Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Where Is Our Apollo 8 Moment?

As I write this on election day in 2018, our country is fractured. People disagree over everything, even minutiae, and, some would say, especially minutiae. Politics has descended into a mixed marital arts fight, with each side trying to destroy the other. Truth and decency do not matter. Forgiveness and redemption seem to be lost concepts. We do not dream big anymore or live big dreams. Shame on both sides. 

Our country has been through similar times before. My mind has recently drifted back many times to 1968. I turned 11 in 1968, so it may seem odd that I actually remember those times. Then again, a friend from years back commented that I was born 35. A funny comment, but I do remember.

1968 was, by and large, an awful year. The country was tearing itself apart over the Vietnam war. Young men were being drafted and sent off to fight and some to die. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Then Robert Kennedy. There were riots in the streets at the 1968 Democrat convention in Chicago. National pride and unity seemed to be lost causes.

In the background, the Cold War was still raging. Like many of my generation, I can remember the "duck and cover" drills--as if hiding under your school desk would help. 

The hottest part of the Cold War, however, was the space race, and it was at full tilt. The U.S. had started far behind. The Soviets had launched Sputnik, the first satellite in October 1957. They followed that up with multiple firsts, including the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, in April 1961, the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, in 1963, and the first space walk, by Alexei Leonov in 1965. 

The Soviet success in space was a huge blow to national pride and also created doubts about national security. In May 1962, President Kennedy issued this call and challenge to Congress: "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish."

Despite being behind, the U.S. made steady progress. Alan Shepard made a suborbital flight in a Mercury space capsule in 1961. John Glenn made an orbital flight in January 1962. From 1964-1966, Project Gemini flew two-man crews on a series of missions designed to create a bridge to the Moon. Project Gemini proved that spacecraft could rendezvous and dock, which would be essential for landing on the Moon in Project Apollo.

Project Apollo was massive, involving hundreds of thousands working for NASA and civilian contractors. The Apollo spacecraft was designed for three men in the primary command module, with a separate spindly lunar module (LM) to ferry two of the men to the surface of the Moon and back. Apollo was to be proven out in a series of incremental flights, progressing from low Earth orbit to high Earth orbit, then a trip around the Moon, and finally a lunar landing.

The entire space program was dealt a severe blow in February 1967, when Apollo 1 caught fire on the pad during testing, killing astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee. The fire resulted in extensive, and necessary, modifications to the command module, as well as delay.

Apollo did not fly a manned crew until Apollo 7 in October 1968, a low Earth orbit mission by Wally Schirra, Donn Eisele and Walter Cunningham. Apollo 7 flew into orbit on a Saturn IB rocket, not the much larger Saturn V that would be needed to take men to the Moon.

Apollo 8 was to be another orbital mission. But the LM had fallen behind schedule and was not ready for testing. There were also rumors that the Soviets planned to fly a mission around the Moon before the end of 1968. In August 1968, NASA administrator George Low conceived the rather audacious idea of changing Apollo 8's mission to fly to the Moon in December 1968. Somewhat surprisingly, given the prior incremental plan, the NASA brass approved the change.

I'm not sure that the public understood--either at the time or in subsequent years--just how radical the Apollo 8 mission change was. First, it would be the initial manned flight using the Saturn V booster. The most recent unmanned test of that booster had significant problems. Second, the mission involved minute and precise planning that had never been done before. Third, it was only the second flight of the Apollo command module. Fourth, the trip would be made without the LM, which could have served as a "life boat," as it subsequently did on Apollo 13. Fifth, the mission would be flown with only four months training, a relatively short period, and one that was made shorter by the fact that the mission plan was being created on the fly.

Despite the many challenges and unknowns, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders agreed to go. Because of the "launch window" needed for the mission, they would, if all went according to plan, launch on December 21, and be orbiting the Moon on Christmas Eve and Christmas. That is exactly what happened.

The launch was perfect, and the power of the Saturn V astonishing. Other than a bout of space sickness by Borman, the flight was also perfect. True to the plan, Apollo 8 was orbiting the Moon on Christmas Eve, with a broadcast from the Moon planned.

