Monday, June 1, 2020

The Space Anniversary I'm Glad We Don't Celebrate

"Putting a man in space is a stunt. Man can do no more than an instrument, in fact, he can do less. There are far more serious things to do than indulge in stunts. As yet, the American people do not understand the distinctions and we in this country are prone to rush at any new thing. I do not discard completely the value of demonstrating to the world our skills, nor do I under-value the effects on morale of the spectacular. But the present hullabaloo on the propaganda aspects of the space program leaves me entirely cool." 

  Vannevar Bush Chairman of the Board Governors of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology < Well, what a relief it wasn't up to you, Vann man! The above excerpt is from a statement to the Congressional Committee on Science & Astronautics, made in June of 1960. And it's a 60th anniversary I'm pretty happy we don't celebrate. 

Vannevar Bush

Is it just me, or does he look like Gandalf?

 Of course, we're all very happy that Vannevar Bush (1890-1974) helped to end World War Two, made possible the position of "Science Advisor to the President" and founded the National Science Foundation... but after reading some of his materials (this is the sort of light reading with which I fill my free time), I'm equally happy that he was neither heeded nor funded by the federal government at this point in his career. This is one of those funny things, where I was reading biographical and technical information on a historical scientist, not intending to find any references to space or human exploration. 

While I knew Vannevar Bush had been on some aeronautics councils after WWII, I'd never known he worked long enough to speak to Congress about the space program. So shocked to find this excerpt... but I suppose the content was inevitable at the time. Not everyone was on board! 

Vannevar Bush Vannevar Bush represented the ideals and thought-paradigms of the previous generation -- one that wasn't ready to move forward, out of their protective stance made necessary by war. While he was happy to keep pace with and reward emerging scientific research, he represented a faction of our government who was not willing to seek new frontiers in the stars... and I cannot help but wonder if our current science advisers suffer from the same pessimistic blindness. 

 Do they also believe astronauts are merely stuntmen? No one walks around these days saying, "Wow, he sure hit the nail on the head 50 years ago. We should have spent all that money on something else and just been content with the practical applications of science instead of inspiring the world." 

And... in another 50 years?