If you were looking for an example of the loss of vision and a sense of mission in the West, then look no further than NASA’s new spectacular Ares I-X rocket, the world’s tallest at 327 feet high scheduled to blast off today, weather permitting.

This is the rocket that NASA has said will replace the aging ‘commuter bus’ known as the space shuttle. But, as The Washington Post article ‘Where will NASA’s next giant step take us?‘ put it, the debut of Ares I may have been ‘the biggest debut since King Kong’, but it ‘may turn out to be a rocket to nowhere’. Why? Because a blue-ribbon committee has said the Ares I is part of a NASA program that doesn’t make sense given current and future budgets. As a result, the Obama administration is close to killing the Ares I programme.

For the Time’s they are a changing

Just contrast this the Kennedy era where putting a man on the moon was undertaken because it was difficult and when it was recognised that the pursuit of conquering space, while risky, was worthwhile for the new knowledge discovered and problems solved along the way. Yes, this was in the context of the Cold War and the military’s pragmatism certainly started the West’s journey towards technological pragmatism and instrumentalism.

But that sense of mission, leadership and vision, in the face of enormous uncertainty and skepticism, stands in stark contrast to today’s mission without any vision or purpose. Then and now space exploration cost billions. But then there was a belief in science, innovation and a spirit of adventure. Today there is only concern about costs with little vision of what unknown benefits would emerge in the course of a new age of exploration.

It seems that it is not just the space shuttle that will be put out to pasture by the end of 2010, but America’s ambition and belief in progress. If Ares I launches today it is most likely to be an epitaph to a bygone era, rather than gleaming start of a new one.

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