I like to give him a hard time because, well, that's what big brothers are supposed to do, no? It's my duty to be his highest hurdle, so that he will not be condemned to mediocrity. And no brother of mine is mediocre!
The best I can do though is toss political bombs at him: "Spaceflight is too expensive, Little Brother. If you're designing a rocket that will send Gitmo terrorists to Mars, let me know. Otherwise, don't bother." And on the anniversary of mankind's first successful journey to the Moon, it would seem the world agrees with me.
Ted Anthony with AP writes:
The final Apollo mission came home before Nixon resigned. Skylab fell to Earth. Challenger disintegrated going up, Columbia coming down. Kennedy's New Frontier ethos - space as a kinder, gentler Manifest Destiny - slouched into the "Alien" catchphrase: "In space, no one can hear you scream."
Today, the reasons for Americans to pay attention to the ground, rather than the heavens, can be rattled off like a parody of a Billy Joel song. Terrorists. Global warming. Swine flu. Economic collapse. Nukes in North Korea and mass shootings in the heartland.
All of that is true. We lost sight of the Apollo Program in the angst over Vietnam. (And as a twist, the newsman most affiliated with both, Walter Cronkite, filed his last report this weekend.)
Tom Wolfe, who celebrated the heroes of the Mercury missions in The Right Stuff, paints an even more pessimistic picture. He correctly identifies the source of NASA's malaise as the militaristic raison d'être of its mission:
From the moment the Soviets launched Sputnik I into orbit around the Earth in 1957, everybody from Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson on down looked upon the so-called space race as just one thing: a military contest. At first there was alarm over the Soviets’ seizure of the “strategic high ground” of space. They were already up there — right above us! They could now hurl thunderbolts down whenever and wherever they wanted. And what could we do about it? Nothing. Ka-boom!
The Moon landing was always an act of geopolitical posturing. It was a callously Machiavellian act meant to keep the public enthralled with the regime and the enemy uncertain of the odds. It may not have been staged, but it was carefully and deliberately produced.
The scientists and engineers argue for their work by pulling on America's national memory. "We are a country of explorers and immigrants," they say. "We cannot stop pushing at the boundaries or our civilization, our raison d'état, will perish!"
NASA and the space program is either needed by politics or demanded by human nature, but not both. Did we instigate a war with Mexico to explore the West, or the other way round? Was Teddy Roosevelt just a conservationist, or was he guarding America's precious soul, which he found in the wilderness?
As a big brother, the answer is easy: we do what we must to achieve what we can. Politics is a vulgar, scatological account of a civilization. It has to be done perhaps, but it should never be done for its own purpose. If there is a higher cause for politics, it is to discover – conjure up if necessary! – that motivation which will make NASA indispensable again
We may have sent John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, Alan Shepard and all the rest up into space for our own craven reasons, but they came back to give us new reasons, better ones. That's what astronauts do. That's why they're heroes.
My little brother's not going to be an astronaut someday, he already is one.