This is a little talk I put together to give at various functions. I learned all this in college world history class. Pardon the all caps – it is written as a speech and my old eyes need large font to read it.
But the point is as important as it can be. We stand on the brink of ceding American leadership in exploration to other nations of the world. We need to think about the consequences of this action.
IN MY NEW ROLE I GET TO TRAVEL AROUND THE COUNTRY AND TALK TO A LOT OF PEOPLE. THESE DAYS I AM FREQUENTLY ASKED THE SAME QUESTION: CAN WE AFFORD THE LUXURY OF HAVING A SPACE PROGRAM. IN THESE DAYS WHERE THE NATION IS FIGHTING TWO WARS, THERE IS A CRISIS IN HEALTH CARE, THE NATIONAL DEBT IS REACHING ASTRONOMICAL LEVELS, AND WE ARE IN AN ECONOMIC RECESSION, INDEED FIGHTING HARD TO PREVENT ANOTHER GREAT DEPRESSION, CAN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AFFORD A SPACE PROGRAM.
IT DOES LITTLE TO POINT OUT THAT NASA RECEIVES 0.6% OF THE FEDERAL BUDGET AND IF ALL SPACE ACTIVITIES WERE TERMINATED THAT DROP IN THE FEDERAL BUCKET WOULD NOT SOLVE ANY OF THE PROBLEMS FACING THE NATION.
I BELIEVE THAT A STRONG BUSINESS CASE CAN BE MADE THAT THE SPACE PROGRAM LEADS TO ECONOMIC GROWTH THROUGH THE INVENTION OF NEW PRODUCTS WHICH STIMULATE NEW BUSINESSES AND INDEED WHOLE NEW INDUSTRIES. BUT I AM NOT GOING TO MAKE THAT CASE TODAY, INDEED I BELIEVE YOU ARE MORE FAMILIAR WITH IT THAN I AM.
A CASE CAN BE MADE THAT SPACE EXPLORATION EXCITES OUR YOUNG PEOPLE TO STUDY SCIENCE, MATHEMATICS, ENGINEERING – AREAS WHICH THE NATION IS DESPERATELY SHORT OF NEW COLLEGE GRADUATES. BUT I AM NOT GOING TO MAKE THAT CASE TODAY.
A CASE CAN BE MADE THAT BY LOOKING BACK ON THE EARTH AND STUDYING OTHER PLANETS WE CAN BEST UNDERSTAND WHAT IS HAPPENING TO OUR CLIMATE AND PERHAPS HOW TO CONTROL IT. BUT I AM NOT GOING TO MAKE THAT CASE TODAY.
THERE IS AN EVEN STRONGER CASE THAT SPACE ACTIVITIES HELP PROTECT OUR NATION MILITARILY; BUT I AM NOT GOING TO MAKE THAT CASE TODAY.
I AM HERE TODAY TO TALK ABOUT THE LONG TERM CONSEQUENCES OF SPACE EXPLORATION, OR OF NOT HAVING SPACE EXPLORATION.
I AM MINDFUL TODAY THAT WE CHOSE OUR OWN DESTINY. WE ARE FOUNDED BY PIONEERS WHO SAW OPPORTUNITY AND WHO HAD THE COURAGE AND ENERGY TO TAKE A CHANCE.
HISTORY TELLS US THAT THERE ARE NO GUARANTEES. IT IS NOT A GIVEN THAT THE UNITED STATES WILL ALWAYS BE GREAT. TODAY WE ARE THE WORLD’S ONLY SUPER POWER AND WHAT WE DO IN SPACE CONTRIBUTES TO THAT POSITION. WITHOUT CONTINUED COURAGE AND SWEAT, WE COULD FIND OURSELVES NO LONGER THE LEADER OF THE WORLD.
EVERYONE KNOWS THE QUOTATION FROM THE HISTORIAN GEORGE SANTAYANA: “THOSE WHO DO NOT LEARN FROM THE PAST ARE DOOMED TO REPEAT IT”. AND SO, TODAY, I HAVE A LITTLE HISTORY LESSON FOR YOU TO THINK ABOUT IN THE DAYS TO COME.
