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Curiosity success helps fire interest

August 8, 2012
Weirton Daily Times

NASA stuck the landing. It was a 10. Space geeks around the country cheered and hugged.

Curiosity, the latest NASA vehicle to explore Mars, hit its mark Monday morning after an eight-month, 352-million-mile journey.

It also whet an appetite for space exploration that has been going since John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962.

Man has always looked to the stars and wondered.

Space exploration has unified Americans from the days we gathered around black-and-white televisions in living rooms to watch early tests on unmanned rockets. We were mesmerized when Neil Armstrong took man's first steps on the man and cheered when the damaged Apollo 13 successfully brought to Earth. We cried when the voyages of the space shuttles Columbia and Challenger ended in tragedy.

The space program mirrored what was going on in the country. Americans saw real dividends as technology developed for the space program quickly made it into our everyday lives. We as a country were a world leader in science and innovation, which some say is lacking today.

President John F. Kennedy became the nation's cheerleader for pushing space exploration when he made this famous statement:

"We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win ... "

But space exploration is extremely expensive.

And, last year, NASA was forced to end the space shuttle program after 30 years.

President Barack Obama's 2013 budget request calls for a 21 percent cut from NASA's planetary-science budget and 38 percent from its Mars projects.

The Olympics can unite the country but there is nothing like the chest pumping that occurred at NASA on Sunday after Curiosity successfully landed on the Red Planet. The 1-ton, six-wheeled vehicle made a grand entrance on Mars, ending what NASA called a seven-minute-plus ride of terror. It hovered over the surface of Mars and was gently lowered by cable to the ground.

The country again felt proud of its space exploration program. Brain over Olympic brawn led the headlines this week. The cost of that pride - priceless.

NASA must be given funding to continue to make us believe we are No. 1 in technology, innovation and space exploration.

So while the U.S. Olympic athletes compete to keep us near the top of the medal count, keep in the mind the count for manned space exploration - U.S., 170; Russia; 118; China, 4.

 
 

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