August 27, 2012

In Memoriam: Astronaut Neil Armstrong

By the yardstick of history, Neil Armstrong was among the most accomplished men ever to walk on the planet that he looked upon from afar one magical week in July 1969.”

The Associated Press’s epitaph for one of America’s most memorable pioneers appropriately captures Neil Armstrong’s place in history.

For several generations of Americans, the pioneering spirit and adventurism that helped carry Neil Armstrong to the moon also characterize a period of American history when our collective imagination seemed boundless. With outstretched fingers Americans reached for the stars and in less than a decade went from just terrestrial beings to lunar explorers. It is a period of American history that, sadly, seems almost unimaginable today as we increasingly look away from space.

In remembering Armstrong, we have an opportunity to reflect not only on one of America’s greatest accomplishments, but also to re-imagine America’s role in space and to search the stars for new opportunities for advancement.

The United States has enduring interests in space, from maintaining remote sensing satellites that help scientists understand and track environmental change, to networks of communications satellites that serve as the connective tissue of an increasingly globalized world. And though federal space programs continue to be squeezed in this fiscally constrained environment – and by all accounts we are increasingly pressed to confront challenges here at home, on Earth – we should spend some time thinking about America’s role in space, and how the United States can wield this cosmic domain to further its interests.

To help spur some reflection on U.S. interests in space, I’m reaching back to a piece my colleague Christine Parthemore and I wrote last year exploring the decline of Earth monitoring satellites and its consequences for U.S. national security: Blinded: The Decline of U.S. Earth Monitoring Capabilities and Its Consequences for National Security.

You can expect more from me in the weeks ahead on how U.S. policymakers should be thinking about using space to confront a range of unconventional challenges.

Photo: Neil Armstrong’s walk on the lunar surface. Courtesy of NASA. 

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