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Jul-03-2011 20:29printcomments

Celebrating America, on this July 4th

If, as an American, you feel a bit puffed up on this July 4, you have some justification.

Flaming A
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(CALGARY, Alberta) - When I told a friend that I was going to write a piece describing what I admire about America, his cynical response was straightforward: That will probably be the easiest piece you’ll ever do. Just send in a blank sheet of paper.

On the contrary, I believe that America, as a nation, has made a contribution to the advancement of humanity that will go down in history as one of man’s most singular achievements: The Space Program. When considered in the centuries ahead, I believe it will rank along with fire and the wheel. So if, as an American, you feel a bit puffed up on this July 4, you have some justification.

Americans weren’t the first into space—the Russians were—but the lead they had did not last long. Within five years—particularly after President Kennedy’s declaration of putting a man on the moon within the decade—America began to pull steadily ahead.

My own fascination with space began early in junior high school. I followed the launchings of Explorer 1 and those that followed. When I went out under the stars at night, I was always excited to unexpectedly see the ECHO satellites moving across the sky. I subscribed to one of the first magazines, Space World, around 1960 and still had, until recent years, a copy of the first issue. (It disappeared in one of my moves. I corresponded with someone about it a few years ago, and if I still had it, it would now be worth big money—$25 or $30.)

I followed the space program through the 1960s, beginning with the Mercury Program and the culmination of the moon landing in July 1969. It was Americans who first stood on extra-terrestrial soil. No citizens of any other nation have visited the moon.

There is now an International Space Station with people living in it (on it?), orbiting over our heads that would not exist were it not for the major contribution of the United States.

About two weeks apart in the summer of 1977, Voyager 1 and 2 were launched to explore, not only the solar system, but to go into interstellar space and report from great distances. On February 14, 1990, Voyager 1 took the first snapshot of our solar system from the outside.

Voyager 1 is now the farthest human-made object from the earth—about 116 Astronomical Units from the sun. An AU is the mean distance from the sun to the earth—about 150 million kms or 93 million miles—which puts Voyager 1 about 17.4 billion kms distant. At the speed of light (same as radio transmission speed) messages from Voyager 1 take just over 16 hours. This compares to the nearest star Proxima Centauri which is 4.2 light years away.

But the space program is not just about running around the solar system taking breathtaking, yet scientifically important, photos. There are two Rovers, Opportunity and Spirit, on Mars. Both were launched in 2003 and became active in 2004. Contact with Spirit was lost in March 2010, but Opportunity has been chugging along for seven years, sending incredible scientific data back. Amazingly, they were originally designed to run for about three months.

Mostly American spacecraft, flybys taking pictures have gone by every planet except Pluto. But the New Horizons flyby (launched January 19, 2006) is en route and expected to go by Pluto on or about July 14, 2015.

Last, but not definitely not least, is the Shuttle Program which is about to end. There were 133 successful launches (one failure—Challenger (1986), and one failed re-entry—Columbia (2003)) with a last Shuttle mission scheduled—Atlantis for July 8.

This does not even bring into account the Hubble Space Telescope, another major American achievement. It was launched into orbit by the Space Shuttle (1990) and has been upgraded and serviced by the Shuttle since. Here Hubble floats free, after the final fix by astronauts from STS-125 (Atlantis, May, 2009)

A thousand years from now, the Greeks will still be remembered for their founding of politics and philosophy; the Americans will be remembered for opening the door to the universe.

Some interesting links

NASA home page

Atlantis--the final mission, July 8

Space shuttle program

List of largest optical telescopes

List of space shuttle crews

Astronomy picture of the day

Timeline of solar system space activity from 1957 to the present

Landings on other planets

List of human space flights

At each of these sites, are additional links to other space-program related sites.


Daniel Johnson was born near the midpoint of the twentieth century in Calgary, Alberta. In his teens he knew he was going to be a writer, which is why he was one of only a handful of boys in his high school typing class — a skill he knew was going to be necessary. He defines himself as a social reformer, not a left winger, the latter being an ideological label which, he says, is why he is not an ideologue. From 1975 to 1981 he was reporter, photographer, then editor of the weekly Airdrie Echo. For more than ten years after that he worked with Peter C. Newman, Canada’s top business writer (notably on a series of books, The Canadian Establishment). Through this period Daniel also did some national radio and TV broadcasting. He gave up journalism in the early 1980s because he had no interest in being a hack writer for the mainstream media and became a software developer and programmer. He retired from computers last year and is now back to doing what he loves — writing and trying to make the world a better place

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Hank Ruark July 13, 2011 3:09 pm (Pacific time)

Mark: NOW I understand from whence you got left out in the rain at least overnight when a mere infant. Which explains why you remain "all wet" here most of the time...any dry spots obviously due to overly-close momentary contact with common sense from other comments here.