Along with others in our Nation and around the globe, my family and I gathered on Christmas Eve, watching every minute of the mission we could. This was truly astonishing. In less than eight years, we had gone from a single man making a 15 minute suborbital flight to visiting another heavenly body--a place where no person had gone before. It could have been science fiction, but it was better. It was real. As part of the broadcast, the crew sent "all the people back on Earth" a message, reading from the creation story in the Book of Genesis. A recording of this remarkable broadcast is readily available. The crew returned safely to Earth.

The effect of the Apollo 8 mission was extraordinary. For at least one shining moment, the country, at least for the most part, put aside its differences and stood in awe of this remarkable achievement. "Earthrise," a photo taken by Bill Anders became one of the most memorable of all time. The sight of our shining blue planet above the Moon's cratered and lifeless surface put our small, but unique, place in the universe in perspective.



Time Magazine named the astronauts their men of the year. As of this writing, all of the astronauts are still alive, with Borman and Lovell each 90 years old. Time put together a nice retrospective on the mission a few years ago, which is well worth watching.

Nearly 50 years later, and in an equally fractious and turbulent year, I wonder if we will have our own Apollo 8 moment. It seems very far away. NASA is out of the dream business and cannot even put a man in low Earth orbit without hitching a ride on a Soviet rocket (ironically, of the same vintage as Apollo). But, for some of us, we have the memory. And, for all of us, we have the history.

If you would like to learn more about this incredible journey, I recommend Apollo 8: The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon, by Jeffrey Kluger and Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man's First Journey to the Moon, by Robert Kurson. There are also some good interviews of the astronauts available on You Tube.







Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Have Some Prosecutors Gone Amok?

I am not a prosecutor nor a criminal defense attorney. As an attorney and citizen, however, several recent high profile prosecutions, locally and nationally, have caused me a great deal of concern. Our constitutional system is based on the rule of law and the rule of law is largely based on the protection of the individual citizen from the state. Overly zealous prosecutors--largely unconstrained by budgetary concerns and backed by the enormous power of the government--threaten the rule of law.

Almost 40 years ago at the University of Georgia School of Law, Associate Dean Walter Ray Phillips taught the course on Legal Ethics. We learned that prosecutors have a greater responsibility than doing whatever is necessary to send people to prison. Stated in a very general sense, we learned that prosecutors represent the citizens (and do not, for example, represent the victim) and have special ethical obligations that go beyond the obligations imposed on ordinary attorneys. Put simply and broadly, prosecutors have duty to seek justice.

Recent cases have caused me to wonder if something has changed. After some brief research, it became clear that the standards have not changed much at all. What seems to have changed is the application of the standards (or complete perhaps complete disregard of the standards) in some cases.

The American Bar Association Model Rules of Professional Conduct are adopted by most state bar associations as the rules governing the practice of lawyers in the jurisdiction. Sometimes, they are adopted with amendments or deletions, and not all rules will apply in all jurisdictions. But the Model Rules are significant and they establish generally accepted norms of conduct. 

Without comment, here in the blue type is the full text of ABA Model Rule 3.8, entitled "Special Duties of Prosecutors":

