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Why does Bernie Sanders want to quash Elon Musk's dreams?

Why does Bernie Sanders want to quash Elon Musk's dreams?
© Greg Nash

I remember the day Apollo 11 left for the moon. If you are old enough to remember, did you feel proud, thrilled, or awed? Or did you protest against a massive waste of money? There were a few who did protest on that day, claiming that we should be spending the money “back down here,” with the reframe that “if we can put a man on the moon we can...”   

In the years that followed, the voices of those who were against space exploration eventually won out. Five decades later, you can find three complete Saturn V rockets, once destined for the moon, resting on the ground as museum pieces, rusting and gathering dust because we gave up our vision.

For most Americans who can call ourselves the “Children of Apollo,” the future was, for a few brief years, one of limitless potential — and that dream resonated with tens of millions of school-age students. That alone was worth the money, beyond all the technological advances that transformed our lives thanks to the space program. It was a dream that we would be a space-faring nation. Why, after 50 years, does “Star Trek” still connect with us, not just for our aging generation but for those who came after? It is because we believe that space is indeed a final, limitless frontier. 

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But short-sighted leaders and bureaucracies have left us stuck in the mud. Richard Nixon, who was no fan of the space program, began gutting NASA even before the Apollo crew triumphantly returned to Earth. Leaders such as the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), Bill and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonCongress won't end the wars, so states must Democrats say it's up to GOP to stop Trump 2024 Hillary Clinton to speak at Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders summit MORE, Barack ObamaBarack Hussein Obama Kid reporter who interviewed Obama dies at 23 Obama shares video of him visiting Maryland vaccination site GOP votes to replace Cheney with Stefanik after backing from Trump MORE and Joe BidenJoe Biden28 Senate Democrats sign statement urging Israel-Hamas ceasefire Franklin Graham says Trump comeback would 'be a very tough thing to do' Schools face new pressures to reopen for in-person learning MORE have taken our money for their causes, saying we had to solve “other problems down here” first, before wasting money on space travel (although, by the way, the money that we did spend went toward cutting-edge technologies “down here”). 

We did have the Constellation program, started by George W. Bush in 2004 — billions of dollars went into that program before Obama killed it in 2010. I was in NASA’s Langley Research Center the day that its end was announced and saw aging veterans of Apollo in tears. Many of them had worked for NASA for years and found themselves again staring at the ground. Hundreds of leading researchers and technicians would quit NASA in disgust, taking early retirement.

And then, one day, a dreamer named Elon MuskElon Reeve MuskMusk's SpaceX has a competitive advantage over Bezos' Blue Origin Elon Musk: Bitcoin energy use 'insane' Elon Musk says Teslas can no longer be purchased with Bitcoin MORE entered the stage. At first many thought he was more than a little crazy. If the government, an ever more bloated bureaucracy, had lost its ability to dream, Musk had not. 

Musk wants to make us an “interplanetary species,” a fancy way of saying that “we are going to Mars … to stay.” For the Children of Apollo, he brought the dream alive again. With venture capital, Musk has made the impossible seem routine

To “boldly go where no one has gone before” is not just a phrase popularized by the “Star Trek” TV series; it’s an ideal that can cause school-age children to look heavenward and dream big. In the 1960s, many American kids, when asked what they wanted to do with their lives, said they wanted to become an astronaut, an explorer who reaches for the stars. Today their No. 1 dream is probably to be a rock star, rapper or professional ball player. Which dream would you prefer for your children and grandchildren?  

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Now Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersMusk's SpaceX has a competitive advantage over Bezos' Blue Origin New York, New Jersey, California face long odds in scrapping SALT  Warren calls for US to support ceasefire between Israel and Hamas MORE (I-Vt.) has come knocking at the door with his hand extended (and the other hand already in taxpayers’ pockets), saying his earthbound priorities must take precedence over space travel and Elon Musk most pay even more of “his fair share” in taxes — to the tune of tens of billions of dollars. If Sanders has his way, where would all that tax money go? I think that answer is obvious: to a dead end of wasteful government spending. That will kill the dreams of millions of young people who strive for something beyond mundane earthbound dystopias.  

Musk has elucidated amazing dreams beyond just space flight. He already makes next-generation electric cars, home solar systems, and batteries with which to power our homes. He might be seen one day as the Henry Ford, Thomas Edison or Nikola Tesla of his generation. So, if Elon Musk wishes to venture his private capital into visionary projects, let him.

William R. Forstchen, Ph.D., is a faculty fellow and professor of history at Montreat College, and an amateur archeologist. His work on the use of electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapons led him to lecture on the subject for numerous groups including the FBI, Army War College and NASA. He is also the author of more than 50 books, ranging from fantasy to traditional historical works, including “One Second After” and “48 Hours.” Follow him on Twitter @forstchen.