This Ain’t Your Mama’s Moon Race

by Emily Jasper on February 4, 2010

I am part of an air and space family. My childhood is filled with the sounds of sonic booms and smell of jet fuel in the air. We had tons of books on being pilots and astronauts, and I bet NASA was the first acronym I learned. My brothers and I really wanted to walk on the moon.

And then we grew up.

You go to school and find out that you need to have a “real” job…and that not all of us have the math skills to get to space. My brother actually could, he’s a rocket scientist. So one-out-of-three seems like good odds.

Then you read the news. No more return trips to the moon for NASA astronauts. Times are changing, and the childhood dream can’t be accomplished through this mighty organization anymore.

During my time in D.C., I saw what was happening to talent at NASA. Engineers who may have made that first landing possible are still there. And yet the organization isn’t keeping up by bringing in new talent. Sure, there are new hires, but not in large enough numbers to make the organization sustainable. Also, NASA can’t compete anymore. If young engineers know that there are slim chances of promotions (because no one is retiring), then they’re likely to go into the private sector where there’s more movement and more money.

There’s a new spirit of St. Louis out there. In the Flight! Gallery at the St. Louis Science Center, there is a display of the Ansari X Prize competition. In 2004, the X Prize Foundation awarded $10 million to Scaled Composites for their craft SpaceShipOne. Walking up and down the hall of this exhibit, all of a sudden you are reminded of the grown-up version of the science fair.

Literally, you look at the entries and think, “Wow, these are engineers who said, ‘Screw it, I’m not growing up. If I want to go to space, I’m going to find a way to make it happen.’”

My kind of passion.

The playing field has been leveled even more. Today, an article was posted that Obama is going to be opening up space programs to be more entrepreneur-friendly. I’m not sure how this will impact all the big businesses involved, but as someone familiar with federal contracting, the procurement world will be rocked by opening up bidding doors.

With this news, I hope to see a version of Star Fleet making space exploration an everyday occurrence, something you don’t have to read an aeronautical journal to hear about. That those engineers sitting around thinking beyond-the-stars thoughts get a chance to go out of orbit.

If you could go to the moon, would you? Do you think we can take back our childhood dreams? Does the entrepreneurial spirit keep us from being jaded grown-ups?

Photo from clipart.