Technology, innovation, and education were the main topics and largest segments time-wise in President Obama's State of the Union address. He noted the country is at a "Sputnik Moment," akin to when the Soviet Union shocked the U.S. and the world in 1957 when it launched the world's first artificial satellite. That event spurred a drive in technology and education that resulted in the U.S. landing the first (and only) astronauts on the moon—along with technology developments that spread across many areas.
The President said that today the challenge is to "win the future" in terms of innovation and manufacturing to propel our economy out of recession and into a world of clean, renewable energy—with minimal dependence on foreign energy sources.
The analogy to the early competition in space is a good one, but like any comparison, not entirely correct. Back in 1957, the country as a whole was well aware of the challenge and put pressure on the government to respond—resulting three-and-a-half years later in the Kennedy Administration's commitment to the moon landing effort (view video). (In fairness, President Eisenhower, who appeared less concerned, had U-2 spy-plane photos—which he couldn’t acknowledge back in 1957—and knew the Soviet threat and capability wasn't as serious as perceived.) Today we have no one event to galvanize us into action, just the President saying (and perhaps rightly so) it is time to act.
But the challenge in the Space Race was mainly technical, as well as educational for the engineering workforce needed for the effort, with the country united in the endeavor from the outset, with a specific goal in mind. Today, while technology development is the objective, budget restrictions and reining in the national debt, and conflicting political priorities over the coming years could throttle any all-out effort—which is without any specific goal yet, that would be similar to the moon landing Apollo project.
Getting various constituencies together in any semblance of cooperation to "win the future" could well be the biggest challenge.
I agree with you on both the "green technology" race and the fact that China has not only quite a bit of capital but also resources to develop intellectual property. However, I wanted to comment that in the US...if we are to compete technologically, it needs to start in the schools on all levels as it pertains to math, science, and engineering...teaching children, teens, and young adults to start developing technology..encouraging them to innovate. I'm concerned that schools are losing funding, teacher jobs are getting cut...who will lead these efforts? In addition, even though we are according to the UN the top manufacturing producer in the world, we are doing it with less people because we replace the labor with automation.
The fundamental problem isn't an external enemy, it is us.
We have allowed 'our' government to perpetuate a government school system that specializes in behavioral conditioning: the brainwashing that somebody else's answer is more important than your own. Until we rise above that basic failing, our kids will continue to fall short. School is about gold stars and kissing @ss for grades, not about learning to think.
I was a fortunate one. My teachers didn't want to suffer my questions, so they sat me in the back of the room as 'teacher's assistant' ... where I watched my fellow students bulldozed into submission to the acceptance criteria.
It is time to dynamite this rut and those politicians who profit from its continuance (and that includes both Dems and GOP).
As a kid I tuned into that Sputnik "beep, beep" signal shortly after it was launched. Aside from the wonder of the overall event, it still just beeped, so a sense of "so what" crept in.
The importance of Sputnik was what it did to the US efforts afterward as there were clear goals. Regardless of the vagueness of the goals in the president's speech, Rick's article comment vis a vis the political and economic realities being currently faced most likely will thwart many efforts.
While there were significant technological spin-offs, the primary motivation of the Apollo program was political: to make the Americans feel better than the USSR.
The Apollo effort was achieved through nationalism with most of the people feeling they were doing a great thing for America while they also felt a threat from potential USSR nuke attacks.
It is a lot easier to motivate nationalism and such efforts when formed up as a battle line against a very clear external enemy that can be beaten in a very specific race or battle with a specific goal and target.
I doubt very much that the same basic approach would work now.
Firstly, there is no clear enemy. In the 1950s/60s the USSR was a very clear enemy and kids practiced air raid drills at school. Now perhaps "We have met the enemy and he is us", but that does not sit well with nationalism. Perhaps China can be waved around as a vague trading "enemy", but nothing very clear.
Secondly, there is no clear goal and race. Getting to the moon before the USSR and before the end of the decade is a clear and specific goal. We can mentally see a finish line with ticker tape parades etc.
Long term growth and economic prosperity is not a specific goal. When are you "done"? What are the ticker tape parade moments?
In short, trying to equate this with a Sputnik moment is just wishful thinking.
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