There, I’ve said it. And in case you missed it, I’ll say it again.
American men and women have no business flying in space. I fully expect
an upwelling of outrage on the part of some for saying this, yet it is,
at least to me, painfully obvious

Before you hit the “baleet” button, hear me out.

America has neither the will, nor the courage to fly in space. No, I
am not talking about those American heroes who have ridden the
thundering beast into orbit and beyond; it’s you and me that I am
talking about. You and me; groundlings, paper pushers and wannabees of
every stripe and color. We are slowly and relentlessly strangling our
space program. We are killing it as surely as if we put a gun to the
head of every pilot, every astronaut, every hero.

I’ll explain.

Our astronauts stand on the shoulders of giants who have gone
before. Recall their names: Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne
Montgolfier, Wilbur and Orville Wright. Samuel Pierpont Langley, Louis
Blériot and Glenn Curtiss. Think too, of Chuck Yeager and Scotty
Crossfield or Scott Carpenter and Wally Schirra. Remember too, Fred
Haise and Gordon Fullerton.

I mention Scotty Carpenter because he got a bum rap from us ground
weenies. Yes, he overshot his landing area by some 250 miles, but not,
I repeat not, because he expended his fuel by overdoing the capsule
maneuvering as some have wrongly proclaimed and which has somehow found
it’s way into the repository of general knowledge, of erroneous
“facts!” So too, regarding the reasons he never flew again in space.
I’d bet the farm on the fact that many reading this think NASA never
picked him for another flight because he screwed up!


Carpenter never flew again because he sustained a medically
grounding injury to his left arm, and as far his running Aurora 7 out
of gas, the simple truth is he had several critical malfunctions to
deal with. The pitch horizon scanner malfunctioned forcing Carpenter to
manually control his reentry. The PHS malfunction jerked the spacecraft
off in yaw by 25 degrees to the right, accounting for 170 miles (270
km) of the overshoot; the delay caused by the automatic sequencer
required Carpenter to fire the retrorockets manually. This effort took
two pushes of the override button and accounted for another 15 to 20
miles (32 km) of the overshoot. The loss of thrust in the ripple
pattern of the retros added another 60 miles (97 km), producing a
250-mile (400 km) overshoot.


How many of us earthlings remember it was Scott Carpenter who proved
manual reentry was possible, foreshadowing Jim Lovell’s manual reentry
of Apollo 13, or that Scotty was the first to prove a human being could
eat and swallow food in Zero-G. Conventional wisdom at the time said
man must have gravity to assist on the swallowing process. Scotty
proved conventional wisdom wrong!

We all subscribe to the commonly known BS that Wally Schirra had a
fight with ground control during his Apollo flight and that this is why
he was never to set foot on the moon. It is true that plagued by an
ambitious to-do list and a bad cold, Schirra snapped at flight
controllers and refused to follow some instructions. “I have had it up
to here today,” he told Mission Control near the end of his flight. And
I submit that some ground pounder may have gotten his panties in a
twist over that!

But how many remember that at the exact moment of ignition beginning
the flight of Gemini 6 and when the hold downs had released, one of the
Titan engines shut down. How many remember Wally did not yank the abort
handle as so many of us wannabees would have. No, he calmly sat there
with his hand on abort handle until the vehicle could be safed. Later
he was heard to say he wasn’t going to pull the handle until he could
feel the fire burning his butt!

How many of us mud dwellers remember Apollo 12’s lightning strike
when every “oh shit” light lit up on Pete Conrad’s panel and the fuel
cells dropped off line.

I wonder how many of us weenies would have had the courage of Fred
Haise and Gordon Fullerton to make that first free flight of
Enterprise. It fell like a brick and there was no modified G-II to
practice with.

I guess what I am trying to say is, that we don’t let our heroes be
heroes any more. We have taken these the acts of courage, in large
measure, away from them.

As I watched the folks in their nice clean white coveralls with the
great big NASA meatballs on the backs and the guys with the USA
patches, it took me back to the days when Guenter Wendt, “Der Führer of
der Launch Pad,” ruled with an iron hand, and woe betide the NASA QC
guy who had the temerity to get in his way.

I watched the new breed of technicians take what, maybe thirty
minutes to close the hatch. Perform leak checks ad nauseum and finally
fill in all the little check marks for the NASA guy holding the book!
Back in the day, you kicked the tire, inserted the squire and lit the

This is not to say I am against safety or that cautions should be
thrown to the winds. No, indeed. What I am saying is that space flight
is a risky business and you cannot make it inherently safe, no matter
how many little boxes you check off. Miles O’Brien, during his coverage
of yesterday’s launch attempt was heard to say that you can’t fly until
the paperwork equals the height of the stack!

This is so sad, for it tells a tale. We who stand safely on the
ground, checking off the boxes are playing CYA, and are not allowing
our heroes to be heroes, to do what they do best…inspire the young,
bring a tear of pride to the old and remind us all of the greatness of
our heritage.

Picture yourself, if you will, sitting down in your aisle seat,
fastening your sea tbelt for your flight from HOU to WTF. The stews, er
pardon me, “flight attendants” give their safety pitch and you sit
there and sit there and finally the Captains voice is heard over the
intercom, “Ladies and gentlemen, ground control is reporting a
lightning strike near the Astrodome, thereby violating our takeoff
criteria. Additionally, radar is now reporting anvil clouds out near
downtown. We are scrubbing our flight. Thank you.”

Silly you say? Perhaps, but this is exactly the mentality of those
who run our space program! Where would the airlines be today if we
tried to apply the same skewed logic that we apply to space flight.
Airliners crash and people die. So too, do shuttles. But be that as it
may, we must face up to the fact that danger lies all around us.

Back in the day, we went to the moon and we knew we were going on to
Mars. That was forty years ago. If you were to ask me, are going back
to the moon. I’d say maybe. Remember that Orion was designed for a crew
of six and now we are talking four. We were to have habitats on the
moon as stepping stones to Mars, to learn to live and work in a hostile
environment far from home. Yet isn’t that what our first colonists did?
Well, scratch the habitat plan as well. Are we going to Mars? You bet,
with more rovers and robots, but people? Not in my lifetime and
probably not in yours as well.

We no longer have the national will, nor the courage to dream.

John Kennedy said:

“Those who came before us made certain that this country rode the
first waves of the industrial revolution, the first waves of modern
invention, and the first wave of nuclear power, and this generation
does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of space.
We mean to be a part of it–we mean to lead it. For the eyes of the
world now look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond, and
we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag of
conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace. We have vowed that we
shall not see space filled with weapons of mass destruction, but with
instruments of knowledge and understanding.”

He went on to say:

“Yet the vows of this Nation can only be fulfilled if we in this
Nation are first, and, therefore, we intend to be first. In short, our
leadership in science and industry, our hopes for peace and security,
our obligations to ourselves as well as others, all require us to make
this effort, to solve these mysteries, to solve them for the good of
all men, and to become the world’s leading space-faring nation

We would all do well to remember these words. For if we do not, I
respectfully submit that the next voice you hear from the surface of
the moon may well be speaking Chinese!