Wednesday, July 20, 2011

NASA & Interstate Highways: Can you believe they actually happened?

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With the last shuttle from Cape Canaveral ending its final mission, the US space program is, for the time at least, over. Folks who have been NASA employees for 20 or more years are losing their jobs. We will depend upon Russian rockets to service the space station. This has disappointed many Americans, who see it as an ignominious event. It is. Not because “the Russians have won” (they haven’t, and it isn’t the cold war any more anyway), but because the energy and promise of the space program, the landing of a human on the moon, the energy and excitement of discovery and challenge, the fact that this country was willing to invest a lot of money in something that was about discovery and challenge (and, ok, maybe a little bit of war; think Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative or “Star Wars”, fortunately junked) is something that seems like a historical event that won’t come again.  Can anyone imagine the government funding such a long-term, ambitious and expensive program?

It is not the only one. Recently, we took a vacation, driving to Colorado along Interstate 70. Some of us are old enough to remember when there was not an Interstate Highway system. Begun under President Eisenhower in the 1950s, and expanding in the 1960s, the Eisenhower Interstate Highway system is an incredible network spanning and crisscrossing the country. How could we ever do without it? How would trucks carry our goods? How would we get anywhere? Before it, there were some toll-funded limited access highways (many of which were integrated into the Interstate system) but most trips took us through small towns with stoplights. Maybe it was good for the small towns – we stopped for lunch at locally owned diners, and if we ignored the 25 mph signs might contribute to the town coffers. But it took a whole lot longer to get anywhere. According to the Wikipedia entry:

“The Interstate Highway System was authorized by the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 – popularly known as the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956 – on June 29.
The opening of I-70 through Glenwood Canyon in 1992 is often cited as the completion of the originally planned system. The initial cost estimate for the system was $25 billion over 12 years; it ended up costing $114 billion (adjusted for inflation, $425 billion in 2006 dollars) and took 35 years.

Good thing we did it then. Can’t imagine doing it now. I bet you can think of a lot of other examples like these two. No longer a bold and innovative leader, the US has just become a giant form of third-world kleptocracy, whose government exists to protect a tiny portion of the population as they take everything for themselves.

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