Spacelift Washington: A New Beginning for a New Millennium: A Winter’s Wish for 2001

By frank_sietzen
December 28, 2000
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Spacelift Washington

Spacelift Washingon Archive

WASHINGTON – And so it begins again, the cycle of renewal and evolution that accompanies each new change of presidential administrations. How different a year makes in what we concern ourselves with, though. Remember all the ballyhoo this time last year with the change of a new century? Of course technically the century starts anew on January 1st 2001, not last January. But popular culture has moved on to other issues and other themes. But, albeit briefly before 2001 rolls in, this columnist wishes to send one more set of thoughts- hopes really –into the dark between the centuries; one ending and another aborning. On this winter night in the nation’s Capital, a wish for that special year named two thousand and one.

Long decades ago this year was to be special, marked by an author’s fictional tale of spaceflight come of age. A space program so embedded in the lives of the world’s people that shattering discoveries of alien life and a trail leading to the realm of the gas giants would be the stuff of evening news around the globe. We have Arthur C. Clarke to thank for the tale of that space odyssey. But only ourselves to blame that the reality of the space program that exists on January 1, 2001 is a pale reflection of that fictional one. There is, at last, a permanent space station above us, although not the great wheeled wonder that Clarke depicted and of which von Braun and so many others dreamed. And its presence at all is a monument as much to politics as to perseverance, rationality as well as a tangible testament to belief. Permanence, like the struggle for reusability before it, was a long and protracted birthing for space supporters as well as political realists. Will its uses be found to be essentially among the stars, or as an entertainment platform for the next generation of ‘survivors’? Only time-and money-will tell.

And two thousand and one the year hangs in our memory for another reason of space dreams unfulfilled. Two decades ago this spring winged, reusable spaceflight was born if not with grace then with anticipation. A new era was about to begin whose tendrils would lead from pilot to passenger and from professional astronaut to Grandpa. Alas the grand dream of spaceflight for the masses would not be fulfilled within its wings, and the only Grandpa that would fly its run would be a politician.

One dream-an expanding, expansive space program that would rival our wildest hopes. Another shaped by a political compromise driven not by technology but by limits. We who remain to greet two thousand and one when it dawns have learned, when it comes to space dreams, to get used to disappointment. It, and not budget certainty nor public support long ago became our old friend. Now, as the new century comes in earnest, and as a new American president and his team take center stage, the quadrennial question comes anew: will space be a handmaiden or host to America’s technology policy, or will it become the unwelcome ghost of unfulfilled promises that greet the newest occupant of the presidency? Will be, believers in space as central to America’s greatness in the world, once more be informed by our adversity? Ad Astra per aspera-or via politica?

Long ago, when the century was at mid-tide and I was a young neophyte writer, all of us believed that Apollo made room for vision in our national life. Only later did we realize that it was not only not inevitable but an accident, product not of a Kennedy’s genius but of a Jim Webb’s determination, backed by technology that came when we called it. Everything in space since has been, when compared to our memories, diminished. With George Bush and Dick Cheney about to take the helm of space policy – yes, it’s in there somewhere –will we wait again for policy that never comes, too thin to be shaped, or be surprised by something sorely lacking over these long nine years-leadership? We certainly need it, in Washington, in industry, and in a uniting of the space community in what may become new lean years to point a way ahead for our children to follow.

As of now there are no answers, of course, only questions.

Of course, we still believe.

And we still have a responsibility to tell the story of what happens here anew each day. In the century that now slips away, many of our colleagues who also believed will not be with us as the glow of the new century begins. In places close and far removed, artists and engineers, communicators and scientists, they leave to us memories-and a reminder. That their time and strife and work forms the legacy of every child, the hope of every family, father and mother, that the lives of their offspring will be better. What’s the message? Space helps make that happen.

And if our friends were here to remind us, perhaps we’d remember that.
So when in the shiny new century we celebrate 20 years of shuttles, and see again a movie that once called us to look forward, let our backward glances be informed with their honor.
Leadership, and change, and a new century.

If we are all fortunate, those who are coming to Washington will be patient and smart enough to forge a consensus where technology and space and money merge to create purpose.

Like it did once.

And can again.

And that hope is one we can pass along this winter, warming us on those coldest of nights and can share with all who join us for the next installment of the story of spaceflight.

“I can call spirits from the vasty deep!”, Glendower told Hotspur in Shakespeare’s ancient tale.

“So can I, or so can any man,” Hotspur replied.

“But will they come when you call for them”. ..?

Will they?

For all those friends and fellow believers fresh to join us, still with us now or only in our memory-
Happy New Year to all.

-Frank Sietzen

SPACELIFT WASHINGTON © 2000 by Aerospace FYI Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction allowed with permission. The information contained herein are the authors own and are not affiliated with any other society, organization, or institution. Publication does not constitute endorsement of either editorial content or sponsoring web site.
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