One Small Step Too Far

One of the tragedies of the US’s broken political system is that the 2-party system results in every issue dividing itself among the 2 parties, no matter what that issue may be or how it may affect all of us. This is particularly exacerbated by the current angry partisanship which pervades Washington, where not only do you have to disagree with anything said by the other party, you have to ridicule it or label is as anti-American, and evil to boot.

Recently, Republican Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has made big headlines with his comments about NASA (The National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and space exporation itself. The candidate, known for making grandiose promises and claims, promised to have a permanent American base on the moon by 2020, with an eye toward eventual statehood! A state on the moon? Yep, that’s what he said. Now bear in mind, these comments were made in Florida with a political agenda to get the vote of those working for NASA in and around the famous Air Force base at Cape Canaveral.

Unfortunately for Gingrich, something funny happened on the way to the American viewer. His words hit a media bifurcated by the same political divide that exists in Congress. And the crowd on the left went wild. MSNBC talking heads labeled him “bonkers”, “ridiculous”, Rachel Maddow discussed it while wearing an astronaut suit, and of course the inevitable graphics of Gingrich himself in a space suit, jumping across the moon were not far behind.

To me, the most hypocritical of all was the claim that Gingrich (and the entire right) were “overcome with nostalgia” over the promise to land on the moon made by President John F. Kennedy. That is rich, given MSNBC host Chris Matthews has been hyping his own book, “Kennedy: Elusive Hero”, non-stop for the past month.

Don’t get me wrong: I can’t stand Newt Gingrich. His use of divisive terminology is one of the main reasons we’re stuck in this bipartisan gridlock to begin with. He’s the guy who decided in the 80s and 90s that it was fine to characterize your political opponents as “sick”, “despicable”, and “disgusting”. There is a certain satisfaction with seeing him hoist by his own petard, a victim of the very mud he’s been slinging his entire career.

And he’s wrong. We’re not going to be able to sustain a moon base by 2020, or anywhere near it. Not only that, his own philosophy of small government and gutted domestic spending reveal a cognitive dissonance here: How exactly did he think any of this would get paid for in his Conservative Nirvana of defunded arts and science programs? It makes no sense.

But what I hate to see is my own side, the liberals, the progressives, the supposedly pro-science leftists, and the ostensibly wooly headed dreamers of politics, turn against space exploration so readily, and greedily at that. These champions of reason turned on Newt Gingrich, and by extension of their jokes Neal Armstrong, like lions going after a gazelle in the middle of the savannah.

Space exploration is important. Stretching the boundaries of human knowledge is important. Getting to the moon was one of the biggest steps the human race has ever accomplished. We were born here, we have adapted and evolved to survive here, but together we created a way to leave here and land in a place where we were never intended to set foot. We walked in a place that is entirely hostile to our survival and came back to tell of it. That is a marvel unmatched by nearly any in human history. The things Mr. Gingrich is proposing are not stupid. They are not bonkers, or ridiculous. They are amazing steps in a voyage of discovery that we simply cannot afford to end.

One day, this planet will be lost to us. We must leave it or perish. And that will never happen if we don’t keep taking one baby step after another, one small step into this universe after another. The Moon, then Mars, then Europa, then parts unknown.

We can’t keep letting this ridiculous political climate blind us to the things which unite us, which create one people out of millions of individuals. E Pluribus Unum: “From Many, One” as it says on the seal of our United States. We have to start thinking this way, recognizing those issues which confront us all, not half of us. Our national defense, our crumbling infrastructure, the state of our economy, and indeed our exploration of space, should bring us together as a people, not tear us apart.

If we don’t do this, we will stop taking steps forward, and then, invevitably, we will begin to take them backwards.

One small step at a time.

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