The prosecutor in a criminal case shall:
(a) refrain from prosecuting a charge that the prosecutor knows is not supported by probable cause;
(b) make reasonable efforts to assure that the accused has been advised of the right to, and the procedure for obtaining, counsel and has been given reasonable opportunity to obtain counsel;
(c) not seek to obtain from an unrepresented accused a waiver of important pretrial rights, such as the right to a preliminary hearing;
(d) make timely disclosure to the defense of all evidence or information known to the prosecutor that tends to negate the guilt of the accused or mitigates the offense, and, in connection with sentencing, disclose to the defense and to the tribunal all unprivileged mitigating information known to the prosecutor, except when the prosecutor is relieved of this responsibility by a protective order of the tribunal;
(e) not subpoena a lawyer in a grand jury or other criminal proceeding to present evidence about a past or present client unless the prosecutor reasonably believes:
(1) the information sought is not protected from disclosure by any applicable privilege;
(2) the evidence sought is essential to the successful completion of an ongoing investigation or prosecution; and
(3) there is no other feasible alternative to obtain the information;
(f) except for statements that are necessary to inform the public of the nature and extent of the prosecutor's action and that serve a legitimate law enforcement purpose, refrain from making extrajudicial comments that have a substantial likelihood of heightening public condemnation of the accused and exercise reasonable care to prevent investigators, law enforcement personnel, employees or other persons assisting or associated with the prosecutor in a criminal case from making an extrajudicial statement that the prosecutor would be prohibited from making under Rule 3.6 or this Rule.
(g) When a prosecutor knows of new, credible and material evidence creating a reasonable likelihood that a convicted defendant did not commit an offense of which the defendant was convicted, the prosecutor shall:
(1) promptly disclose that evidence to an appropriate court or authority, and
(2) if the conviction was obtained in the prosecutor’s jurisdiction,
(i) promptly disclose that evidence to the defendant unless a court authorizes delay, and
(ii) undertake further investigation, or make reasonable efforts to cause an investigation, to determine whether the defendant was convicted of an offense that the defendant did not commit.
(h) When a prosecutor knows of clear and convincing evidence establishing that a defendant in the prosecutor’s jurisdiction was convicted of an offense that the defendant did not commit, the prosecutor shall seek to remedy the conviction.
The text of the rule can also be found here
The ABA has also commented on the special role of prosecutors in the legal system. The ABA's Comment 1 to Rule 3.8 provides in part:
A prosecutor has the responsibility of a minister of justice and not simply that of an advocate. This responsibility carries with it specific obligations to see that the defendant is accorded procedural justice, that guilt is decided upon the basis of sufficient evidence, and that special precautions are taken to prevent and to rectify the conviction of innocent persons. The extent of mandated remedial action is a matter of debate and varies in different jurisdictions. 
The ABA Criminal Justice Standards for the Prosecution Function (4th ed.) also provides useful commentary. Section 3-1.2(b) states:
The primary duty of the prosecutor is to seek justice within the bounds of the law, not merely to convict.  The prosecutor serves the public interest and should act with integrity and balanced judgment to increase public safety both by pursuing appropriate criminal charges of appropriate severity, and by exercising discretion to not pursue criminal charges in appropriate circumstances. The prosecutor should seek to protect the innocent and convict the guilty, consider the interests of victims and witnesses, and respect the constitutional and legal rights of all persons, including suspects and defendants.
A link to this publication can be found here
There are no doubt prosecutors at every level of government who try to meet these standards every day. However, and without commenting on any particular case, anyone who follows the news and is aware of these standards should be very concerned. Simply stated, it appears these rules sometimes (and perhaps often) have been kicked to the gutter in favor of partisanship (on both sides), publicity, or worse.
Dean Phillips at UGA law school taught us well all those years ago. The basic rules have not changed, and it's a shame some have forgotten them or never learned them in the first place. Our legal system and society will not be well served until we expect and demand that all prosecutors live up to these well-established, but sometimes overlooked, standards. The rule of law is simply too important to put in jeopardy.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Ode to an Old Friend

I actually wrote this post two years ago today, on April 9, 2016. I did not publish it until today. My friend who is the subject of the post died weeks after it was written. His name was Hans-Joachim Schreiber. He was a brilliant, good and decent man, and a true friend in every respect.

Growing older can bring perspective, wisdom, and sometimes joy. But it can also bring sadness. Last week, I learned that a dear old friend from Germany has untreatable cancer. He cannot see visitors. There is nothing to be done except to send thoughts and prayers.

It came suddenly. I spoke to him only four or five weeks ago. He had a bad cold, but felt he was getting better, and was planning a trip. I had called more recently to try to arrange a lunch or dinner on an upcoming trip across the pond, and learned the bad news.

It has not yet sunken in for me. He is a true friend. Someone you can always count on. Incredibly intelligent. A true genius, actually. He speaks German as a native language, and is fully fluent in French and English. He actually knows Latin. He knows more about more things, and at a detailed level, than anyone I have known. Always looking to learn new things. He has an amazing sense of humor and remembers every joke he ever heard. We did not get to see each other often, but I always looked forward to seeing him. We talked about life, family, cars, aircraft, inventions, and, yes, legal issues. It was always a good time. I honestly cannot remember ever having a disagreement with him, although there are subjects on which we agreed to disagree. He always seemed like the older brother I never had.