BG July 6, 2011 6:41 pm (Pacific time)

I'm dead serious! You know that song:" Row row row your boat, gently down the stream, life is but a dream?" Well until the right wing fascists are eliminated, the problems will only grow.

BG July 6, 2011 8:06 am (Pacific time)

Fire, no. Otherwise, BF Goodrich and Goodyear are excellent examples and total proof that America invented the Wheel, which also adds evidence that the hubcap, lugnuts and probably most everything that improves quality of life around the world. It's all about building a better "mousetrap," and making money.

It's capialism and the free market system which makes our lives get better. Poverty for some is not having the latest whatever, but most people have what they need to stay alive. Not perfect, so we continue that make a better mousetrap scenario. Libs just hate that evidence!. Though I am starting to re-think the Fire invention, like how about Zippo lighters, which came first? Liked the link to the CDC, for those are amazing stats (which just shows what the kids are doing, and then easily extrapolate their future bad behaviors), which also apply to urban areas in Canada and England and France. The per capita murder rate for my demographic is below Canada's.We are no longer a melting pot country for there are many trying to divide us for whatever reasons, thus it is appropriate to evaluate our groups as the multicultural country we have become. Taking data in this type of mix quickly demonstrates the huge gaps in behaviors.

What you're saying is a joke or a spoof, right? 

David July 5, 2011 6:55 pm (Pacific time)

It is NOW, excellent observation. I was just offering a very brief overview of why my ancestors, people under great peril (who also endured much future suffering along with many family members), ushered in our Declaration of Independence. The majority of our population still fully engages in celebrating this day, and the people who helped found this country, so it is still "THEN" for the majority of Americans during this celebration. We love our space program, but without our "exceptionalism" the world would still be just watching the Stalinist's "one-trick pony" primitive capsule circling the planet, if even that, for they pirated their tech from us, as did Von Braun of Germany. So what is your view on our Bill of Rights? Appreciate our 1st and 2nd Amendments? All these rights are God-given rights, so this is a very difficult reality for some to be able to process. For example, in America, firearms actually save lives. If we take the same demographics here as in Canada and Europe, our per capita murder rates are essentially the same. This means that since the genie is out of the bottle so to speak, we must keep firearms in the hands of law abiding owners so as to literally save our lives. Here is an easy look graph from a good source that shows instantly what I mean: The following link is from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):

So von Braun and company stole from the Americans, did they? Did the Americans also invent both fire and the wheel? 

Reports NASA: "Wernher von Braun is, without doubt, the greatest rocket scientist in history. His crowning achievement, as head of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, was to lead the development of the Saturn V booster rocket that helped land the first men on the Moon in July 1969." (


David July 5, 2011 9:18 am (Pacific time)

There was a time when the average grammer school student (13/14 years old) understood the dynamics behind July 4th, and why we celebrate this day, the most important one of our founding history.The reason our revolution was the opposite of a directionless, violent mob running wild in the streets is that the dominant American culture was Anglo-Saxon and Christian. Even while fighting “the British,” as we now call them, Americans considered themselves British with the rights of Englishmen, who bore the tradition of the Magna Carta.

In fact, one rebel explained that he was fighting the Redcoats to protect his house by saying, “An Englishman’s
home is his castle.”

They just wanted to be free of meddling from the Crown. Having been born and raised in the distant and expansive American colonies, Americans objected to the high-handed way King George was dealing with them. They didn’t hate the king—to the contrary, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton dispassionately acknowledged that the English political system was better than most others in the world.

Our revolutionary document, the Declaration of Independence, is a religious document through and through, with the colonies demanding rights entitled to them by “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” As founding father James Wilson put it, the “will of God” was the supreme law of nations.

Consequently, the Declaration cites “certain unalienable rights” given to men “by their Creator.” For the “rectitude” of their intentions, the drafters appealed to “the Supreme Judge of the world.” The Declaration reads like a legal brief, with causes of action and prior attempts at resolution enumerated, and a specific demand for relief: We’d like to go our own way please, Supreme Judge of the World. One can read the Declaration of Independence centuries later and understand the whole point.

Admitting that “Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes,” our Declaration sets forth “a long train of abuses and usurpations” by the Crown. The purpose of the document was to explain America’s case to the world, because “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.” Manifestly, the French couldn’t care less that the rest of the world was appalled by them.

Stating that facts “submitted to a candid world” would prove that the king was attempting to create “an absolute
Tyranny over these States,” the Declaration concisely listed abuse after abuse, including the Crown’s quartering
soldiers, protecting the king’s soldiers from charges of murder, and depriving Americans “in many cases” of trial by jury.

