Monday, May 21, 2012

Bring My ENTERPRISE To Life!

The First Mission

On July 4th, 2033 the world’s first starship orbits high above the East Coast of the United States.  The president stands in front of a crowd of the invited guests and dignitaries from around the globe.  One of the banks of cameras feeds his image in direct communication to the tiny bridge module.

Captain John Forrester tries his best to look like the calm military man he has cultivated in a distinguished career but everyone knows the excitement he has jumping inside of him.  Most of the world is standing idle watching the interchange on televisions, phones and virtual screens everywhere at once.  They are waiting for the historic moment when a living man, a crew of 57 men and women, sail out of the Solar system for the first time.

The speeches end and the applause dies down.  With one final salute to the screen, Captain Forrester sits down, looks to the emblem welded to the wall; with a small wink to the past, he says, “Engage.”

Dreamers find a way

Seems like a fantasy, doesn’t it?  Something fan boys and geek girls have dreamed about since James T. Kirk passed into syndication five decades ago.  But some people here and now, in the real world are not willing to let that story sit on faded pages anymore.  A vision of independent development is growing on the Internet and the stars are moving closer to mankind than at any time before.

Build the Enterprise is a focal point for that energy.  People around the world long for the far frontier and frankly, governments and space agencies have let us down. After an incredible decade plus of heady achievement the United States and Russia got bored.  Neither side saw any value in continuing their expensive space programs when down to Earth problems seemed more pressing.

However, the populations of many countries did not share in that sentiment.  As one of those children of the Space Age I fully expected to have bases on the Moon by now and possibly on Mars.  I even hoped the process would have become efficient enough so that ordinary people like me could have a chance, no matter how small, of going up there.  Our government let us down.

The Tower of Babel

The book of Genesis in the Bible tells of an effort by mortal man to build a city and a tower whose top is in the heavens.  The Lord came down Himself to see the tower and declared that “ the people are one and the all have one language and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them (Gen, 11:4-6).”

Language is the key.  Language is the spoken expression of culture.  Today English is the uniting language; more precisely, the American language is the common language of commerce, science, art and culture.  It is the primary language for one nation to communicate with another and the most commonly used second language for people of the 200 nations and thousands of cultures.  American English draws the people of the world together.

And why should it not?  America is a country built up of the melding of diverse immigrants from around the world drawn to its shores by the common dream of liberty and self-realization.  America has spawned most of the great innovations of the past century and it has done so through the efforts of Jews, Italians, Germans, Russians, Poles, Africans and Asians as well as too many more to list.  The aggregate effort combined with opportunity and freedom makes anything possible.  The computer you are reading this on is proof of that.

President Kennedy proposed the preposterous goal of landing a man on the Moon during this decade (the 1960s).  The entire world scoffed, but gasped in awe and fear as the American people achieved his goal—on time.  Imagine what we could do now, with today’s technology if given one uniting purpose.

To the Moon and Beyond

Captain Forrester gazed down on the North Polar Region of the Moon. Not even three hours have passed since he left Earth orbit and he has been here 20 minutes already. The Apollo 11 mission took 88 hours to make the same journey.  Forester’s ENTERPRISE had not used more than 10% of thrust for this historic leg.

Below him four passengers disembarked.  The crew shuttle Armstrong and the cargo shuttle Aldren released on schedule.  Their business on the Moon would take another week as they assembled the first long-stay module that would be the core of the first Lunar Base.  They would fly back to Earth on their own when the mission ended.  No one gave voice to the fear that the ENTERPRISE’s mission might fail and the shuttles were designed to self-return for that contingency.

Be that as it may, ENTERPRISE had business with other planetary bodies.  Losing the shuttle cut their mass by 20 percent.  The trip to Venus would be with a faster, more nimble ship.  Gravity pulled and the stars beckoned.

Another twenty minutes passed before the shuttle announced safe touch down on the surface. Free of back stop duties, ENTERPRISE turned her nose sunward aiming for the “second star to the right, straight on past morning.”

Nothing they propose will be withheld from them

The government let us down.  President Obama killed the space shuttle program and slashed budgets for future space manned missions to nothing.  He intended to use the power of his office to keep man tied to the ground.  He did not reckon with the power of the America people.

Innovators like Burt Ruttan have found many ways to get around government reticence.  Wealthy dreamers like Peter Diamandis fund competitions to explore space through the private sector.

Firing most of NASA’s rocket scientists didn’t kill progress either.  Just the opposite; firing them flooded the market with thousands of the brightest minds in the nation now free from government restraint and bureaucracy.  They can pursue long held personal projects in private labs and can profit from any patents generated by their work.  Enlightened self-interest is the impetus behind many great inventions.

Man will get off this one planet because he dreams of doing so.  Trusting corporations to provide the change was as fruitless as leaving it in the hands of bureaucrats.  Many dreamers and innovators from around the globe will contribute to the effort but as usual, the bulk of the effort will come from the American people.

Nothing unusual there; Americans are used to leading the way.  Two generations have passed since the last Apollo mission returned from the Moon.  Meanwhile the rest of the world is engaged in a race to go there and the leaders are nearly a generation away still from being able to mount a successful mission—this despite having access to far more powerful computers and better rocket technology.

That old scientist might have been right after all.  If not for the American people, the trip to the Moon really would have been a century away.  Perhaps Captain Forrester will be able to watch the winner of the Silver Medal race to land on the Moon – from somewhere beyond Pluto.

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