In trying to process this, I have thought about what he would probably say. I imagine it would go something like this: "It's very sad, but there is really nothing to be done. Try to be kind to my wife and family. Remember the good times and me with a smile. Try not to be sad, because it will not accomplish anything. I've had a truly good and interesting life, a wonderful family, and many friends. I would have liked a few more years, but I really can't complain."

A few more thoughts. The Romans said "carpe diem," or seize the day. Psalm 118:24 tells us: "This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it." He is not a religious man, but I think he would agree with the sentiment. We need to try to live and enjoy every day and every interaction with family and friends. You never know if it will happen again.

Here's to you, old friend. You will be greatly and profoundly missed and always remembered. I will try to do that with a smile and not a tear.




Sunday, October 8, 2017

Smartphones Are Making Us Stupid

I recently posted on Facebook that, to me, the two worst inventions of the 21st Century are Twitter and and so-called smartphones. The post got almost no reaction, so this post may likewise represent a tilt at a windmill.

Whether you agree or disagree (or are not sure), I strongly recommend reading Nicholas Carr's essay How Smartphones Hijack our Minds in this weekend's Wall Street Journal. Here is a link, but reading the full article will probably require a subscription. Copies of the Journal are, however, widely available in libraries and offices.

Carr's essay summarizes a large amount of recent scientific research that, in essence, proves that smartphones are more than a simple distraction, and actually decrease our ability to think and reason. Here are a few of the more compelling points:
  • One study shows that students performing a test who had their phones in view performed worse than those with their phones in a pocket or bag, and worse still than those whose phones were stored in a different room.
  • Merely the presence of a phone decreased the quality of personal social interaction.
  • The ability to consult Google and search engines diminishes the ability to remember.
And here's a really important part: Participants in the studies do not perceive that phones hamper their abilities to perform or remember. In fact, people conflate the ability to look things up with their own intelligence. So, if you are disagreeing with the research,  you have reason to question your conclusions.

Carr's ultimate conclusion is not surprising, but still somewhat stunning: The insight [from the studies] "sheds light on our society's current gullibility crisis, in which people are all too quick to credit lies and half-truths spread through social media by Russian agents and other bad actors. If your phone has sapped your powers of discernment, you'll believe anything it tells you." Carr's article is well worth the ten to fifteen minutes it takes to read, and offers many more insights.

What Carr's article does not cover are the other very significant costs smartphones impose on our lives:
  • Distracted driving. I have given up counting how many times I've seen drivers ripping through a parking deck, phone held to their ear and paying no attention to pedestrians.
  • A complete lack of awareness of surroundings. This includes people (particularly college students) who cross busy streets while staring at (or talking on) their smartphone, assuming that the "walk" sign will somehow protect them from a distracted driver blowing through a light.
  • The complete loss of privacy. George Orwell's 1984 laid out a future with an absolute lack of privacy, when every citizen's movements were monitored through a telescreen. Today, we gladly carry telescreens in our pockets! For people who, quite literally, live on their phones, a complete loss of privacy is only a hack away.
OK, so what can we do about it? Smartphones are not going away, and I freely admit they perform many useful and even vital functions (such as a quick link to emergency services). My suggestion is to start managing your smartphone use. Here are some thoughts:
  • When I'm at home, my smartphone is stowed. I don't need to be available 24/7.
  • Have "phone free" dinners and other social encounters. Engage in conversation with real people.
  • Get out in nature or out in the city without your phone (or with it turned off).  Use your powers of observation. Watch a sunset, gaze at the stars, or listen to the rain falling or the wind whispering through the trees.
  • Don't talk on a phone while you are driving unless your car has hands free capability, and, even then, stay off it when you are in parking garages or traffic. 
  • Apple's IOS 11 has a very useful feature that prevents notifications when you are driving. It works. Let's hope it becomes a standard feature on all phones.
  • Limit the information stored on your phone. Do you really want your whole life available to someone who hacks it or finds it if it is lost?
  • Make sure to lock the phone with a password or fingerprint technology (or the face recognition technology that is coming).
  • Schools should strongly think about limiting any access to phones during the school day.
Finally, use your brain. Engage in critical thinking. Engage in learning instead of mindless entertainment (at least for part of each day). Don't believe everything you see on a phone. Don't believe anything unless you personally know it to be true or have verified it from multiple reliable sources.


