Credits: USPS/Antonio Alcalá © 216 USPS

Had we not sunk trillions of dollars into a series of pointless conflicts during the Cold War era from the 1970’s up to the early 1990’s, we would have had the funds to send manned missions of Mars back then as well as to set up a series of manned research stations on the moon, writes Scott Benowitz. 

Some people like to look up newspapers from the week that we were born- sometimes we get curious and we look up the websites of some of the major local, national and international newspapers to see what the major stories throughout the world that were being reported on the day that we entered into this world.

Which I have done- at least, I’ve looked up the major domestic American papers from the week that I was born.

May, 1972.  Among the major stories that were making the headlines were the upcoming Nixon re-election campaign, analysis of the battles that we’d recently lost in Dong Ha, Loc Ninh and in Quang Tri City, and the upcoming Democratic primary elections.  The Department Of Housing And Urban Development had demolished two of the buildings in the Pruitt Igoe Housing complex in St. Louis, Missouri, and they were detailing their plans for imploding more of the buildings on that site. Police agencies in a number of major cities throughout the country were discovering that incidents from previous years that they’d initially thought to have been race riots were turning out to have been insurance fires that had been cleverly disguised to appear to have been race riots.

The science sections were filled with articles about analysis of the rock samples that the astronauts John Young, Thomas Kenneth Mattingly II and Charles Duke had brought back from the Apollo 16 mission, and the astronauts Eugene Cernan, Ronald Evans and Harrison Schmidt were preparing for the upcoming Apollo 17 mission.

We know how Vietnam ended; we withdrew in April of 1975, veterans are still struggling with PTSD, and some of them are now volunteering to return to southeast Asia to work in demining projects.  We know how the elections of 1972 worked out, and we know what happened during Nixon’s second term.  Insurance fraud is nothing new, it has been around since there has been insurance, and it isn’t likely to end anytime soon.  The site where the Pruitt Igoe housing complex once stood is still vacant; today urban explorer groups in St. Louis go on walking tours there on weekends.

Which is why I’m choosing to write about the other main story which was making headlines in the major newspapers throughout the country on the day that I entered into this world.

“Because That Goal Will Serve To Organize And Measure The Best Of Our Energies And Skills”

As far back as the late 19th century, science fiction writers had been writing about future colonies on the moon and on Mars.  In the 20th century a lot more stories about space missions, space research, space flight and colonies on other worlds began to appear in science fiction stories which appeared in various magazines and books.

In the 1950’s, the concept of manned space flight began to appear feasible.  The Mercury and Gemini missions demonstrated that NASA would likely be able to meet President Kennedy’s May 1961 request that, “this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”

And in December of 1968, the astronauts in the Apollo 8 mission successfully orbited around the moon 10 times in 1 day, and in July of 1969, the eagle finally landed.

And here’s the sad part.  The Nixon administration had authorized funding for two more  Apollo lunar missions for July and December of 1973, and as well as for a planned Apollo 20 mission for July 1974.  And President Ford cancelled them due to budget cuts.

Planetary physicists in the 1970’s did not know that the NASA would be one of the first agencies to have their annual budgets slashed whenever our Federal government needed to cut funding for budget cuts, and physicists had designed technologies for manned research stations on both the moon as well as on Mars as far back as the mid 1970’s.  From what I’ve read, all of today’s most credible scientists believe that the older designs probably would have worked successfully.

One of the most important moments in the entire space research occurred in the final mission of the Apollo program, in July of 1975, when the American Apollo Command And Service Module linked with the Soviet Soyuz 19 module in orbit.  If you’ve not visited any astronomy museums, they are a lot of fun to tour, even if you don’t know a lot about space research, and all of them have exhibits about the final Apollo mission, which was the 1975 Apollo Soyuz Test Project.

The origins of the Apollo Soyuz Test Project actually go back as far as April of 1972, when President Nixon and former Soviet Premier Brezhnev had signed the Agreement Concerning Cooperation In The Exploration And Use Of Outer Space For Peaceful Purposes.  The significance of this treaty is that it meant that the leaders of the only two countries in the world who had active space agencies which had successfully launched manned space missions had opted to stop working against each other as they had been in the “space race” of the 1950’s and the 1960’s, and that we’d be willing to pool our collective resources and that we’d be willing work together as cooperating partners for future space research missions.

From 1973 through 1979, NASA embarked on the Skylab missions, which were the predecessor to the research that is being conducted today on the International Space Station.  And then from 1981 through 2011, there were a total of 135 space shuttle missions (133 successes and two tragedies.)

Partners in Space Research

Gradually, throughout the course of the 1980’s, the 1990’s and the 2000’s, an increasing number of countries became partners in space research.  The Canadian Space Agency, ESA and the Japanese space agency JAXA all now also contribute equipment as well as send scientists to the International Space Station.  Israel sent its first astronaut to the International Space Station in 2003, and tragically, Ilan Roman was killed in the STS-107 Columbia disaster on February 1st, 2003.

The Indian Space Research Organization has sent unmanned probes to both the moon as well as to Mars.  The Indian Space Research Organization has not yet been a partner in the International Space Station, although the Chandrayaan 1 probe included equipment from NASA, ESA as well as the Bulgarian Space Agency.

