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Can We Relive the Excitement of the Space Race?

I took my nieces to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL for a quick Spring Break trip earlier this week. I haven’t passed on my love for the glory days of NASA like I have other things, but when my youngest niece Hadley revealed a few weeks ago that she wants to be an astronaut when she grows up, I knew I had an opportunity.

Let me back up and share my space story. I missed the days of the space race by just a hair – I was born a month before the final Apollo mission. But my grandfather instilled a love of that era in me growing up. He was friends with Apollo 15 astronaut Jim Irwin through his ministry to churches after his NASA days ended. Irwin had dinner with my grandparents in what is now my parents’ kitchen, and I met him, although I was too young to remember it. He gave me an autographed photo of himself on the moon, which I have on display in the hallway of my home. I don’t remember the encounter with Irwin, but it was enough to capture my fascination.

There was nothing like that time, even though it was before my time. Sure, we had the Space Shuttle when I was growing up, but staying in Earth orbit isn’t anywhere near as thrilling as sending Americans to another celestial body. The International Space Station doesn’t really do anything to instill patriotism, and sending astronauts to it on Russian rockets sure as hell doesn’t do anything for American pride. I’ve always wondered if we would ever send anyone back to the moon.

For all our talk about going to the moon again – and on to Mars – over the years, we haven’t done much about it, even with public and private partnerships. But last week, Vice President Mike Pence announced that the United States would make it a goal to send men and women back to the moon in five years, with the objective of Mars happening not long after that. Needless to say, the thought excites me.

Can we do it? Can we capture the imaginations of generations of Americans with the same excitement that the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs did? I think so, if we commit to it.

The Trump administration seems to be devoted to returning to space, but if we wind up electing officials who don’t make it a priority, we could lose the goal. (When one of my nieces asked me why we’ve never been back to the moon, I told them that it came down to politicians believing it wasn’t worth the money.) Lord knows the current crop of Democrats would rather spend money on things like light rail and paying people not to work, so I hope they don’t gut NASA’s budget if they get back in power.

I hope and pray that we don’t let the dream of going back into space slip away. May our goals of exploring other worlds inspire plenty of other kids and adults like it has me for so many years.

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