FIVE HUNDRED YEARS AGO THERE WAS ONLY ONE SUPERPOWER IN THE WORLD: CHINA.
THE MING EMPIRE RULED A PEOPLE MORE NUMEROUS THAN THE ANCIENT ROMAN EMPIRE AT ITS HEIGHT, LARGER IN TERRITORY THAN MODERN RUSSIA, VASTLY MORE POWERFUL AND RICHER THAN ALL THE PETTY FIEFDOMS OF CONTEMPORARY CHRISTIAN EUROPE PUT TOGETHER.
THE MING EMPIRE WAS FABULOUSLY WEALTHY. THE EMPEROR WANTED A NEW CAPITOL: THEY BUILT THE CITY WE KNOW AS BEJING FROM EMPTY GRAZING LAND.
THE EMPEROR NEEDED TO FEED THE PEOPLE IN HIS NEW CITY: THEY BUILD THE GRAND CANAL, AN ENGINEERING FEAT NOT RIVALED UNTIL THE SUEZ AND PANAMA CANALS.
THE EMPEROR WANTED A NAVY, SO HE APPOINTED AN ADMIRAL TO BUILD A FLEET OF 1,500 SHIPS.
THE LARGEST OF THESE SHIPS RIVAL THE SIZE OF WWII’S SUPPORT AIRCRAFT CARRIERS; THEY WERE THE LARGEST WOODEN SHIPS EVER BUILT, THE LARGEST SAILING SHIPS EVER BUILT.
IT WAS NOT UNTIL THE AGE OF STEAM AND STEEL FOUR HUNDRED YEARS LATER THAT LARGER SHIPS BUILT. THERE WERE OVER 30,000 SAILORS IN THIS NAVY. CHINA WAS SO INCONCEIVABLY RICH IN THOSE DAYS THAT THE COST OF THIS VAST NAVY WAS AN INCONSEQUENTIAL FRACTION OF THE RESOURCES AVAILABLE TO THE EMPEROR.
THE CHINESE ADMIRALS SET OUT ON MANY VOYAGES OF DISCOVERY AND COMMERCE TO THE PHILIPPINES, MALAYSIA, INDIA, AND AS FAR AS THE EAST COAST OF AFRICA. FOR OVER 40 YEARS THE MING NAVY MADE MANY VOYAGES WHICH RESULTED IN CHINESE HEGEMONY: TOTAL POLITICAL CONTROL OVER HALF THE WORLD. NOT HALF THE “KNOWN WORLD” AS THOSE IGNORANT EUROPEANS MIGHT GUESS, BUT HALF THE TOTAL WORLD.
FROM THE CAPE OF GOOD HOPE THROUGH INDIA TO THE BERING STRAIT, FROM AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND TO THE WEST COAST OF THE AMERICAS, TRADE AND TRIBUTE POURED INTO CHINA. ALL OF THESE ACCOMPLISHMENTS ARE WELL DOCUMENTED AND WELL KNOWN TO HISTORIANS.
IN A RECENT BOOK, A RETIRED BRITISH ROYAL NAVY SEA CAPTAIN, GAVIN MENZIES, PROVIDES EVIDENCE THAT THE CHINESE NAVY CIRCUMNAVIGATED THE WORLD IN 1421, DISCOVERING ANTARCTICA IN THE SOUTH AND COMING WITHIN TWO HUNDRED MILES OF THE NORTH POLE IN THE OTHER DIRECTION.
CAPTAIN MENZIES HAS EVIDENCE THAT THE CHINESE SET UP COLONIES NOT JUST ON THE ORIENT FACING EAST COAST OF AFRICA, BUT ON THE WEST COAST AS WELL, CHINESE COLONIES IN THE CARIBBEAN, NEAR PRESENT DAY PROVIDENCE RHODE ISLAND, AND ON GREENLAND. WOW.
HOW DID THE EUROPEANS GET AN ACCURATE MAP OF THE WORLD 75 YEARS BEFORE COLUMBUS AND A CENTURY BEFORE MAGELLAN? FROM CHINA!
