Monday, July 20, 2009

A scary parallel

Forty years ago today, men first set foot on the moon:

Forty years ago this afternoon, two Americans landed on the moon, a moment that will stand for millennia as one of humanity's most remarkable achievements.

At 4:17 p.m. EDT on July 20, 1969, the Eagle lunar lander carrying Commander Neil Armstrong and Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin touched down in the Sea of Tranquility.

"The Eagle has landed," said Armstrong as hundreds of NASA workers and journalists back at Mission Control in Houston cheered.

"You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue here," exhaled Charles Duke, the capsule communicator, or "CAPCOM," who acted as the liaison between the astronauts and the rest of Mission Control. "We're breathing again. Thanks a lot!"

Today, astronauts repaired a broken piece of technology aboard the International Space Station:

The 13 people aboard the crowded International Space Station can breathe a bit easier now that some astronaut plumbers have fixed a broken zero gravity toilet.

The toilet is one of two orbital commodes on the space station for the outpost's permanent six-person crew and seven visiting astronauts from the docked shuttle Endeavour.

It flooded on Sunday, forcing Mission Control to ask the shuttle and station crew to hang an "out of service" sign on the door until further notice.

Space station crewmembers repaired the Russian-built space commode by replacing a separator pump and control panel.

The fix took them much of Monday morning to perform, but in the end Mission Control declared the revived space bathroom — known as the Waste Hygiene Compartment, or WHC — fit for astronaut use.

"Copy, the WHC is go for nominal ops," Canadian astronaut Robert Thirsk replied.

Is it any wonder that the Apollo astronauts aren't all that thrilled with today's NASA?

Granted, the astronauts are pointing to the lack of public support for space exploration and the disappointingly small budget that NASA gets as reasons why things aren't better. But there's a kind of "chicken and egg" moment going on--does NASA do less because the funding isn't there, or is the funding not there because NASA, a government agency apparently incapable of storing video tapes without incident, isn't trusted to spend the American people's money much of the time?

The real question is how the NASA model is going to translate into government-run health care. Sure, at first there'll still be some competition from private industry, and even some push for R&D (especially if we can chop up helpless human embryos in the process--yay! not.). But once the government's insurance is the only game in town, how much exploration, innovation, and discovery will we be seeing in our nation's health care? How many research companies will want to do their work in a nation that is going to cap their profits regardless of the risks of time and money they spend developing new cures or treatments?

Maybe in forty years, we'll be cheering every time funding goes through to fix a hospital toilet. Or maybe not.

1 comment:

Kerri said...


Don't our US bishops support government-run healthcare because of their belief that healthcare is a basic human right (and in order to be "pro-life," Catholics must believe this, too)?

If this is so, where does it lie on the spectrum of teachings (how bound are we by it)?