The China National Space Administration also has its origins in the space race of the 1950’s.

In 2003, the China National Space Administration successfully launched an astronaut into orbit in the Shenzhou 5 mission.  In both 2011 as well as 2013, the U.S. Congress passed measures which prohibit anyone from the PRC from being involved in any NASA projects due to security concerns, so it will be up to our future politicians whether or not they want to decide to opt to let the PRC become a partner in future space research missions.

Computers became increasingly more advanced throughout the course of the 1970’s, and by 1977 and 1979, we’d launched the Voyager I and the Voyager II probes, which gave us photos of the outer planets of our solar system.

A digital wristwatch today has the computing power of the early vacuum tube computers which were used to design the equipment that was used in the Mercury and Gemini missions, as well as to plan and command those missions.  The processors in our cell phones, our tablets, our ipads, ipods, and our laptop computers have many thousands of times of the processing power of the computers that NASA had been using during the Apollo missions of the 1960’s and the 1970’s.

There are now more countries, more governments and more agencies than ever working together in space research.  From junior high school introductory physics, geology and astronomy classes, up through high schools, college and universities, students can now study what scientists have been learning from the unmanned probes that have been sent to Mars, as well as to the other planets of our solar system and their moons.  And there has not been one single manned mission which has left low earth orbit since 1972.

NASA’s Constellation Program

In January of 2004, former President Bush (Jr.) announced that he’d authorized funding for NASA’s Constellation Program, which was intended to include manned missions to both the moon as well as to Mars into the 2020’s.  In 2010, President Obama had initially cancelled the project due to budget constraints, though the Obama administration later signed the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, which stated that the Constellation Program was merely postponed until Congress allocated funding for it, rather than cancelling it entirely.

In 2011, the Obama administration did allocate funding for NASA’s Space Launch System, which had become the successor project to the Constellation Program.  The Obama administration’s 2010, 2011 and 2012 budgets did not entirely cancel funding for future manned missions to the moon and to Mars, but allocating funding for future manned space missions has seemingly been lower on the Obama administration’s priorities than it had been for the Bush (II) administration.

Both NASA as well as the Russian Space Agency have had what appear to be very feasible designs for the technologies that would be needed to establish manned research stations on both the moon as well as Mars since the 1970’s.

If NASA and the other space agencies aren’t going to be launching the manned missions to the moon or to Mars, then there are companies within the private sector who are now in the preliminary stages of planning manned missions to Mars such as The Mars Society.

Most of the equipment from the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions are now on display in various astronomy museums and science museums both in the U.S. as well as overseas.  Since the 1970’s, elementary school students, junior high school students as well as high school students have seen the equipment from those missions when their schools schedule trips to tour those museums.

And now in the second decade of the 21st century, manned exploration missions beyond low earth orbit once again now exist only in science fiction books, movies, video games and television shows.

Houston, We Have New Challenges Ahead Now

As I mentioned earlier, in 2010, President Obama had initially proposed cancelling funding for manned missions to Mars entirely, though they later opted to merely postpone rather than cancel the Constellation program.

Last week, on October 11th, 2016, President Obama appeared on CNN, and he’d stated that he now believes that we do in fact need to be allocating more resources towards researching and launching manned missions to Mars.  And he stated that it will take the combined efforts of both NASA and private companies to accomplish manned missions to Mars.

The interest is not gone.  I’ve toured various astronomy museums when I travel on my vacations, I see groups of elementary school classes, junior high school classes as well as high school classes being led by tour guides throughout the exhibits, and for the most part, the youth of the first two decades of the 21st century do seem to be very interested in space exploration.  There are various summer “space camp” programs for youth who are interested in astronomy, and enrollment always fills up in those programs each summer.

I mentioned earlier, that no country in the world has funded any manned space explorations beyond low earth orbit since 1972.  Various governments throughout the world have however been willing to allocate funding to send unmanned probes beyond low earth orbit, and the recent successes of our New Horizons probe and the European Space Agency’s Rosetta probe and it’s Philae lander show just how much the technologies involved in space flight have progressed since the Voyager probes were first launched back in 1977.

I do agree with what President Obama said on CNN last week.  The first successful manned missions to Mars will likely be the results of the combined efforts of both NASA and private companies such as Space X and Mars One.  And it will likely be the result of our space agency NASA working together with the other space agencies throughout the world.  This will also be true for establishing permanently manned research stations on the moon as well as for research missions to comets, dwarf planets and to asteroids.

In 2010, the United Nations Office For Outer Space Affairs established both the Human Space Initiative as well as the Basic Space Science Initiative, which are both intended to make it now easier than ever for governments throughout the world to pool their collective resources and cooperate together for space future research programs throughout the 21st century, and hopefully continuing into the 22nd century.

And so will now be up to our next president and his or her staff to decide whether to slash funding for space research programs or to allocate more funding for this re-emerging frontier.

Scott Benowitz is a staff writer for Afterimage Review. He holds an MSc in Comparative Politics from The London School of Economics & Political Science and a B.A. in International Studies from Reed...

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