Michael Crichton once wrote that if you had told a physicist in 1899 that within a hundred years humankind would, among other wonders (nukes, commercial airlines), "travel to the moon, and then lose interest ... the physicist would almost certainly pronounce you mad." In 2000, I quoted these lines expressing Crichton's incredulity at America's abandonment of the moon. It is now 2009 and the moon recedes ever further.
No one's asking for a crash Manhattan Project. All we need is sufficient funding from the hundreds of billions being showered from Washington -- "stimulus" monies that, unlike Eisenhower's interstate highway system or Kennedy's Apollo program, will leave behind not a trace on our country or our consciousness -- to build Constellation and get us back to Earth orbit and the moon a half-century after the original landing.
But look up from your BlackBerry one night. That is the moon. On it are exactly 12 sets of human footprints -- untouched, unchanged, abandoned. For the first time in history, the moon is not just a mystery and a muse, but a nightly rebuke. A vigorous young president once summoned us to this new frontier, calling the voyage "the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked." We came, we saw, we retreated.
How could we?
Yes, I think that would be a good use for some of that "stimulus" money.