Saturday, August 5, 2017

Why Did They Steal Summer?

On the calendar, summer begins near June 20 and ends around September 20. For many years, the unofficial summer season in the U.S. was between Memorial Day (around May 31) and Labor Day (in early September). The academic calendar typically corresponded with the unofficial summer season.

When I grew up (now many years ago), summer was a time for playing games with my brothers and friends (often using our imaginations to create new challenges). It was a time for family vacations, often driving across country in the family station wagon. It was a time for cookouts with neighbors and catching fireflies after dark. For older kids, it was a time to take a summer job and earn a little money, and, more importantly, learn a little responsibility.

In the last 25 years ago, the powers that be have gradually and inexorably stolen summer as we knew it. Summer has been compressed and the school year expanded. One county in metropolitan Atlanta began school this year on July 31. Most other public schools in Atlanta are opening next week (August 7). Classes at the University of Georgia begin on August 14. Although there are surely pockets of resistance (Wisconsin), this trend seems to be prevalent across the U.S.

A lot of this seems to be driven by well meaning efforts to improve educational quality. However, as is so often the case with policies driven by politicians and academics, the results do not seem to be there. Correct me if I am wrong, but I have not noticed a massive increase in U.S. educational performance. In a more limited sense, many my students at the University of Georgia Law School (all academically gifted) seem to arrive with little appreciation of how the world works.

While the benefits of stealing summer are difficult to discern, the costs are clear. As one article recently reported, the percentage of teens with summer employment has dropped significantly (from 57 percent in 1986 to 36 percent). This is true even in the face of a shrinking unemployment numbers. It has likewise been reported that many students are unable to take advantage of summer fellowships and other programs that extend into August. Finally, summer vacation season has effectively been crammed into roughly six weeks (from June 15-July 31). This results in overcrowding at National Parks and other vacation destinations (who have difficulty maintaining staffing after roughly the middle of August).

Although there are concrete costs of the compressed summer season, there are intangible costs that I would argue are at least as important. Summer used to provide a time to get away from our scheduled existence, and to do something different. It provided a time to use the imagination--to contemplate the beauty of a sunrise or sunset--and to explore something outside of one's everyday existence. For kids, it was a time to dream of the future and what might be. Sure, summer can still be such a time, but in its current compressed form, its value is likewise compressed.

If someone asked me (and no one has), I would offer this simple formula: No school after Memorial day and before Labor Day. This would restore summer to its traditional place. Do I think this will happen? No, but it does appear that some are beginning to understand the costs of the shrinking summer season. Maybe there will at least be no further encroachment.

The photo is of a a meadow in front of Mt. Hood in Oregon on a magnificent summer day in late July.


Saturday, July 16, 2016

A Tribute to a True Role Model: Albert G. Norman, Jr.

Albert G. Norman, Jr., known to just about everyone as simply Al, has passed away. Although we can and should celebrate his long and accomplished life, it is also true that the world is just a little less intelligent and interesting without Al in it. 

I practiced for 25 years at two law firms where Al was a formidable presence, first at Hansell & Post (now Jones, Day) and then Long, Aldridge & Norman (later McKenna Long & Aldridge and now Dentons). When I started at Hansell & Post in 1982, Al was a senior partner and member of the Management Committee. In 1986, I followed Al and others to Long, Aldridge & Norman, where Al was, obviously, a name partner. 

Al was a truly phenomenal lawyer. His primary client was Atlanta Gas Light Company. He did complicated regulatory work for AGL. However, Al was also an expert in the field of libel law, handling notable cases in that area. It seemed that Al could pretty much do anything involving the law at a very high level.

