Pop quiz: why do we need a space program?

 

Think about the socioeconomic environment we live in for a moment, and consider the place of a national space program in it.

Americans are being told that their educational system is second rate. Universities are bloated and marred by declining standards. Science and engineering are less popular, while students and the public embrace superstition and hedonism. Americans are told there is a dangerous shortage of scientists and engineers. Thousands are unemployed. The U.S. balance of payments is in crisis….

This is the world we live in today.

Right?

Well, no….

With thanks and apologies to the author, this is the U.S. socioeconomic landscape of the 1960s as political scientist Walter McDougall described it in …the Heavens and the Earth (1985), his Pulitzer Prize-winning “political history of the Space Age.” Aside from rewriting McDougall’s description in the present tense, I’ve made no alterations. Here’s the exact quote (p. 422 in the hardcover): “Americans were told that their educational system was second rate…. Universities were bloated and marred by declining standards and indiscipline. Science and engineering became less popular…while students and the public embraced astrology, superstition and hedonism…. Americans were told there was a dangerous shortage of scientists and engineers…. Thousands were unemployed…. The U.S. balance of payments was in crisis.”

More than 40 years later, do conditions remain the same? Or is it the political rhetoric that is unchanged?

Think about it.

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