Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Space Shuttle and the Age of American Impossibility

The space shuttle Atlantis touched down at Cape Canaveral this morning, marking the end of NASA’s thirty year shuttle program, and perhaps the end of the post World War II anything can happen with the human spirit attitude.

The voyage to the moon and the ensuing space shuttle program was the centerpiece of this attitude and a source of national pride. Though I was obviously unable to see the moon landing live, there had to be this unquestioned sentiment that “We can do anything." The Challenger and Columbia disasters gave pause to this sentiment, but it was still largely present because people still dream of exploring faraway lands and helping humankind in some way. But I question whether the day of the can do spirit has largely passed in the grips of a more cynical America.

The America of the 1960’s that was so full of hopeful spirit has changed into an economically fragile country in the midst of two wars, where children now dream, not of moons and presidencies, but of reality show superstardom or selling a million albums. An America of possibility has become an America that is largely struggling to survive. When your struggling just to survive, you’re not inventing the new technologies that will be the future of this world. This is part of the reason why so many people are apprehensive about the future of this country.

Given the current cynicism that’s so pervasive throughout the America of 2011complete with bitter partisanship, the question deserves to be asked: “Will my generation have the great moments of human achievement previous generations have”? Events like the Civil Rights movement, Space Race, and the end of the Cold War are some notable achievements of our parents generation as the World Wars, increased women’s rights, and the invent of the automobile belong to the previous generation. Or does the end of the shuttle program represent some greater societal loss than its’ position as a thirty second video clip on the morning news between the debt ceiling and heat wave would suggest?  

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