The 50’s and 60’s were a great time for young American’s; great feats in science and engineering were an everyday occurrence. From new chemicals & plastics and color TV to polio vaccine and the Pièce de résistance man in space, we were witnessing Sci-Fi up close and personal.
Classes were stopped, TV’s were wheeled into classrooms as we watched in awe one man of the right stuff strapped to the seat of a tiny Mercury capsule, which moments later would be seen splashing down into the ocean; then later on two men in a Gemini capsule docking in space with a blue marble far below, then several years later the pièce de résistance with three men in an Apollo capsule perched high in the sky on top of a colossal Saturn 5 that lifted Americans to the moon with a footprint seen on this distant land all around the world.
Today, America’s technological edge is no longer the norm. We remain frozen in an ever deepening technological chasm, which if not thawed will undermine our technological prowess in the global landscape.
Several years ago, Neil deGrasse Tyson, an American astrophysicist, science communicator, and Director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York presented something rather profound during his lecture. He took a map of the world and normalized the size of each country by the number of technical publications released the prior year. Not too surprising, the size of the United States was tremendous, overshadowing all other countries. Then he showed another map, this time he normalized the size of each country by the rate of change in the number of technical publications over a 10 year period. This time the U.S. was a tiny sliver. China was gigantic, an elephant engulfing the world.
Without effective and preemptive measures, trends are hard to change. If left unabated, it won’t be long before China surpasses the U.S. on a yearly basis. It takes true leadership, vision, courage and integrity. Characteristics that appears lacking in the White House and Congress, Democrat, Republican and Tea Partyite.
To underscore this notion of rampant incompetence in our government.
1. Cancellation of the Supercollider by Congress in 1993 after 22.5km (14 mi) of tunnel were already dug and 2 billion dollars spent (see picture above). The Supercollider was billed as “as a means of preserving American leadership in the competitive field of high-energy physics. Some say to this day “…. the most advanced nation on earth should not have canceled this important science project after spending 2 billion dollars in construction.” The aftermath was a brain drain abroad.
According to the Government Accounting Office (“GAO”) in 1993, “Management problems hindered accurate and timely reporting of the Superconducting Super Collider's cost and status. The GAO reported that costs have more than doubled since the Supercollider was first proposed to Congress in 1987--from $5.3 billion to more than $11 billion. Because the project's prime contractor and the Department of Energy (DOE) have been slow to disclose project costs and anticipated cost increases, Congress has not been receiving timely and complete information.”
2. Cancellation of the shuttle program and for the first time since 1961 leaving the U.S. incapable of hurling man into space. Something that has not been seen in the U.S. since 1961.
The ink is still wet, but for reasons why the shuttle program has ended, the Wall Street Journal recently reported “One piece of the history (shuttle program) is surprisingly elusive: the price tag. Some media outlets have pegged the total cost of the shuttle program, and its 135 launches, at between $115 billion and nearly twice that amount, demonstrating the challenge of tallying a bill over such a long time span. Among the difficulties are properly accounting for inflation and imprecise budgeting in the program's early years. Furthermore, none of the figures include about $18 billion, in today's dollars, spent by the Defense Department on the shuttle program, by one estimate.”
3. Just last week, the NY Time reported:
“The House Appropriations Committee proposed Wednesday to kill the James Webb Space Telescope, the crown jewel of NASA’s astronomy plans for the next two decades.”
“It (the telescope) was supposed to be launched in 2014, but NASA said last year that the project would require at least an additional $1.6 billion and several more years to finish, because of mismanagement.
“Astronomers reacted with immediate dismay, fearing that the death of the Webb telescope could have the same dire impact on American astronomy that killing the Superconducting Supercollider, a giant particle accelerator in Texas, did in 1993 for American physics, sending leadership abroad.”
“Tod R. Lauer, an astronomer at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Tucson, echoed his view. “This would be an unmitigated disaster for cosmology,” he said. “After two decades of pushing the Hubble to its limits, which has revolutionized astronomy, the next step would be to pack up and give up. The Hubble is just good enough to see what we’re missing at the start of time.”
4. With vast technical resources at its disposal, even our military is not immune from these fatal flaws of mismanagement and cost overruns. National security being sacrosanct allows greater tolerance to these extreme floodgates of hemorrhaging dollars.
Defense-aerospace.com reported on June 2, 2011, “But the F-35 Joint Strike program is years behind schedule and now estimated to cost $1 trillion. And the delays have forced the military to buy upgraded versions of older aircraft to fill the gaps.
“We (U.S.) must field a next-generation strike fighter — the F-35 — and at a cost that permits large enough numbers to replace the current fighter inventory and maintain a healthy margin of superiority over the Russians and Chinese,” Gates said in a May 24 speech to the American Enterprise Institute.”
“A Chinese stealth fighter, the J-20, made its first test flight in January while Gates was visiting Beijing. Some analysts suspect the technology was at least in part stolen from the F-35 program, raising fears that China would benefit from the program’s innovations before the United States and its allies.”
Maybe these programs were wrong to begin with. Either the right questions were not asked or Congress did not want to hear the truth. Today as in 1993, the same theme runs true – mismanagement and extreme cost overruns.
Sounds all too familiar for those of us trying to promote, develop and install renewable energy projects within the U.S. The government is at loss on how to formulate an effective energy policy that provides energy security, prosperity and a cleaner environment. The answer from Capitol Hill always reverts back to some level of support for fossil-fuels.
Notwithstanding those on Wall Street who should be in jail for causing the financial crisis, those in the private sector who would run a business like our government would be walking the street with a can in hand faster than one could say “its approved and cancelled.”
In closing, not sure we can find, in time, a magical ladder to climb out of this widening technology gap. As opposed to the 50’s and 60’s where our future looked bright and promising, the future now looks bleak. In the face of a catastrophic $14.3 trillion dollar hole, it’s fearful to think how this collective wisdom on Capitol Hill will reshape our destiny and restore America as a land of opportunity.
Criticism should always be met with constructive measures. Bearing few ideas on how to remedy the situation and restore America, the only idea is for us to band together, stop the squabbling and forget the politics, bipartisanship, self-interest and the next election. Government must finally regain its roots and focus on the citizens. This can only happen if our leaders believe in just a few words:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
If not, it is hoped the Constitution allows the government to cancel itself?
To read my other discussions, please visit: http://tinyurl.com/barry-stevens295
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