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Friday, May 23, 2014

American space age in the 21st century needs inspired visionary leadership says Captain Eugene Cernan

A visionary leader like President John F. Kennedy is vital to the future of America's ambitious space program. Retired Navy Captain Eugene Cernan rallied an audience in Portland Maine to this reality
when he spoke on May 20, 2014, about his experience as an American astronaut and the last man to ever walk on the moon. Today, he told the audience, America's space program is dependent on the equivalent of "trampolines" to launch humans into space.

Captain Eugene Cernan with Juliana L'Heureux (above)  and meeting Richard L'Heureux (below) at the Champions for Kids benefit dinner to benefit the Salvation Army in Portland Maine

Captain Cernan spoke alongside Karen McBride, a Mars exploration program specialist from NASA and the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). While Captain Cernan spoke about the extraordinary value of the American space program, McBride spoke about the future possibilities of Mars exploration.  

There's no question about Captain Cernan's credible insight into the value of the space program. Humans will always seek new challenges and chart the unknown, he said.  Unfortunately, some people believe the reason our humans in space program is now at a crossroads is because of a lack of leadership. Given the US Congress is incapable of agreeing on any kind of government investment on futuristic projects, like the space program, it's hard to blame just one person for the lack of leadership that Captain Cernan wants to rally for the cause. 

Nevertheless, President John F. Kennedy did rally Americans to support the ambitious project, when the technology to support the vision was hardly up to the challenge. Cernan said most people listening to him in the audience had more technology in their pocket hand-held devices than he had available when he flew to the moon. 

At the time when Americans like Cernan landed on the moon, only the construction of the Panama Canal, in modern peacetime, and the Manhattan Project in war, were comparable in scope. 

NASA's overall human spaceflight efforts were guided by Kennedy's speech; Projects Mercury (at least in its latter stages), Gemini, and Apollo were designed to execute Kennedy's goal. His goal was achieved on July 20, 1969, when Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong stepped off the Lunar Module's ladder and onto the Moon's surface.

In spite of the exhilarating possibilities and excitement of human space travel, the monetary cost of supporting such an expensive endeavor remains the daunting obstacle to progress. Visionary leadership requires inspired supporters. So long as Republicans control the purse strings in the US Congress, the prospect of seeking a return on investment in space travel seems remote, at best.

Money notwithstanding, Captain Cernan is correct about the need for inspired leadership. Given how Captain Cernan is a motivational speaker, I suspect he could have some influence over even the most dyed in the wool conservatives regarding funding for space exploration.

Certainly, Captain Cernan's message deserves the honor of being heard and listened to.  As he told us, Americans can achieve practically anything when we set our sights on doing it.  

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