Let’s look beyond the repellant spectacle of politics in Washington, reflect on a president who rallied America to greatness and consider how we can bring his legacy alive in our generation.
We should put the space program back at the center of American life. Let’s begin a national discussion to decide the next great mission for NASA. Then, let’s mobilize the nation again, inspire the young again and make great things happen again.
A recent Gallup poll found President John F. Kennedy to be the most admired recent former president, with 74 percent of the nation calling him an outstanding or above average leader. Kennedy stands for the America we can be and want to be.
It is fair to debate who killed Kennedy; I have my own ideas. But today I would rather propose a national discussion not about how JFK died but about how he lived, and how Americans can bring alive today the can-do spirit and aspirations for achievement that he represents.
Kennedy is widely revered not only because of how we feel about him, but also because of how he made us feel about ourselves. In Kennedy’s America, we always reach higher, strive harder, think bigger and act on our dreams.
To a certain degree, Camelot was real, and astronauts were the Knights of the Round Table. When they went into space, mankind — and womankind — went with them.
Kennedy was a part of the Greatest Generation that boldly fought in World War II. Kennedy as president strived to save the world from nuclear extermination and lift the nation from bigotry. Kennedy embodied Americanism. He combined the great aspiration of words with the existential reality of action. Chuck Yeager, the early test pilots and the Mercury Seven astronauts were brilliantly called The Right Stuff.
The right stuff was real. It was true. It was America. The right stuff might have become books and movies, but it was also flesh and blood. The right stuff was how America envisioned itself and what Americans successfully did.
We should bring the space program back to the center of American life because it creates jobs, advances science, revolutionizes technology, empowers education, defends the nation, inspires elders with remembrances of greatness and inspires the youth with the possibilities of their destiny.
The space program created research that improved infant formula to nourish the young, advanced aging research to extend our lives, invented fuel efficiencies to help the environment and power the economy, discovered technology to make cars and planes safer, turbocharged computer science, enhanced breast biopsy technology, improved firefighter breathing systems and advanced technology for heart defibrillators. It continually contributes to progress outside the space sector, more of which is detailed in the spinoff section of the NASA website.
I propose a national discussion seeking ideas for the next great mission of NASA from astronauts past and present, Nobel laureates, leaders in science and technology, educators, entrepreneurs, media commentators and, above all, young people.
Recently, I was wearing a NASA jacket at a farmer’s market and met a couple whose son and daughter had met an astronaut. The kids were awed by the astronaut. I asked them if they someday wanted to go to the moon, which they could have the chance to do in their lifetimes through NASA or private space entrepreneurs.
Their eyes lit up with excitement and imagination. Their dreams were lifted as high as the capsules that orbited the earth and as far as the rockets that brought the earth to the moon.
The imagination of these kids — and the space program — is the story of America. They would make JFK proud. Let’s celebrate his life and march to his trumpet that summons us again to space.
Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog and reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.