Crossposted from ExplorationDayUSA.org
When co-founder Tom Diehl and I visited with McGraw Millhaven on St. Louis’s Big 550, KTRS, he closed out the show by saying that if there is one country that deserves a holiday to celebrate exploration, it is the USA. He followed with this excellent antidote, “Charles Lindbergh knew both Orville and Wilber Wright, and Neil Armstrong…in one generation he met the men who invented flight, and the man who walked on the moon.”
That was a profound thought, to imagine Lindbergh serving as the middle connection between the Wright Brothers and Neil Armstrong. The typical American, myself included, consider the invention of contemporary flight as ancient history; something on par with movable type and Whitney’s Cotton Gin. With the United States, recently, and ironically, landing a “UFO” on Mars, it’s amazing to think of how closely connected modern humanity is with those sepia colored fellas on silent film.
It turns out that it’s all true. Charles Lindbergh did know the Wright brothers personally, and was a friend and frequent pen pal of Neil Armstrong’s. As a matter of fact, many believe that it was likely because of the consequences of Lindbergh’s fame, and on Lindbergh’s advice (the subsequent kidnapping and murder of the ‘Lindbergh baby’) that Neil Armstrong shied away from the spotlight and the endless celebrity that would have accompanied his magnificent first steps on Earth’s moon.
But it doesn’t end there, a couple of years before Armstrong died, he wrote the following in a letter to President Obama:
America’s only path to low Earth orbit and the International Space Station will now be subject to an agreement with Russia to purchase space on their Soyuz (at a price of over 50 million dollars per seat with significant increases expected in the near future) until we have the capacity to provide transportation for ourselves. The availability of a commercial transport to orbit as envisioned in the President’s proposal cannot be predicted with any certainty, but is likely to take substantially longer and be more expensive than we would hope….It appears that we will have wasted our current $10-plus billion investment in Constellation and, equally importantly, we will have lost the many years required to recreate the equivalent of what we will have discarded….Without the skill and experience that actual spacecraft operation provides, the USA is far too likely to be on a long downhill slide to mediocrity. America must decide if it wishes to remain a leader in space. If it does, we should institute a program which will give us the very best chance of achieving that goal.
That letter was written in 2010. On October 10, 2012, at 3:56am Pacific Time, the commercial SpaceX’s Dragon Capsule docked with the International Space Station.
The commander of the ISS Sunita Williams said the following, “Looks like we’ve tamed the Dragon,” Williams said. “We’re happy she’s on board with us.”
When Armstrong passed away, Elon Musk, CEO and CTO of the commercial space flight company SpaceX tweeted, “Neil Armstrong was a hero to all of humanity. His spirit will carry us to the stars.”
From the Wright Brothers, to Charles Lindbergh, to Neil Armstrong, to Elon Musk, the exploratory spirit of humanity continues to expand our horizons, driving us ever closer to infinite journey of what is yet to be discovered.
Armstrong ultimately may be wrong about his concerns about commercial space flight, but he was certainly right about one thing in his letter to President Obama, “Students were inspired to prepare themselves to be a part of this new age. No government program in modern history has been so effective in motivating the young to do “what has never been done before.”
With a federal holiday dedicated to the spirit of exploration, Exploration Day, we wish to do the same, to motivate the young to do “what has never been done before.”