Coming back from vacation, my email and real mail boxes are stuffed.  One internet article that several folks forwarded to me came up several times.  At the surface, it was suggested that this is a counterpoint to my last post about the Chinese navy in the 15th century. 

I strongly encourage you to read this article by John Derbyshire.  I found it a very interesting read.  Here is the link and I encourage you to read it yourselves: 


Now, having read Mr. Derbyshire’s article, I think that he is right on the mark.  In fact, I think we even agree at a very significant level.

My analysis comparing space to exploration in the 15th century is summed up this way:  “Over the next centuries, the European countries repeatedly decided to go forward, by fits and starts . . . into the world for trade, treasure, discovery, and glory.  They immersed the west in new ideas, new technologies, and new innovations.   . . .  The Chinese course lead inexorably to stagnation, then dissolution, then decay, and finally to destruction.”

Mr. Derbyshire’s conclusion is that “The lawyerly mandarins of the Obama administration have no interest in science or in imaginative enterprises of any kind,  . . . Perhaps our country . . . is in for a few centuries of introverted, creativity-free stagnation under bossy literati, until something unexpected comes banging on the door to wake us from our opium dreams.”

So we both see the same consequences of terminating our exploration.  All that we have done to date will be pointless, left without even suitable monuments for future generations to wonder at.  Only those bold and persistent enough to build on the past explorations will reap the transforming benefits.

Stopping now would put the United States on the ash heap of history, just like those Chinese who burned their fleet six centuries ago.

I hope we choose a vibrant future full of exploration, development, innovation, creativity, and unfathomable economic growth.  I want to avoid centuries of opium dreams where the rest of the world passes us by.




8 thoughts on “Point,Counterpoint”

  1. Mr. Hale,

    I read the article and I agree with you, in that this nation, its people, would do far better if we continued moving ahead, with space exploration, new technologies, and simpler and more efficient manners of taking care of our own citizens.

    If we are to lead, then we need to lead and demonstrate our resolve to overcome adversity, including set backs.

    Do not, for an instant, give up.

    I salute you and all those at NASA and associated contractors.

    Keep up the good work of Exploration!

  2. I cannot imagine a world without NASA. There is almost nothing in today’s world that compares. Is there anywhere another government agency in the world like it? No. Similar but not the same. Lots of imitators and rightly so. Would we have the tech knowledge we enjoy today, to the extent of taking it for granted as many do. No. As I look around my house full of electronic and household gadgets I see a tiny blue ‘meatball’ emblazoned on them, if only in my mind because I know somewhere a NASA scientist or engineer has touched it or breathed life into it.

    Are we lucky to have such dedication? You bet and we’d better not loose it to political infighting or neglect.

    Count among your blessings the tiny but mighty agency called NASA. Encourage your kids and yourself to get involved or we just may loose the ‘meatball’ and all it means. Write your congressman or the president and tell them we need NASA to lead the ‘green’ revolution as strange as it may seem. Our tiny space agency is all ready going green in many ways. The obvious is the water recycling system on ISS. Remarkable, it recycles all moisture from the air and from human usage. Another obvious contribution is solar power. We have solar panels that can take us to Jupiter now. Amazing stuff! And there’s so much more. What we learn ‘out there’ directly impacts what we have and know here. Hubble, Chandra, Spitzer and many many other orbiting labs and Earth observers have enhanced our lives, warned of climate change and offered hope for tomorrow in these hard times.

    NASA centers are cleaning themselves up in a green way as well. It’s a tough job, but needs to be done. Always a leader we need NASA. To the moon or to the grocery store. The ‘meatball’ is a sign of American quality we can all be proud of. Let’s not loose it.

    PS: So many disrespect the Shuttle for being around for a long time with nowhere to go in low Earth orbit. I remember reading that an early proposal for the shuttle had it launched from a plane, and had a space station to be built by and for shuttle missions. Our first permanent steps to the stars. This was in the late 60s or early 70s. All of it was canned except the Shuttle. Why? Money? Lack of public support? Nixon? Anybody know?

    Thanks for the blog. I count you Wayne Hale, as a teacher and as an asset to the entire US. I have space memorabilia I’d love you to sign. That is how much I respect all you have done for US. Thanks again.

    In the words of the mighty ‘Star Hustler’,”Keep looking up!”

