There was a time a “space cadet” was just some nerdy kid (like me) who joined a space club, got a badge or membership card from school, and a little kit to make your own lunar module. You watched every “splash down.” Then mushrooms and LCD clouded the picture, and eventually “space cadet” and “air head” were joined at the hip.
Today, the 40th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the moon, is probably the day “space cadet” returns to its humble origins. That also seems to be where NASA left off with putting humans on other planetary surfaces. Perhaps, it’s a matter of creative visualization to make the next leap. Even Zora Neale Hurston got the call to “jump at the sun.” Could the people who attend the “Star Trek” conventions be the space cadets of the day? I used to debate the preface of space as the final frontier. I thought it was the genome. But seems we’re getting somewhere with that. A man or woman on Mars? That seems to be the question and sound byte for today’s commemoration of Apollo 11.
Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic wants space travel to be available to everyone. Space tourism was supposed to be the next travel frontier to fund future expeditions. But how many people can pay the price of the ticket? There’s a better deal waiting at Space Camp in Florida where your wallet can float in a weightless chamber. Private interests in space may out-pace government funded initiatives which seemed to have stalled.
Before 1969 and the landing of Armstrong, Collins, and Aldrin on the moon, and in the infancy of the Cold War, the USSR’s launch of the Sputnik satellite into space in 1957 provoked the US to ask the question WTF!?!? The following year, NASA was born. In fact, the space race has always been a military question. What does space mean in civilian terms? Or is space also a philosophical inquiry? BTW, VOA is framing the Apollo 11 story as a “peaceful competition bewteen rival super powers.” Like the Olympics? Apollo was the Greek God of the Sun.
In 1979 writer Tom Wolfe published The Right Stuff, a non-fiction novel of the men who were part of a new space program and the characteristics that made them — and their spouses who waited and watched — want to take part in such a high risk venture with no known odds of survival. You can read an excerpt here. This novel stacks up with Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, and like Capote’s book was adapted into a feature film.
Granted the trailer for “The Right Stuff” is raining men, men, men like a drum beat. But IMO it is one of the best down-to-earth space feature films ever made. “The Right Stuff” didn’t seem to get it’s due when it was released in 1983. The film got 4 Oscars for sound, editing, score, and sound effects. It had a great cast. Check this out: Dennis Quaid (Gordon Cooper), Barbara Hershey (Glennis Yeager), Ed Harris (John Glenn), Sam Shepherd (Chuck Yeager), Scott Glenn (Alan Shepard), Fred Ward (Gus Grissom), Jeff Goldblum has a little part and even Chuck Yeager himself (not himself).
I don’t think the men and women who will and do continue to take the risks in space lack the right stuff. Or even the one’s who are earth bound exploring from within. But it’s time to turn the question back on the ranks of leadership. It’s time to “jump at the sun” again.