The movie Toy Story had a great scene where Woody, the cowboy doll, was usurped by Buzz Lightyear, the astronaut toy. In reality, that happened. For generations, the heroes of typically boys were cowboys: The Lone Ranger, Hopalong Cassidy, even John Wayne.
Then the Russians launched Sputnik and the race was into space. Astronauts and rockets were all the rage.
Ultimately, we went to the moon... and then stopped. The United States hasn’t been back to the moon since 1972.
China landed an unmanned rover on the moon in 2016.
We created the Space Shuttle and were part of the coalition that created the International Space Station, but not long ago, we retired our last Space Shuttle and now rely on Russian missiles to transport people and supplies to the Space Shuttle.
Private companies like SpaceX, United Launch Alliance, Blue Origin, Ortibal ATK, Sierra Nevada Corporation and even Boeing and Lockheed Martin, are now launching satellites and preparing missions beyond Earth.
By all accounts, these companies are doing an admirable job of launching objects into space and making space flight a commercial reality that could include military, commercial and civilian travel.
Nothing about spaceflight is routine, but the ability to reliably send objects into space and bring them back for re-use is showing that space flight is possible.
NASA has indicated their focus is on larger, longer-term projects such as missions to Mars.
Traveling to the moon by spacecraft takes about 3 days. Traveling to Mars takes about a half year, with some wide variability based on the positions of the planets. Clearly there are some big challenges in making a trip to Mars, especially if there are people onboard, since a round trip would take at least a year. That’s a lot of food, oxygen and other essentials to be considered.
Along with the inherent challenges of space travel, what always impressed me was the myriad of problems that need to be solved as a result of the challenge. In many cases, the solutions discovered can be applied to military, commercial and consumer products. We never really know where these solutions will be applied, but space travel is an excellent catalyst for creativity and innovation.
I used to think I would be able to fly to the moon in my lifetime. While I hope that is the case, I believe I will have self-driving cars in my lifetime, but I hope my children will have the opportunity to travel into space.
Mark Mathias is a 35-plus year information technology executive and a resident of Westport, Connecticut. His columns can be read on the Internet at http://blog.mathias.org. He can be contacted at email@example.com.