  3. This is all terribly depressing. What can I do, beyond the usual “write your Congressman”?

  4. I am further depressed by how few comments there are, here. Still. Hopefully, all those people went and commented under the Derbyshire piece, instead. I haven’t checked. I’ve been thinking about this all week, and it’s bugging me. Thing I realized is, I’m confused. I can’t tell where this guy is coming from. Maybe he’s confused. Either ending human space flight would be a further sign of our country’s decrepitude and lack of spirit — or space flight was dumb and pointless, and those old-time Chinese were right to burn their fleet, because it was all folly. Was there a layer of sarcasm I’ve missed, even after 4 readings?

    I have so much to say (I’ve written up notes! In the car!), and blog comments are awkward, because one doesn’t want to take up too much space and one isn’t even sure if anybody anywhere is reading them, so I’ll stop here for now.

  5. I get very, very sad when I ponder how short the timeframe is before we retire the Space Shuttle. Granted, many people believe it was and has been a waste of time and money – but, really, what they don’t understand, is how difficult human spaceflight can be, as well as all we learn about living in space each time one launches. It takes a lot of practice to go from an “experimental vehicle” to one we depend on. Having spent the past twelve years or so in the aerospace industry, I’m still amazed at how people can live and work in space. And, all the while, they are not only learning about a new frontier, but continuing to teach us things about the earth where we currently live. I’m also amazed how so many take for granted our wonderful life on earth, while our astronauts put their lives at risk for those new discoveries, which will continue to benefit future generations. I think Americans have just become so jaded, indifferent, and apathetic about spaceflight, that eventually, unless they step up and offer support, they will be sadly disappointed when the contributions of spaceflight come from other countries. Wayne, you do such a good job of keeping us inspired, and for that, I am grateful.

  6. I fear a dismantling of all things good at NASA. I have to say I was dismayed at the comments of the President’s nominee’s for administrator and associate administrator when asked how to to spark interest in NASA and its missions again. They were probably being political in their response, but chasing ones tail in orbit is not the way to spark interest! Don’t get me wrong, I think that the space station is a wonderful asset, but when I dream, I don’t dream of going to the space station to go to the space station. I dream of going to the space station to go to the Moon. I dream of going to the space station to go to Mars.

    Sigh, I’m working on my Chinese.

  7. No comments posted at the Derbyshire article…because there’s no comment mechanism.

    My take on the Derbyshire article was, “Huh? What game are you watching?” It’s clear he and Wayne are looking at the same things…but not SEEING the same things.

    To me Wayne’s position seems self-evident, so maybe I’m too wrapped up in that viewpoint myself, but it seems to me the only way you can take the same evidence and come to Derbyshire’s conclusions is willful blindness. A heaping helping of universal pessimism also helps. That may be the key factor–it’s evident in the title of Derbyshire’s book noted at the end of the article.

    If we want our country (and our planet) to be great, it seems to me, we must be brave enough to be optimistic, even while being realistic and attentive to the situation at hand.

  8. On Jul 02, 2009 07:43:32 AM David Buchner wrote:

    This is all terribly depressing. What can I do, beyond the usual “write your Congressman”?

    Mr. Buchner, I wrote a huge ginormous reply to your lament, however, it was not printed here. Maybe because it was ginormously huge.

    Anyway, in short (for me) here are a few things you can do to promote NASA. Become involved with your local museum, school district or planetarium and bring an astronaut to town..Have a star party. The JSC website gives in real time ISS sightings and hints for star parties, food, etc. The ‘NASA Edge’ guys had a bar-b-que featuring an original foodie project: the Shuttledog and it was great fun! Get the kids involved and it’s even better.

    Become a ‘Tiny Blogger’..whuzzat? It’s you and me sharing the good stuff NASA does for our country and the world, with our email buddies. I have sent so many Hubble pictures, Mars images and articles and Cassini images and articles about Saturn, to name only a few, that people have told me they would pay more taxes if they knew the money would go to NASA.

    A little searching and you can find many spin-offs to tell people about. Today for example, and this is the truth, I had my teeth scaled with a tool that used ultrasound and water instead of brute force and a chisel to clean off that nasty tartar that sticks to your teeth. I heard about this tool on NASA tv (ever watch it?) and found a dentist with just that tool. Well worth the effort.

    NASA tv has won an Emmy, the NASA portal has won a Webby, and so has the Cassini site. People are hustling to get the word out at NASA and the least I can do is help them, in my own small way. Some day I wish to be a NASA Ambassador, maybe you can do that, too. After all space is a pretty big place.

    Don’t give up, and keep looking up!
    Thanks for listening

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