Tom Foreman | BIO
Reporter's Note: President Obama has once again called for a new age of American accomplishment. And in today’s letter, I can’t help but ask: In what?
Dear Mr. President,
I am intrigued by the way that you return time and again to the U.S. space program when you are looking for an example of American excellence in science and technology. It makes sense. The quest for the moon was undeniably thrilling, inspiring, and mind-bending. I watch old documentaries about what we accomplished back then, and I am truly in awe. Talk about the audacity of hope! We showed the modern world what a concerted, sustained effort by a clever and courageous group of people can accomplish.
So when you said in your State of the Union address that we need to rally the way we did after the Soviets sent Sputnik soaring to heaven, I was intrigued. This seems like an excellent idea. But what I am not so clear on is the target.
We could all see the moon. The voyage through the black, freezing void of space was outrageously daunting and beyond comprehension, yet at once easily conceived. “We are here. We are going there.” The alpha and the omega were right there. And in between we discovered so many wonders that today we can’t even count them. I daresay each American daily touches, uses, or enjoys some product or technology that owes much of its pedigree to the Apollo missions. The space program gave us many of the tools that shape our lives today, and without it I am hard pressed to believe we would have enjoyed even a fraction of the progress we’ve seen in the past half century.
But I don’t see which moon you are talking about now.
I take on faith that you are committed to a new age of technological and scientific excellence, but I don’t really know to what end. Sometimes you talk about green energy. Sometimes you talk about general resource conservation. Sometimes you talk about better, quicker, cheaper, or smarter products. I think you need to pick a clear goal and name it. Maybe you should say that you want only electric cars on the roads in ten years; or maybe you should say we are going to Mars; or maybe you should…well, I don’t know. Pick whatever you think will work; make it big enough to spark our dreams and sense of greatness, and then put your legislative muscle behind it. That is what happened with the space race.
It is not enough to say, “We should excel.” Absent a clear target, scientific research can be easily confused, and scattered like leaves in the wind. Years can pass, money can be wasted, and we can find ourselves no closer to any substantial goal. But with a true plan, Americans are more than capable of excellence. Just give us a target, and turn us loose.
Just a few thoughts on a Thursday. I hope all is well with you. Did you have any trouble with the snow? Took me an hour and a half just to get home.
Filed under: 360° Radar
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