Al's memory was extraordinary. About 20 years ago, Al asked me to help him with a section of a brief. I do not remember the precise issue, but recall it was one of those maddening issues where the answer seemed obvious, but on which it was difficult to find any case law. After a few hours of digging in the books, I found a lot of law that sort of circled the issue, but nothing really on point. I went into Al's office, which was then next to mine and about the size of an aircraft hanger, and told him the results were just not coming. 

Al then said that he recalled one of his law professors at Emory discussing a case involving a similar issue in 1957 (about 40 years earlier at the time). He said, "Let's take a look," which I momentarily found puzzling. He then proceeded to his bookcase and extracted an ancient 3-ring binder. He paged through it for about 30 seconds, and then said, "Yes, there it is," pointing to a case citation. Al had not only remembered a class from decades earlier, but had kept his class notes and was able to find the citation like he had taken the notes a week ago. The case was much closer to the point than anything I had found. Astonishing.

Al was a true gentleman. Courtly might be an apt description. He said hello to everyone and treated everyone, staff and attorneys, with respect. If I ran into Al, a typical encounter was like this: "Morning, Al. How is it going?" "I'm doing fine, John. I hope you are." I always liked that last part--"I hope you are"--and have borrowed it. 

In addition to his truly extraordinary breadth of knowledge regarding the law, Al was a man of many interests. He golfed, hunted and fished. When he became interested in a subject, he became immersed in it. He built a model railroad that took up a large part of his basement, literally hand-crafting almost all of it. 

His interest in golf seemed to wax and wane, but as his interest would grow, he often consulted me for advice. Al knew that--at that time at least--I kept up with every technical development on golf clubs, hoping technology would mask a lack of talent. I think Al was also looking for a magic wand. Although he would quiz me at length on various options, I think he always bought Callaway, a good choice. He once gave me a couple of classic MacGregor woods (real "wood woods") which look magnificent but are just too beautiful (and difficult) to hit. I think the last time he called me about golf clubs was five or six years ago.

Al was not a mentor because we did not work together closely enough and he never took me under his wing. I considered Al a friend, but not a close personal one. For me, Al was a role model: Someone to look up to and emulate, even though you could never quite get to that level.

We sure could use more people like Al, especially in a crazy year like 2016. Our national discourse has become shrill, coarse and disgusting on all sides. It seems that intelligence, careful analysis and courtliness have gone out of style. 

I'm going to think fondly and a little sadly about my friend and role model, and hope that his traits make a massive comeback.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Neil Armstrong, Project Apollo and Missed Opportunities

July 20, 2014 marked the 45th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing and Neil Armstrong becoming the first human to set foot on the moon. Partly because of the anniversary, I just finished reading Jay Barbree's biography of Mr. Armstrong, simply titled "Neil Armstrong: A Life of Flight." Mr. Barbree is a veteran NBC News reporter who has covered every manned space launch. He was a personal friend of Mr. Armstrong.

I highly recommend Mr. Barbree's book. It fully chronicles the life of an American hero. From his days as a fighter pilot in Korea, a test pilot for the X-15 rocket plane (a real beast), an astronaut, and his post-astronaut career as a professor and as Vice-Chair of the Commission investigating the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, Mr. Armstrong can be characterized as highly intelligent, cool under the highest pressure situations, and able to think through highly complex situations. He was regularly described by his fellow astronauts as the best pilot they ever saw. Through it all, he never sought publicity, shunned the public spotlight, and remained true to his Midwestern roots. He was a man of genuine modesty.

Although Mr. Barbree's biography of Mr. Armstrong is inspirational, the book also provides an inside view of the space race, a period of less than twelve years that began with the Soviet Union's launch of  the Sputnik satellite in October 1957 (to the dismay of the American populace) and ended with the Apollo 11 landing. The race really began in earnest with the Soviet Union's launch of Yuri Gagarin as the first man in space on April 12, 1961, which was followed shortly by the U.S. launch of Alan Shepard on suborbital flight on May 5, 1961. Despite having a substantial initial lead, the Soviet Union never made it to the moon.

