Opinion

Space exploration should be an international relay event

Howard Schonberger - Journal file photo
Howard Schonberger
— image credit: Journal file photo

Some elders think it's a disgrace to bother all those Martians... not NASA veteran Fred Bowen.

What a blessing we have to be born in an era when men first walked on our moon after WWII and now, three weeks ago, have sent  "Curiosity Rovers" 10-foot long and 8-foot wide to Mars, another planet, for the first time.

I was living in a quonset hut outside Dyke stadium at Northwestern University with my wife and 2-year old son, Howie, when the television broadcast of our U.S. answer to the Soviet's Sputnik occurred in 1948. I had a trial use of an Admiral television set to show my in-laws who were visiting from their farm on the eastern shore of Maryland.

We were excited and a few of us were oohing and aahhing as "Man's first step on the moon" was being plotted by NASA.

"How about that?" I asked father-in-law Penn Harcum. He shook his head.

"You better take that television box back to the store while you can get your money back," he grumbled. "That's nothing but a fake, like they do in the moving picture theaters with all those props and painted skies. It's a plot to sell more airplanes and weapons."

We've come a long way since the days when the late Penn Harcum plowed with a mule and a plow blade. We've had a Cold War and now it's pretty cool. We soon caught up with the Sputniks and left them in the stratospheric dust.

Last week, we got a great speech from Fred Bowen of San Juan Island, who has spent decades as director for management operations at NASA's Langley Research Center and director, administration management office, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. As speaker of the day, he kept a Lions Club meeting and guests at the Legion Hall enraptured as he filled us in on the flights and discoveries of the manned and unmanned explorations of space that have taken place in the last half century.

I couldn't help but think of Walter Cronkite and all those broadcasts, as Bowen brought us up to date on the success of the Robotic Curiosity Rovers, which already seem to have made it likely that there probably, or possibly, might be ice on Mars, with water being an absolute necessity for any planet to sustain life.

Then to pick up the paper on Sunday with Neil Armstrong's obituary... and others who have passed on, like Sally Ride, the first woman in space... and the others who gave their lives to this endeavor, it's all simply stratospheric.

Believe me, readers, if you had heard Fred Bowen you would believe in the wonders of this exploration as much as the medieval Europeans believed Columbus, Magellan, Vancouver and Drake. Also, you would believe in his answer that the only way to do this is by international collaboration, not competition.

"It is too much for any single government to pour that much into a long run investment, or for individual companies to do," Bowen said, "but there is no doubt that the long term benefits will be worthwhile for all mankind if it is done collaboratively."

He pointed out that the International Space Station has been a group effort for decades. It makes you wonder.

If we can collaborate in space, why can't we do it at the United Nations, or in Washington, D.C., or in Olympia, or in San Juan County? If we can collaborate in space, maybe we can do it in Congress or city hall... let's give peace a chance... whoever wins.

— Go with the F.L.O.W. (Ferry Lovers Of Washington)

— Editor's note: Journal columnist Howard Schonberger is founder, CEO and custodian of Ferry Lovers Of Washington.

 

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