I am writing this on a plane on my way home to New York after a trip to Dallas—where I attended a luncheon honoring Walter Cunningham and the 40th anniversary of his Apollo 7 flight. On October 11, 1968, Walt and crewmates Wally Schirra and Donn Eisele became the first astronauts to fly an Apollo spacecraft, and returned America to orbit nearly 22 months after the Apollo 1 fire.
Their lavish hosting of the 2008 Olympic Games, followed by a recent spaceflight, underscores a very real fact: China is bent on succeeding in space, all the way to Mars. And America had better pay attention.
Fifty years ago, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration was created to stake a claim on the Space Age and the future. Eleven years later Americans had landed on the Moon and we were recognized as the preeminent spacefaring nation of the world. That investment in technology powered the American economy for at least three decades.