Here I am in the 21st Century, 2002 no less. How I dreamed of this when I was a young boy in the sixties reading "TV21" comic strips, watching Captain Kirk and most especially Mr Spock on "Star Trek," Neil Armstrong making, "One small step"... where did those hotels on the moon disappear to? Arthur Clarke thought that not only would we have space stations and bases on the moon but we'd be capable of launching a manned mission to Jupiter by now. How wrong could you be. How disappointed would that young boy of 35 years ago be? (Now I'm too jaded and cynical to be upset about broken dreams.)
And whose fault was/is it anyhow? The Russians were the first to put a man into space. However they botched their moon rocket big time, running into technical problems with their chosen design for the giant rocket required. The Americans made it to the moon but managed to rob it of any interest and only managed any dramatics thanks to the near-disaster of Apollo 13 (well, it was a disaster but at least no-one died). Plus America squandered huge chunks of its resources in the ultimately futile Vietnam War.
I think with the benefit of hindsight I have to blame NASA and the people in it for failing to follow through with a coherent exploration and exploitation of space. Today Eugene Cernan is pimping around the UK trying to drum up interest in NASA and the kids in consequence are flocking to their games consoles for some actual excitement and entertainment. NASA is firmly tied to the military and the disaster waiting to happen that is the Space Shuttle flies with secret military cargos half the time. The International Space Station is neither international nor any kind of a station. The men on board spend their whole time just trying to stay alive rather than doing any science or actually building something up there. NASA had the money and goodwill of the world in the sixties, yet somehow they managed to pull defeat from the jaws of what is undoubtedly the greatest triumph of science and engineering in human history. How did they do it?
My fear now is that we've missed the boat. We're a "been there, done that, seen that" world now with the idealism drained out of us by the venality, hypocrisy, and cynicism, of the politicians. Soon we may simply not have the spare capacity of people and material required to start exploiting the riches of the solar system. World population is heading for decline, more and more resources are getting sucked into the ultimate political cynicism (that even George Orwell must have hoped was only to be a fiction, sadly his warnings went unheeded) of the forever war, "The War Against Terrorism." Soon it will be too late to achieve an unlimited resource base and the thoughtful amongst us will turn in on themselves to reflect on what might have been.
A lifetime ago I sat at school: a little ten years old boy watching the fuzzy pictures from the lunar surface on the black-and-white TV, brimming with a sense of wonder and the infinite possibilities of my future. Little did I know that I was watching the day the future died.