SO THE CHINESE WERE THE WORLDS GREATEST SUPERPOWER AND CONTROLLED HALF THE WORLD AND EXPLORED THE ENTIRE GLOBE
IN 1415, THE TINY PRINCIPALITY OF PORTUGAL PUT EVERYTHING ON THE LINE. PORTUGAL WAS INSOLVENT, ITS PRINCE IN DEBT AND HIS COURT THREADBARE. AFTER A HUGE DEBATE, THE PORTUGUESE BORROWED JUST ENOUGH MONEY TO FINANCE A FEW SHIPS AND THEIR CREWS.
WITH LESS THAN TWO DOZEN SHIPS – NONE OF THEM LARGE BY EVEN THE MISERABLE EUROPEAN STANDARD OF THE DAY – THE PORTUGUESE FOUGHT A SUCCESSFUL SEA BATTLE IN THE MEDITERRANEAN AND CAPTURED THE PORT OF CEUTA ON THE NORTH AFRICAN COAST. THIS OPENED UP, EVER SO SLIGHTLY, TRADE WITH THE ORIENT, ESPECIALLY INCREASED TRADE IN THE HIGHLY DESIRED SPICES FROM THAT REGION.
THE SCRAPPY PORTUGUESE DECIDED TO GO FORWARD, LEARNING THE LESSON THAT TAKING RISKS WAS WORTHWHILE, AND LOSSES COULD BE ACCEPTED. THEY INVENTED A NEW TYPE OF SHIP SUITED FOR THE STORMY ATLANTIC, THE CARAVEL, THE FIRST REALLY NEW SHIP DESIGN SINCE ANCIENT TIMES.
THE CARAVEL BECAME ONLY THE FIRST IN A SERIES OF CONTINUALLY IMPROVING AND INNOVATIVE SHIP DESIGNS THAT HAVE CONTINUED EVEN TO THE PRESENT.
THE PORTUGUESE EARNED THE ADMIRATION AND ENVY OF ALL THE EUROPEAN STATES, AND EVERY COUNTRY TRIED TO EMULATE THEM.
THUS STARTED THE AGE OF WOODEN SHIPS AND IRON MEN.
OVER THE NEXT CENTURIES, THE EUROPEAN COUNTRIES REPEATEDLY DECIDED TO GO FORWARD, BY FITS AND BY STARTS, FOR GOOD REASONS AND FOR BAD ONES, ALWAYS WITH ENDLESS DEBATE, GENERALLY TEETERING ON THE EDGE OF FINANCIAL INSOLVENCY. BUT THE WEST EUROPEANS MADE THE DECISION TO GO FORWARD INTO THE WORLD FOR TRADE, TREASURE, DISCOVERY, AND GLORY. THEY IMMERSED THE WEST IN NEW IDEAS, NEW TECHNOLOGIES, AND NEW INNOVATIONS.
BACK IN CHINA, AFTER A GENERATION OF ASTOUNDING VOYAGES, THE GREAT MING ADMIRAL DIED AT SEA. THE EMPEROR ALSO DIED, AND THE NEW EMPEROR CAME UNDER DIFFERENT INFLUENCES.
THESE VOICES COUNSELED THE YOUNG EMPEROR TO TURN INWARD. SURELY CHINA HAD ENOUGH PROBLEMS TO SOLVE IN CHINA, WHY WASTE TIME AND ENERGY EXPLORING? THESE ADVISORS TOLD THE EMPEROR THAT THERE WAS NOTHING IN THE WORLD TO MATCH CHINESE CULTURE – TRUE. THEY TOLD THE EMPEROR THERE WERE NO GOODS IN THE WORLD TO RIVAL CHINESE GOODS – TRUE. IN SHORT, THEY CONCLUDED, THERE WAS NOTHING OUT THERE FOR CHINA – A CONCLUSION THAT SOUNDED LOGICAL BUT WAS FAR FROM TRUE.
THEY ADVISED THAT CHINA SHOULD PROTECT WHAT THEY HAD FROM THE FOREIGNERS. FOREIGNERS WHO WANTED WHAT THE CHINESE HAD. THE EMPEROR FOLLOWED THIS ADVICE. HE COMPLETED THE GREAT WALL TO KEEP FOREIGNERS OUT. HE BUILT A NEW CAPITAL, A “FORBIDDEN CITY” TO KEEP THE CITIZENS OF HIS OWN COUNTRY OUT.
