As Florida's Space Coast ends a celebrated American era with the close of NASA's manned shuttle program with launch of Atlantis, there is a palpable sadness in the air. Residents resignedly prepare for what is sure to bring continued economic disaster with the demise of the storied program. Losing the link that has sustained generations, the collective fears they harbor are a tangible reality -- no longer simply an abject concept. With the industry that for more than 50 years has supported roughly 100% of residents in Brevard County -- Cape Canaveral, Merritt Island, Titusville, Coco Beach, and Port St. John -- coming to a close, people are understandably frightened about their futures. The worst part, perhaps, is the feeling that no one cares.
In a speech given by President Barack Obama, in April of 2010 at Kennedy Space Center, his cavalier declaration that continued manned space exploration was unnecessary -- a 'we've been there, done that' attitude -- shocked and outraged those who've spent lifetimes working towards reaching for greatness in the stars. Darren K. Johnston, avid supporter of the program writes,
President Obama is likely to go down as this generation's Jimmy Carter, that is to say a one term ideologue. The war for prehistoric fuel is difficult to step back from, particularly when there's no work and no money for the soldiers if they come back to the States. The economy is stagnant, but it's been that way for decades disguised by prior administrations more effective diversions (i.e. allowing 401k investors into the stock market or flooding the mortgage market with cheap easy to get money). So when President Obama failed to support American space travel it meant that CHANGE was campaign rhetoric and despite his genuine passion for space and understanding of its necessity for the species to continue his agenda adjusted to that of the Baby Boomers that will likely end the species sooner.
Although the current administration has made it quite clear that space exploration is no longer a priority -- regardless of the $8 billion already invested in the program and the estimated $4 billion it will take to end it -- there are those who continue to fight for the future of America in space. Most notably, Johnston and his associate Jason Linkous of the Arts Fund, a San Francisco-based venture capital firm specializing in the arts and social sciences, have taken this cause to heart. Johnston continues,
It wasn't long ago that as a nation we believed we should go to the moon and beyond because it was there; it was our duty as Americans to fund and support this mission, it was a cultural imperative. Today most Americans view the space program as a dalliance that they will never live to see the big reveal for.
The most unique ingredient of humanity is our willingness, our compulsion for generational transference of knowledge, value, and development. Many of humankind's most special achievements were made over a series of generations, such as the construction of our nation's capital, Washington DC.
Recently the Arts Fund produced a documentary film on the end of the shuttle program titled, The 2nd Assassination of JFK, which to date, has garnered critical acclaim culminating in winning top honors at an international film festival. A thought-provoking film that sheds light on the alarming end of the US manned space program, I couldn't help but wonder what the consequences of our current administration's troubling lack of foresight regarding space exploration and its implication for future generations.
Audience members sit down to watch 2nd Assassination of JFK in Titusville, FL.
photo credit: Mia R. Benenate
Beautifully shot by Robert Christian Malmberg, The 2nd Assassination of JFK is told candidly through the eyes of those living and working on Florida's Space Coast. The indie filmmaker delivers on the promise to highlight the program's importance to our nation's heritage and future, as well as the societal and financial implications of its demise.
Auditorium ﬁlling up for the Titusville, FL premiere of 2nd Assassination of JFK
photo credit: Mia R. Benenate
I had the pleasure of viewing the film with the residents of Brevard Country on July 6, 2011, in a public screening held by the Arts Fund at the New Life auditorium in Titusville, FL. With a packed house (accommodating approximately 1,000 people), the atmosphere was of hushed reverence as the viewers watched their friends, neighbors and co-workers discuss their hopes, fears and regrets on the large screen. There were moments when even I, an objective bystander, felt the cumbersome weight of the impending demoralization of what is arguably our countries greatest achievement bearing down upon me.
Two days later I watched from deck of the San Juan on the waters of the Indian River -- in attendance for the historic event with an estimated 1 million others -- as the shuttle Atlantis departed for the International Space Station less than one mile from where I stood. The awe-inspiring blast-off left me reeling from the technology and human innovation that allowed such a feat to occur. The startling realization that I was bearing witness to the final launch, in my lifetime, of a US manned flight was deadening in its totality.
The shuttle Atlantis as it takes off for the ﬁnal US manned space ﬂight on July 8th, 2011
photo credit: Mia R. Benenate
Atlantis breaks through the clouds on its way to the International Space Station
Photo credit: Mia R. Benenate
The 2nd Assassination of JFK culminates with retired NASA engineer Don Conouer asking the critical question, "What is pride worth?" And I found myself heartened by the fact that private individuals such as Linkous and Johnston are answering that question with their unwavering support of what most would call a lost cause.
The 2nd Assassination of JFK is now available for a limited time for free on YouTube Movies: http://www.youtube.com/LastShuttle.