Wednesday, November 26, 2014

International Space Exploration

NASA astronaut Steven Swanson (left) trains with cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov (center) and Oleg Artemyev (right) before their March 2014 launch to the space station. AFP/Getty Images

       The recent comet landing of the Rosetta spacecraft as the result of international cooperation among scientists reminded me of the Space Race between The United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. As a child of that era, my classmates and I practiced hiding under our desks in case of an air raid from the enemy, so I was well aware that the Soviets were to be feared. 

       As a pre-teen I enjoyed reading science fiction books, Robert Heinlein being my favorite author, and fantasized about going to space someday. I was proud of my uncle who worked with NASA and was friends with the astronauts in the space program. I was also deeply disturbed by the nuclear arms race and the Vietnam War. Yes, I was one of those "sixties peaceniks." And so, at the age of 14, in 1968, I wrote this letter to the editor of The Suffolk County News:

Dear Editors:

        I am all in favor of the idea that the space race with the Russians be stopped, and agree with those who argue the importance of reaching the moon first. But rather than cancelling our space program, I believe we should improve it by making a pact with the Soviet Union, allowing the scientists of that nation and the United States to work together on a single race to the moon. In this way we would not only promote the space program, but help matters on this planet which many think should be taken care of before furthering the exploration of beyond. 

          Such a program could be just the beginning of a united search for knowledge conducted by the citizens of the earth. All thoughts of greed and destruction would be put aside for a time, the thoughts which divide the peoples of this world into separate warring nations. And perhaps, when enough was known, we would see that such rivalry is senseless, and that there are some things more important to strive for than power - and death. Perhaps this is but a wild dream on my part, but at this point I think anything is worth a try.

                                                                                       Very cordially yours,
                                                                                        Emily Lissandrello, 14

       As the history books tell us, the United States did win the race to the moon in 1969, and in 1972, four years after the publication of my letter, an agreement was made on a co-operative Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, that resulted in the July 1975 rendezvous in Earth orbit of a US astronaut crew with a Soviet cosmonaut crew. In 1998 the first component of the U.S./Russia International Space Station was launched. Now, in retaliation for sanctions levied by the US because of Russia's invasion of Crimea, Russia is threatening to kick NASA  out of the space station by 2020.
       I can only say it makes me very sad to know that 47 years after I wrote that letter, the bridge that scientists have been building between nations is still not strong enough to hold together. But wait - it hasn't crumbled yet. We can still hope and pray - and dream wildly that the nations of the world will realize that there are things more important than power - and methods more effective than war. 

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