The time between when an American flew the first heavier-than-air flying machine until an American flew solo nonstop across the Atlantic Ocean: 24 years.
The time between when an American flew solo across the Atlantic Ocean until an American first broke the sound barrier: 20 years.
The time between when an American first broke the sound barrier until an American first flew into space: 14 years.
The time between when an American first flew into space and an American walked on the moon: Eight years.
The estimated time between when an American last walked on the moon and a man may be ready to return to the moon: 60 years.
In other words, it took us 66 years to go from the dunes of Kitty Hawk to the plains of Mare Tranquillitatis, yet almost the same time will elapse between Apollo 17, the United States' last manned lunar mission, and when the next person might continue with this exploration.
In all likelihood, as well, the next person to walk on the moon will not be an American; rather, he or she will most likely be Chinese, Russian or Indian.
This is a national disgrace.
We, the sons and daughters of immigrants who first gambled on a new world across a wide Atlantic or Pacific Ocean, a concept as remote to them as Mars is to us today; we, the sons and daughters of explorers who pushed forth across a previously unknown wilderness to see what is on the other side of the next ridge; we, the sons and daughters of pioneers who packed their every belonging into a rickety wagon, strapped on a couple oxen and ended up settling a new country, have decided that America shall no longer be the country of adventure and discovery.
Last year, a panel of experts issued a report titled "Seeking a Human Spaceflight Program Worthy of a Great Nation," commonly called the Augustine Report. The report issues a series of suggestions and recommendations ranging from describing the funding needed to continue the manned space program to cutting funding for manned spaceflight entirely. The decision was made to embrace the latter recommendation.
We have always been a nation that says: "We can." For the first time in our history, we communally have said: "We can; we just don't want to."
The Augustine Commission described scenarios, several of which would return an American to the moon by the mid 2020s. None of them would be easy, and none of them would be cheap, but, as President John F. Kennedy said on September 12, 1962, "We choose ... to do [these] things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard." We have apparently now chosen the easy way.
In 2010, when the decision was made that the United States would no longer pursue a manned space program, the decision also was made to turn over further manned spaceflight development to private enterprise.
On May 5, 1961, America's first man in space, Alan Shepard, flew a Mercury space capsule in a suborbital, 15-minute flight, traveling 302 miles and reaching an altitude of 116 miles above the Earth.
To date, the private space program has launched one man in a suborbital flight to an altitude of 62 miles. The purpose of this particular project, incidentally, is not exploration, but rather to sell seats at $200,000 each so that wealthy private citizens can experience six minutes of weightlessness.
So, the current state of private-sector manned space launch vehicles is well behind where the United States was in 1961.
Soon, the last space shuttle will fly. The United States will then be without a manned launch vehicle for the first time in 50 years.
We will then need to hitchhike on another country's rocket to take our astronauts to and from the International Space Station. But, at $50 million per ride, this too could be subject to elimination in this era of me-first selfishness.
Eventually, we will need to hand over the keys to the International Space Station to the Russians, the Japanese, the Chinese, the European Space Agency. Other countries will continue to take advantage of the billions of American tax dollars we spent to build the station, but we will reap no benefit.
NASA might, on its meager budget, continue to send unmanned probes to other planets, search for water on the moon or Mars to no purpose, and hone its terrestrial mapmaking skills. But America's great lead in manned space exploration has come to a close.
Keith Reed is a playwright in Rosemount.