These were rights well familiar to the British, inasmuch as they came from English common law and were enjoyed by British citizens. Significantly, among the Declaration’s enumerated grievances was that the king had encouraged mobs. As the document puts it, the king had “excited domestic insurrections amongst us,” including uprisings by “merciless Indian Savages” whose idea of warfare was “an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.” The Americans’ complaints were clear, as was their objective: separation from the British Crown in order to establish their own government. This was not a rash decision. As the authors explained, they had tried other approaches: “In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms,” but those requests were “answered only by repeated injury.” Fifty-two of the fifty-six signers of the American Declaration were orthodox Christians who believed in the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, or as they would be known today, “an extremist Fundamentalist hate group.” The Declaration was written on behalf of the thirteen colonies unanimously and signed by each member of the Continental Congress, name by name, beginning with the famously supersized signature of John Hancock. These weren’t anonymous brutes chopping off the breasts of princesses in pursuit of “fraternity” or some other amorphous concept.

Our revolutionary document was inspired by God—as put by John Adams, a signatory and second president of the United States. He said, “The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity. I will avow that I then believed, and now believe, that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God.”

The French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was inspired by a paranoid hypochondriac who denied divine revelation and original sin: Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The very logic and clarity of the Declaration of Independence were qualities specifically rejected by Rousseau. “One of the errors of our age,” Rousseau said, “is to use reason in bare form, as if men were only mind.” Yes, much better to fire up a crowd with emotional appeals.

Thus, Rousseau recommended using “signs that speak to the imagination,” complaining that words make too weak an impression. “[O]ne speaks to the heart far better,” he said, “through the eyes than through the ears.” This is the essence of how one riles up a mob—by using images, not words. (Republicans drove the car into a ditch.) Rousseau perfectly describes the governing strategy of all mob leaders, from Robespierre to Fidel Castro to today’s Democratic Party.

That was then; this is now.  

Karen July 5, 2011 8:36 am (Pacific time)

WolfMan, as my generation has often stated over the years: "Love it or leave it." By the way you are wrong re:

civilian deaths caused by our military, but then, what proof does someone like you need? Maybe cracking open a

history book would help, but that would not fit your fantasy. So if you catch me all "puffed up" along with nearly

70% of all Americans on 7/4, or any other time celebrating our country, whatcha gonna do Wolfie? (Former RN,

Vietnam 1966-68). I also spent time later in the "killing fields" of Cambodia, and spent 173 days incarcerated by

the Cambodian military who did not like our reporting on the millions they killed. Have you ever seen dead bodies

in this number Wolfie? How about the tens of millions by the military in China, USSR, Japan, and so many other 3rd

world countries. So if you hate America so much, why stay Wolfie? I'll help you pack and drive you to a

transportation hub to get you outta here! Okay? You are the one puffed up Wolfie, puffed up on ignorance and self-

hate, obviously.

Wolf Man Wild July 4, 2011 4:18 pm (Pacific time)

Americans have no reason to "puff up". Our military has killed more innocent civilians than any other organization EVER. Americans should all be ashamed of themselves.

Mark July 4, 2011 8:22 am (Pacific time)

Daniel I greatly appreciate you sharing your perspectives on the American space program(s). Our Independence Day has nothing to do with our space program. To at least make an attempt at understanding what happened prior to our Independence Day proclamation, one should at least attempt look back and review history with a notion of what the "climate of the times" were. The untrained regularly apply their uninformed contemporary perspectives with the past, which is pretty much the way the uneducated remain uneducated. Remember when some began to start demanding removal of xmas decorations in schools and public locations? The below Harvard study now suggests how long before these same people demand the stopping of Independence Day celebrations? Please remember, some really hold high value to Harvard studies: "(CBS/What's Trending) - Can celebrating the Fourth of July turn you into a Republican? A recent Harvard University study concludes holiday celebrations have a large impact into what shapes a child culturally, socially and politically. Case in point, the 4th of July. Here is the breakdown. According to the study, a successful Independence Day, more specifically one without rain, before the age of 18 raises the likelihood of identifying as a Republican by two percent. Mind you that is a single 4th of July. Not to belabor the point, but that means that assuming if, as a child there were ten fourth of July's that you participated in and the day was sunny, then feasibly you would have a 20 percent higher likelihood of joining the Republican Party. That figure is just the beginning. By that same assumption, you are 40 percent more likely to vote Republican. You would have a nine percent boost in whether or not you'll vote at all, and you will be 30 percent more likely to contribute financially to a political campaign."

Anonymous July 4, 2011 4:44 am (Pacific time)

Daniel, that is an outstanding tribute, great thing to observe. Of all agencies in the U.S. govt., NASA has managed a mission that is not one of war, for the most part. There are glorious aspects to all space history, thanks for the great article!!

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