Once upon a time, a man had a dream. He blew things up, injured himself frequently, but slowly and painfully (pun intended) worked out the principles of rocketry. That man was Robert H. Goddard and he was totally ignored in the USA. Space flight was for the sad losers who bought Astounding every month, not for real life. The only people who paid attention to his impractical ideas were a few dreamers. Harmless, most of them, let them play while the adults get on with the real world tasks.
One of those dreamers was not exactly harmless. A weapon, aimable and incredibly long distance, that did not need a pilot? Sounds like the perfect thing to use when your intention is taking over the world. So young Adolph rounded up his own band of dreamers and let them play with Goddard's designs at Peenemunde. Few knew about it and even fewer cared until the first V2 landed in the middle of London with a bit of a bang. The bang made even the notoriously slow witted Pentagon sit up and take notice. So began the modern arms race, out of the notebooks and experiments of an excentric guy with a dream of going into space.
Rockets soon became the international equivalent of two guys slapping their dicks on the bar and seeing who's reaches further. Who needs "I can see Russia from my house" when "I can destroy Moscow from my house" is far more fun a game to play. Russia decided to up it a notch. After all, if you stick something a couple of hundred miles up, it will stay there for years, and that was well within the range of even the crude V2 copies they had at the time. On October 4th, 1957, they did just that. A 2 foot diameter sphere, designed to broadcast radio pulses. Possibly the most expensive and elaborate FU the world had seen to date. The USA reeled. How could the commies do this? Didn't they know who was top dog? Frantic scrambling ensued, while the USSR took first after first after first. Much money was thrown. And the relatively small middle finger Sputnik raised was dwarfed by the majesty of the middle finger that was the Saturn V.
That video, for those who can't watch it, is three men sitting on a million pounds of highly explosive fuel and oxidant and heading for another planet. If you can watch it without the room getting suddenly dusty, I suggest you go to church now, because your soul is missing. The first thing you notice is the noise. Then something the size of a skyscraper tells gravity to sod off and it leaves the planet. All because one complete hard ass (sadly a Democrat) made a promise. "By the end of this decade we will land a man on the moon." He kept it. His successors kept it. They built on it.
The space shuttle was created and did sterling work. It had a slow turn around time, but most of it was re-usable, a significant improvement. Two tragedies slowed but did not stop the advance. Every pilot knows that when you hit the throttle, today might be the last day you ever see. They accept that. It's part of the costs of doing business. Unfortunately, sometime between Challenger and Columbia, someone gave the people of the USA a double orchidectomy. While it is fun to blame Obama, he just put the lid on an already empty can.
What the hell happened? A people who make the new frontier into a fetish, never mind a goal, suddenly saying "Nah, can't be bothered." Can someone explain that to me?