shareholder dividends, rather than investing in a new infrastructure.
The mortgage crisis came as a result of people believing that more money could come without any real change in value. Credit became a ready substitute for a balanced budget. And this philosophy has extended throughout our national planning. Use up that last bit of offshore oil, regardless of future consequences, rather than change behavior. We know how to build a more efficient car (the Japanese have shown us that it can be done), but we'd rather shut down the assembly line and lay off the workers. It's more immediately profitable.
I fear that it will take a huge national crisis before we begin to build again.