Two years after Katrina there was, at last, time for reflection. What had become of the can-do nation that had built the Panama Canal and put men on the moon and now could not see its way to heaping dirt high enough to defend a major coastal asset like New Orleans?*
My son is currently addicted to Apollo 13. I must admit, we've been feeding his obsession with space travel quite a bit, in case you haven't noticed. It is one hell of a lot better for him to be watching a reenactment of all sorts of scientists trying to keep three guys alive in a tin can up on space than for him to be watching other flicks I could mention...but that's a whole 'nother ball of wax.
In watching these various films about space travel, and in reading books about it, my son told me once, in all seriousness, that when he grew up, he was going to design a metal that could take the intense heat of reentry into the Earth's atmosphere, so that tragedies like the one that befell Columbia in 2003 could never happen again.
I cannot tell you how happy that made me, hearing him say that.
Unfortunately, in considering Clay's latest post, I cannot help but wonder about all the obstacles being put in the way of good scientific learning and research in this country, and I also have to wonder about the people who would pour more money and resources into other things.
From now on we live in a world where man has walked on the Moon. And it's not a miracle. We just decided to go there.**
What in God's name did happen to us? Why in hell can't we simply decide to go ahead and get the levees up to snuff, learning something from the Dutch in the process? I had a chat with some folks today who discussed some architectural possibilities for new homes in south Central Louisiana to replace the ones decimated by Gustav. Is that sort of engineering really out of our reach?
As good as our governor was in our latest time of insanity, he is indeed no meteorologist. And despite his flurry of facts, figures, and rapid-fire on-top-of-it-allness exhibited in his press conferences, he approved of legislation allowing creationism to be taught in public schools across the state.
Do moderate-to-conservative politicians and folks who think they can pray away any sort of ills and attitudes look at their kids when they express any sort of curiosity about science, any inventing initiative, and/or any thoughts of their own concerning how the world works and see some sort of devilment that must be exorcised? Nonconformity that must be quashed? A certain - dare I say it - foreignness about their children's views?
Well, the fact that this machine is at the French-Swiss border working merrily away and this one is simply a hole in Texas*** indicates that we handed a great deal of our scientific know-how and our curiosity to other countries a loooong time ago.
What will it take for us to keep up? Another Sputnik-type breakthrough? A cure for cancer coming from a research facility somewhere in Iran? Somebody in North Korea finding a cheap, clean alternative energy source that can power our lives?
When will we decide to go there?
*from Jed Horne's "Whatever It Takes: Why I Stayed" in the latest issue of the Oxford American
**Tom Hanks as Jim Lovell in Apollo 13
***Herman Wouk already had some fun with this one.
And speaking of going there...here's a tres kewl site about the lunar landings.