Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Ivory Cubicle | To The Moon!

In the 1960s, America had a dream. The Soviet Union had just launched a satellite into orbit around the earth, and quickly followed it up by putting the first cosmonauts into space. The United States was falling behind in a space race, and she needed an answer.

It was in this climate that John F. Kennedy gave a 1962 speech to an audience in Houston, laying out the American vision to place a man on the moon.

"We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too."

Do Hard Things: American Edition

Kennedy's challenged worked. The American imagination was captured, her energies were focused, and her mission accomplished. For generations afterwards, kindergarteners would declare that they wanted to be an astronaut when they grew up. It served as a cohesive force in a culture of unrest, a response to the internal threat of communism on 1960s college campuses that sought to destroy America from the inside.

But that vision has largely dissipated. The Soviet Union, our greatest rival, has fallen, and America feels no need to continue a space program. A number of NASA's programs were disbanded, and presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich's calls for a moon colony were largely met with laughter and derision.

America today has no vision for the future. We have no common national project to rally around. When it comes to national pride, we've historically pointed to being the “melting pot” of the nations, but multiculturalism by definition requires sacrificing any uniquely ethnic or cultural sources of pride. America has traditionally rallied around an idea of freedom, but a growing cynicism towards the American system of government threatens to erode that common patriotism.

I wonder if a national project could bring America together. Societies in the middle ages often rallied around such things. Many of the great European cathedrals were the result of such an effort. A nation would unite around their common faith and devotion to God, and members from all different classes of society would devote their entire lives towards their Creator in an act of corporate piety.

Given America's religious pluralism, it is unfortunately very unlikely that we could unite in an act of service to God. But perhaps there's another way of bringing America together, by appealing to a common American spirit, or American dream, that idea that “the sky's the limit” and anything is possible if you set your mind to it.

Perhaps Gingrich's idea of a moon colony isn't so far-fetched after all. Could we get a statesman who is capable of capturing the American imagination, pointing us back to the American dream, and declaring “by the end of this decade, America will put a sustainable colony on the moon” (or perhaps Mars)?

Posted by Nick Barden

An artist's conception of a lunar colony

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