Knock, knock, political candidates. After you read this, you may want to take a look at your platforms and add a plank that takes us to new frontiers, not to continued mediocrity.
The year was 1962. President Kennedy made a speech committing the United States to send men to the moon and return them home safely by 1970. On my 19th birthday, I left the family home in Queens, NY, moved to Houston, enrolled in the University of Houston and pestered enough people until I got a job at Philco, the prime contractor to the Mission Control Center.
Over the next 14 years, I worked my way from electronics technician to quality control engineer. I was on duty in Mission Control when “Houston We Have a Problem” was first spoken due to the Apollo 13 spacecraft having a mid-course explosion.
The compelling message from JFK and my ensuing experiences at Mission Control formed a unique foundation for the lives of all Americans. The first lesson for me was that anyone, even a kid from the mean streets of Brooklyn could become a member of the NASA team. By being tenacious and making up our minds, we did it!
The next life lessons came from being part of a team where we were all accountable for our actions, both to ourselves and our team mates. Working together collaboratively on a shared mission and vision is the answer to accomplishing any goals, no matter how challenging. Apollo 13 taught us that failure is not an option.
For the world, the scientific and medical breakthroughs from the Project Apollo era accelerated technology and health sciences generations beyond where we would have been without the national challenge to win the space race.
But then, we became indifferent to lofty goals that create nationalism and shared rewards for all. During the 30+ years of the Space Shuttle program, there was little talk of the incredible breakthroughs that were being made almost daily by experiments aboard the International Space Station. For many years, the only time the Shuttle program made the news was when the Challenger space shuttle exploded on January 28, 1986.
While American leadership has taken space exploration off their priority list, more than 70 international space agencies and coalitions have formed that were created from humankind’s passion to explore the unknown and the practical benefits of creating innovative, new technologies. 14 such agencies now have launch capability.
There are 15 private companies working on space exploration within our borders. NASA’s Project Orion is underway with a target of landing people on an asteroid by 2025 and on Mars by 2030. The hardware is being designed and tested today! The propulsion systems will create the next generation of efficient non-fossil power sources to be created. The space-age life support systems will push medical advances that will extend life and potentially end starvation and poverty on our planet.
Might we once again unite in a common mission and purpose we can all support? I am optimistic that today’s younger generation will take on the daunting challenge and fulfill these gigantic dreams. The shift in awareness and vision is evident as Ford Motor Company has just announced the 2016 Apollo Edition Mustang automobile. And, the latest Star Wars movie has again set new box office records with its latest release. Could space exploration actually be making a popular comeback with Millennials?
Tom Taormina has written 12 books on business process excellence and leadership.