Not only did Neil Armstrong pull the stops out of all momentous phrases with his “One small step for man ...” shtick, he also drove legions of kids to drink Tang and eat those funky, chocolate-flavored space food sticks. And NASA, formerly known to the Poindexters among us as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, gave us technological innovation after technological innovation. Fulton Files seems to remember Talking Heads Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz saying something about NASA being responsible for the development of music sampling technology, which gave birth to some pretty super-savvy hip-hop tunes. Is the rap music in the car next to you just too damned loud? Blame it on President Kennedy, who more or less got our whole space program going and left the Russians sucking on their Sputniks. Then there were the movies. Who could forget the sight of Tom Hanks staring down zero-gravity vomit in Apollo 13?
& ull; That’s the Spirit: Now our government’s at it again. Aside from the Ramones and Bicentennial Fever, the spirit of ’76 really got a true, defining moment when the Viking 1 and Viking 2 crafts landed on the surface of Mars. Not counting Viking 2, which ceased transmissions in 1980, we got regular transmissions from these buggers for the better part of four years. We quickly learned that there was no life on this planet, never mind organic compounds. But just as each family trades up to the newest in high-resolution television sets, NASA also strives for a clearer picture. So it is that $820 million buys us another trip to Mars courtesy one rover named Spirit, and another named Opportunity. (Space craft names tell us so much about the decade, don’t they?) So far, Spirit has scraped up enough Mars rocks to help determine whether or not the planet once held water. Ho hum? At least the terrain pictures make the Viking transmissions look like ’70s-era home reels.
& ull; What’s in it for you? Now that Saddam’s basically in the can, President Bush is all aflutter to build a permanent space station on the Moon for regular trips to Mars and—why not go all the way?—an asteroid or two. This will admittedly put a king-size hole in the federal wallet at a time when not even terrorists, let alone outer space, constitute a tamed force. But don’t worry about your senior Medicaid entitlement when some scientists worry about there being enough electricity for us all. In testimony before a Senate Commerce hearing on science, space and technology last November, Dr. David R. Criswell of the University of Houston’s Institute for Space Systems Operations let loose this corker: With an estimated 10 billion people on the planet come 2050, we’ll need numerous solar power bases on the Moon in order to supply the world with a necessary 20 terawatts. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we’re talking about the dawn of “Lunar Solar Power.” As Dr. Criswell told subcommittee members, “terrestrial options” for power ain’t gonna cut it. So even if Bush’s enthusiasm turns out to be misplaced, there’s hope that scientists will point him in the right direction. Unless, of course, he decides to blow more money in pursuit of a Middle East dictator.