I was born in August 1957. The space race dominated my childhood. As a boy interested in airplanes and rockets, the astronauts were my heroes. I read everything I could get my hands on about space. I recall watching the Mercury launches on our family's old Magnavox black and white television. I watched the shadowy images of Neil Armstrong stepping on the lunar surface in July 1969, shortly before my twelfth birthday. 

A substantial portion of the U.S. population never experienced the space race or the moon landing. The median age of the U.S. population is about 38 years. I have not been able to find a statistic on the percentage of the population born after the moon landing in 1969, but it it clear that a majority of the population was born after that date. 

Because so many people did not experience what I experienced as a youth regarding the space race and Project Apollo, it is perhaps worth an attempt, however inadequate it may be, to try to put into words the excitement of those days. Despite the social upheaval of the decade, there was very little public dissent about the space race: The astronauts were heroes, catching the Soviet Union was necessary, and failure was simply not an option. 

Because of the space race, science, math and engineering were cool. Higher education was in vogue. The future appeared limitless. When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon, the country celebrated; actually, the world celebrated.

It is really impossible to put into perspective the achievements of NASA during the space race.  In slightly over eight years, NASA went from putting a single man in a suborbital flight to taking three men to the moon, landing two of them on the moon, and returning all three safely home. Think about it: All of this was accomplished in eight years. 

I have tried to think of something to put this into perspective for younger readers. Although nothing is really satisfactory, consider the iPhone. The iPhone was introduced in January 2007 and was rightly considered a great technological innovation. Now, over seven years later, Apple has introduced a series of incremental improvements, but the basic functionality of the original iPhone has not changed greatly. And to compare the iPhone to Project Apollo only demonstrates that what passes for innovation today cannot hold a candle to what happened during the space race.

Since Project Apollo, we have lost our way in space. The space shuttle, although impressive in some respects, was flawed and never achieved its original goals. Further, it was not able to do anything other than put astronauts and cargo in low earth orbit. Since the last space shuttle flight in July 2011, we have been unable to put astronauts in space, and have been reduced to hitching rides on Russian Soyuz rockets, a system that uses decades-old technology. (At least the Russians were smart enough to keep the old technology available in the absence of a more modern replacement).

The current state of our space program should be a national embarrassment. Before his death, Mr. Armstrong testified before Congress. He tried to explain the need to return to the moon as a precursor to a mission to Mars. Unfortunately, the counsel of Mr. Armstrong and his colleagues has been ignored.

There is a great deal of discussion today about the need to increase funding for "STEM" initiatives, referring to science, technology, engineering and math, and to increase student interest in these important disciplines. Many others have pointed out the importance of national preeminence in these disciplines to technological innovation, the economy, and even national security.

The question is how to motivate students to pursue these important disciplines. We have an obvious example: On September 12, 1962, President Kennedy made his famous speech calling for a journey to the moon and back by the end of the decade: "We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too."

The goal being stated, NASA accomplished it, supported by a legion of scientists and engineers. The entire venture provided high-skilled, high-paying jobs to tens of thousands, with spin-off benefits to the economy that continue to this day, although the effect is waning. 

The main objection to the manned space program has been cost. Consider this: The cost of Project Apollo in 2008 dollars was $98 billion according to one analysis. In 2009, the U.S. spent $800 billion on an ill-considered economic stimulus that has yielded few concrete benefits. What would have happened if instead--or simply as part of the stimulus--President Obama had called for a national effort to return to the moon by 2016 (which would have allowed same time that it took NASA to accomplish the same goal decades ago) and to land man on Mars by 2025, and had asked Congress to fund it? Instead of talking about "STEM," there would be a national initiative establishing a clear goal that, to use President Kennedy's words, would "organize and measure the best of our energies and skills."  Even more importantly, it would have made STEM cool again. And it sure would have helped the economy.

Unfortunately, we do not have leaders with President Kennedy's vision. Equally unfortunately, heroes such as Mr. Armstrong had to live their final days witnessing our country basically throwing away their accomplishments and legacy. It had to be an extreme disappointment to Mr. Armstrong, just as it must continue to disappoint the remaining aging heroes who formed the team that put a man on the moon.

We need to find our way back to space.