American lack of interest in the space program has puzzled me for a long time, but I believe I've finally figured it out. As a nation weaned on Battlestar Galactica and tempered by Star Wars, we have come to expect three things from out space program: vicious weapons, cooler spaceships, and funky aliens. We are not interested in the subtleties of endocrinactic response to zero gravity conditions. We want blasters, Star Destroyers, and zany, dog-like life forms from the planet Melmac.
Reagan was onto a good thing with SDI. Who cares if it was outrageously expensive, highly experimental, and quite possibly totally ineffective? The man wanted to deploy huge orbiting laser cannons capable of shooting down Soviet nuclear missiles. The man had imagination. It was as if he had culled all the best and brightest ideas from math notebooks of all males between the ages of 8 and 12. Tack on the media buzz term "Star Wars," and you have a program which no red-blooded American could possibly refuse. Anyone who did would be branded a commie-lib pinko and chased back to Russia. But the Gipper left office, the Soviet Union dissolved, and the direction of America's space projects shifted from space-based lethal death rays to artificially inseminating frogs in zero-gravity.
As far as spacecraft go, the shuttle program has gone a little grey; it doesn't even approach the excitement of the Apollo missions. We don't go on road trips anymore, we simply commute. The shuttle has become the equivalent of loading up Mom's minivan and camping out ninety miles straight up. Rad spaceships. That's what Americans have come to expect from the movies. None of these baked potato looking things with solar panels sticking out at weird angles. Ships man, give us ships... ones with parts that spin around and bedecked with all manner of horrible weaponry. What's with these probes? Christ, these things still run on batteries. I propose that in the future all spacecraft are to be designed by Industrial Light and Magic.
Not that the lack of stimulation is entirely NASA's fault. The media seems to try and make it uninteresting. Has anyone ever watched Channel 2 during a shuttle mission? There, Americans are invited to be bored to suicide by any one of three choices. The first is a still shot of mission control, where you can watch a bunch of computer wonks sit around outdated equipment and drink coffee. The second is a presentation of terrible graphics, hearkening back to War Games, illustrating the orbital trajectory of the shuttle represented as being roughly the size of Kansas. The third choice is a live shot from on board the shuttle, which would be pretty damn interesting if the producers would point the camera at something besides the inky blackness of infinity.
And what's the deal with Hubble, anyway? The only things it has produced is a coffee table book full of glossy images and a few Discovery channel documentaries on how NASA managed to fix it. What are they doing up there? I've got two words for you: Serious Voyeurism. Astronomers are people too, only they don't have sex as much. I bet you they've swung that bitch around and pointed her straight back at Mother Earth. Hell, I would. With that little gizmo I could stalk all my ex-girlfriends simultaneously and at the same time determine the chemical composition of Little Suzi's underpants.
I miss the heyday of the Space Race. True, we don't have those damn commies to effectively compete against anymore, but we should continue just for discoveries sake. Apollo provided us with childhood heroes such as Buzz Aldrin and Tom Hanks, as well as tasty snacks like freeze-dried ice cream. The space program, technical as it is, fundamentally appeals to the child in all of us. Sort of like dinosaurs. And like any child, I selfishly demand instant gratification. So now I say to Washington: Bring us phasers. Bring us Death Stars. Bring us Alf.