Joe Bloch made a relatively innocuous post about NASA over on his blog here, that judging from the first few comments might turn into somewhat of a firestorm. In essence, a post about the fact that 42 years ago the USA was pioneering space travel, and that now we have ceded the field.
Although I think this is the first time I've done this, I'm going to post a bit of politics.
The United States stepped up into the role of a global superpower, not so much as a reaction to the imperial aspirations of Germany and Japan, but in response to the rising tide of a communist ideological alliance. And during the period of the cold war, we were doing the right thing. However, it pushed us into the mindset of empire, and the USA is not constituted as an imperial society. The things you have to do as an empire are often fairly horrible -- take a look at Roman responses to rebellion, take a look at British reprisals for Cawnpore, etc. It also got us hooked on the idea that stepping back from world-spanning power represents a decline in the nation.
That's dead wrong. Maintaining an empire is so expensive that it can only be maintained through a tributary economy. You have to maintain a massive standing army, an infrastructure for striking into places you wouldn't care in the slightest bit about if you were just focused on defense -- even a fairly proactive defense.
This is what the USA is facing right now; we are overextended and based on a skewed vision of what American power is, we are unable to back away from Imperial aspirations, activities, expenditures, and entanglements. We can't swallow the idea of backing down to the position of a very large, very strong nation that doesn't have ultimate global power. But I say that's not how the quality of the USA ought to be measured. In fact, we were wisely cautioned by some of the founding fathers to avoid too many foreign entanglements.
It is not a surrender to do what the British did, and downsize our aspirations. We should focus on defense, leaving our striking power to more of an "expeditionary force" model, coordinating that with Canada, the UK, and Australia, together with other key allies. Britain, no longer the Empire, can still hit like the Hammer of Thor when needed ... we could size down to that, or proportionately larger, and improve our domestic quality of living significantly by cutting away the vast size of what we've got on deck now. It would free up money to actually look after our veterans rather than having VA hospitals be the worst of the worst. We could get back into space exploration. Back into pure sciences.
The USA is measured by our country, not our empire. We aren't great leaders in many ways, and we certainly can't stomach what it really takes to be an empire. I'm not saying we should -- I'm proud of us for that.
But the exigencies of 1945-1989 have receded. Like Cincinnatus, it's time for us to return to the farm and tend our own land. We are corrupting and overextending ourselves by trying to hold onto a throne that desiccates and poisons us. It's not surrender to do so, it's a return to normalcy and a return to the policy of looking after Americans.
And being able to get back into space instead of seeing NASA as nothing more than the designer of our spy satellites.