I agree that sadly today the general public knows very little about NASA. When I was a kid in the 1960s there was much more interest for many reasons. First of all, President John F. Kennedy said we would land a man on the moon before 1970 and that was exciting to all. (He had no idea how of course), and although his life was cut short, the COLD WAR was very much alive. Let’s not forget that we were also involved in a war in Vietnam and yet we did land two men on the moon before 1970.
I think back THEN, the public interest was about beating the USSR
with a manned ship to the moon because they started “a race” with
Spudnik. I remember my parents telling me about the world watching the
“October Sky” to witness that event. In 1964 (I believe) the Soviet
government gave the ‘go ahead’ for a lunar landing mission. I was only
5 years old at the time, but I remember reports of problems with their
rockets, etc. Everyone where I lived by the time I was 5 or 6 knew the
name John Glenn! The first AMERICAN to orbit the earth… wow… now
there was something to be proud of! I remember seeing his photo on Life
Magazine and in newspapers. We even had his photo in our school as
early as the first grade. Most people today probably can’t even name an
astronaut. (Sure Buzz likes his press and book tours and that’s good).
The real history of Soviet spaceflight was for the most part the story of Soviet military space. Of course much of the U.S. interest in the space program has also been for military use I’m sure. Who can forget the “Star Wars” years from hawkish Ronald Reagan. I removed the personal comment about him, but I’m glad I’m old enough to remember all of this.
I think if we had elected officials who were not just lawyers, but men
and women who loved science we might just be heading towards Mars at a
faster pace. What do I know, these are my memories and my opinion, but
I’m glad I got to live through those exciting years. (I suppose there
will be a lot more of the private sector getting involved in space
travel besides Sir Richard Branson). Maybe it was something unique about
being “the first”. We’re Americans, we love competition. Perhaps that
is why the general public knows who will be in the World Series, but not
who will next fly to the ISS, or even what the ISS is.