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Giving up on ‘the right stuff’?

February 21, 2012
The Journal

Fifty years ago on Monday, John Glenn soared into space on a trip that would take him around the Earth three times. He was the third American to go into space, and the first to orbit the earth. His mission was one of the U.S. space program's great early successes.

And it inspired Americans by the tens of millions. The final frontier would be conquered - and we would do it.

Things have changed. Major cutbacks have been made at NASA. Manned space exploration is virtually off the table. We have ceded the skies to others.

That could cost us more than we as a nation can afford in many ways.

Glenn, now 90, was among those who had "the right stuff" half a century ago. "The right stuff" is an hard to define quality, but it includes a "can do" attitude, a willingness to take risks, to match one's skill, training and technology against seemingly insurmountable task. Glenn and the other Gemini astronauts had it, and so did the engineer, technicians and craftsmen who designed and built their spacecraft.

NASA's space program sparked a boom in technical achievement and advancement never before seen in the world. The need to make things better, smaller, stronger and more efficient, the need for computers that could do more in less space, all led to miracle machines and equipment we take for granted today. It made America a leader in science, manufacturing and technology.

Now, it seems, we are admitting that "the right stuff" is no longer right for our country. Other countries have taken the lead in developing and building the world's best and newest technology. We'll let others figure out how to proceed in space.

As we mark John Glenn's achievement, we may be forced to admit we may never see his like again.



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