THE EMPEROR ORDERED THAT THE FLEET BE BURNED. THE SAILORS WERE DISBANDED. IT BECAME A CAPITAL OFFENSE TO BUILD A SAILING SHIP WITH MORE THAN TWO MASTS. THE EMPEROR EVEN ORDERED THAT ALL THE RECORDS OF ALL THE VOYAGES BE BURNED. CHINA TURNED INWARD.
WHEN THE PORTUGUESE EXPLORERS BERNARDO DIAS AND VASCO DE GAMA ROUNDED THE CAPE OF GOOD HOPE FROM THE WEST TO THE EAST, THEY FOUND LEGENDS OF WHITE GHOST SHIPS THAT HAD COME TWO GENERATIONS EARLIER. AFRICANS ALL ALONG THE EAST COAST WERE WEARING CHINESE STYLE HATS AND CLOTHES.
WHEN MAGELLAN CROSSED THE PACIFIC OCEAN AND CLAIMED THE PHILIPPINE ISLANDS FOR KING CHARLES OF SPAIN HE FOUND SILK AND PORCELAIN, ALL IMPORTED FROM CHINA YEARS BEFORE, BUT THE TRADERS THAT BROUGHT THEM HAD VANISHED.
ALL THROUGHOUT THE INDIES, EUROPEANS FOUND REMNANTS OF A CULTURE THAT HAD BEEN OF GREAT INFLUENCE BUT WHICH HAD DISAPPEARED COMPLETELY FROM THE SCENE: CHINESE CULTURE.
THE CHINESE COURSE LED INEXORABLY TO STAGNATION, THEN DISSOLUTION, THEN DECAY, AND FINALLY TO DESTRUCTION. FOR THERE CAME A DAY WHEN THE PORTUGUESE AND THE OTHER EUROPEANS CARVED UP THE PITIFULLY WEAK REMNANTS OF CHINA FOR THEIR OWN COLONIAL USE.
FIVE HUNDRED YEARS LATER, THE GREAT 20TH CHINESE HISTORIAN WEI PU CONCLUDED THE CHOICE OF DIRECTION WAS CRITICAL. THE CHINESE TURNED INWARD, THE EUROPEANS WENT FORWARD. THAT CHINESE HISTORIAN OBSERVED: “THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD FOR THE LAST 500 YEARS HAS BEEN THE HISTORY OF THE WEST.”
CHOICES MATTER. THERE ARE CONSEQUENCES, SOME UNSEEN AT THE TIME. BUT ONE CONSTANT HAS HELD THROUGH HUMAN HISTORY; TAKING RISKS TO FIND NEW KNOWLEDGE, NEW LANDS, AND NEW WAYS OF DOING THINGS, NEW CULTURES, AND NEW IDEAS HAS ALWAYS PAID OFF. STAYING HOME IS THE SHORT ROAD TO FAILURE.
SO ARE WE, TODAY, TO BE THE CHINESE OR THE PORTUGUESE? WHICH DIRECTION WILL OUR COUNTRY CHOOSE? THERE ARE NO GUARANTEES, ONLY REWARDS FOR THOSE WHO ARE WILLING TO SEIZE OPPORTUNITY, TAKE RISKS, WORK HARD, AND SHOW COURAGE.
THE CHINESE HAVE LEARNED THIS LESSON FROM HISTORY. WILL WE?
13 thoughts on “Its your choice,really.”
The story of US superiority was a story of cheap oil. Without the force multiplying effect of oil, there’s no way for a population 1/4 the size of China to produce more than China. In a world where a barrel of oil costs more than the human labor replaced by a barrel of oil, China’s return to free markets & democracy will rightly put it back where it’s been for most of history. It’s a matter of accepting reality & trying to figure out what a population of 400 million can really produce.
What a great post! All of us need to be a part of something greater than ourselves. It takes courage to be willing to fail. In exploration, the results are never guaranteed. Which is, of course, why we need to see what’s out there!
I appreciate the posted talk, but please, please, please avoid using all upper case letters. It’s more difficult to read.
