The dream of space exploration has always been tied with the national security and political aspirations of states. Unbeknownst to some space enthusiasts is the significant role politics has played in shaping the outcome of the Space Race, with lasting impressions on the use and development of existing technologies such as simple computers, or even global positioning systems.
This can be best be seen with end of the Second World War, where many scientists remaining in war-torn Nazi Germany, including those who worked on the infamous V-2 rocket, were given the option of avoiding prosecution by cutting a deal with advancing American troops in exchange for help on future projects. Interestingly, it was only after Yuri Gagarin’s first trip into space in 1961, which was seen as an immediate accomplishment for the Soviet Union in both the technological and ideological aspects of the Cold War, that the Kennedy administration began calling for a race to the moon.
The death of U.S astronaut Neil Armstrong last August, a man best known for his famous line after the Apollo 11 landed on the moon, serves as a stark reminder to the realities of the NASA space program in its current incarnation. As of late, no serious discussion on a renewed space program in the U.S has gained any traction, with occasional murmurs in the form of comedic statements from Newt Gingrich and his “moon colony”, or rumours of celebrities going on expensive trips into the stratosphere. So where does NASA stand? With the successful launching of the Mars rover Curiosity last August, NASA has been bent on discovering possible materials that can sustain carbon-based life forms, such as the existence of liquid water or microbial life, which will be essential for justifying any future manned exploration to the Red planet. Much to NASA’s concern are the growing calls for the commercialization of space exploration, with both Republican candidate Romney and President Obama calling for privatization of the “space industry” in hopes of cutting was has been deemed as an unnecessary expense.
The interesting link now is between politics and space is in the money and interests of the state. The Space Race in the 1960s and 1970s was the product of mutual fear and ambition, under the assumption that any state that can go to space can also deliver a nuclear payload on major cities. The result of that fear and ambition often galvanized administrations, as proven evident in the case of the U.S, who, while attempting to beat their Soviet opponent, sought to bring mankind to greater heights unimaginable to their ancestors. The rise of China’s space program may change this apathetic attitude towards space in the times to come as fear and ambition surges again, but today’s lack of enthusiasm will have greater impacts on younger generations in search of a defining niche. It’s an ironic consideration when President Obama calls for more teachers in Math and Science for American students, as his generation were the ones to further develop Math and Science in hopes of reaching the stars.
– Cody Levine