I admire and have followed Mr. Hale since seeing him in a NASA Discovery TV program.
This nation at this time faces numerous challenges in the economy, jobs, skilled labor, high costs of health care and college tuition along with many other things, including a crossroad in the American Space Program.
If our elected officials, corporations, businesses, etc. continue to put their self interests ahead of what is best for the country, we will not have learned the lessons the Chinese have and like other super powers before us, lose the lead in the world the US has had since WWII.
Unfortunately, the country is so divided on many key issues like health care, abortion, gay rights, education, etc., that we are risking the leadership our nation has had in the world. We’ve lost the electronics, automobile industries to foreign competition and have lost almost all commercial satellite launches to Ariane Space and are losing the battle in commercial aircraft to Airbus.
We came from behind the Russians to win the great Space Race of the 1960’s and did the almost impossible; landing humans on the Moon with (in today’s technical standards) extremely primitive electronics and computer systems). But, we did it.
This country needs to get back that enthusiasm we had in the 1960’s.
As President Kennedy stated so eloquently, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” If the citizens, businesses and politicians don’t step up to the plate today and do what’s best for the country, then we will indeed lose our leadership in the world and in space.
Aaaah …, if there was only gold or spices on the moon.
Since there isn’t so far as we know, beside the “because it is there and inquiring minds would like to know argument, what else will motivate people to go there?
I don’t mean to imply that I am adverse to going there for those reasons or the other reasons expressed in the Blog but I’ll tell ya it would be a lot easier for you guys at NASA if there was a direct greed incentive. (other than spin offs)IMHO the Portuguese were motivated a lot more by greed than by science. Prince Henry’s science may have been the spark plug but the engine’s bang was the slave trade, the spice trade, and the other trade. Eventually it became the gold trade after same was found in new world.
Come to think of it though, isn’t there a diamond ring circling the moon that can only be seen approaching totality in an eclipse. That’s what NASA can tell people it wants to go there to retrieve. Maybe that’ll shake the coffers loose!
I would like to use this post in my astronomy club’s newsletter. I would probably have to edit for space. Would that be okay?
Wow! Excellent blog, Wayne. I’d never heard this, but it illustrates perfectly what I’ve almost instinctively known to be true. Reminiscent of Griffin’s “Real Reasons & Acceptable Reasons”. I keep a copy in my desk.
Carl Sagan summed it up perfectly.
Question: Why did the dinosaurs die out?
Answer: Because they didn’t have a Space Program.
Well said, Wayne. I still remember when Kennedy made his speech about going to the moon. His point that we should do it and other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard still rings true today.
We as a nation have the ability and resources to set the standard in so many areas including space exploration. It really comes down to vision, leadership and commitment.
I hope the members of the Augustine panel will be allowed to articulate to our new Administration the sense of vision necessary to inspire our nation and sustain forward movement in space exploration with a balanced focus on robotic exploration and human space flight.
To me, Mars beckons with news of more fascinating discoveries on a regular basis. How amazing it would be to place humans there someday. I think great discoveries still await. I only hope I will live to see the day.
We need to think like the Chinese Emperor who built those ships, building an infrastructure that will extend our reach to the stars. All it takes is the will to do so.
This is great, Wayne — I’ve been passing it around some since you posted it.
I hope people are listening. Yesterday I encountered somebody who was upset about NASA funding — not at the high cost of manned spaceflight, which I’m almost used to — but about the expense of studying Mars robotically. Because, you know, of how all that money could be used to save lives here on Earth.
Fascinating history lesson!
When sharks stop swimming – they die. If we want to keep living, we must continue to evolve. The choice of “standing still” does not exist. What looks like “standing still” is actually collapsing.
If NASA’s budget is too small for its current plans, why not turn NASA into an invention factory that produces new propulsion systems, life support, and space navigation systems? NASA would produce the new ideas and inventions. Other organizations and the private sector could then take up the task of shuttling astronauts and machines into space for various purposes.
China was once a Great Power ruling the World. It seems the cycle is coming around again. Perhaps we all need to learn the .
Great new ideas and products come out of the space program. However, most of the manufacturing jobs go overseas once the item is able to be mass produced.
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