As a nation, we need to re-learn when it's time to move SCE to Aux.
We've come a long way from the days when people knew obscure ways to save the day.
We've lost the will and the ability to learn when it's time to move SCE to Aux.
In the mid-1960s, instead of needing fuzzy Elmo in his annoying high-pitched voice to babble about NASA in googly-woogly terms, the first generation of little space-age kids watched Walter Cronkite. In very grownup, grandpa-voiced soothing tones, Walter told us how the space capsule worked.
He didn't need no steenkin' fuzzy red puppet.
And neither did we.
Nah. They didn't dumb it down for kids. We watched. If we were interested, we learned. If we weren't, we went outside and tossed a baseball. I thus knew terms like "auxiliary power unit" and "escape velocity" and "S-band Hi-Gain Antenna" and what they meant.
And once, one Mission Control guy and one astronaut named Alan Bean knew it was time to move SCE to Aux.
Lightning struck Apollo 12 and the telemetry was lost. Mission Control didn't know what the spacecraft was doing.
Radio transmissions became a wall of static. There were a bunch of warnings and alarms going off in the command module.
And then, calmly in Houston, in Mission Control, a controller named John Aaron said, "Try SCE to Auxiliary."
There was obviously confusion at this obscure command. The folks on the command module kind of gave a collective "what" in repeating the command.
"NCE?" they replied.
But astronaut Alan Bean knew where the switch was. He moved it. And Apollo 12 rebooted and went about its way to the moon.
We didn't know it was "rebooting" back then and wouldn't for 20 more years. Few knew what it meant.
SCE, by the way, was the signal conditioning equipment system, and moving one of the countless toggles on the Apollo instrument panel to "auxiliary" would let the system work on low voltage.
In the ensuing years, we didn't talk about how the astronauts rebooted the spacecraft or just what the switch did.
Instead, we went for the nice and literally fuzzy way to keep kids interested in what used to be a lucrative, heroic way of life, building and flying rockets for space research and exploration. We went after Elmo instead of SCE to Aux.
For the first time, even counting the fire on Apollo 1 and the losses of Challenger and Columbia when spacecraft spent years grounded, there is no more program to send American men and women into space under the auspices of NASA. When Atlantis lands Wednesday and her wheels stop for the final time, for the first time in my life, there is no American program under construction, with definite funding, to put astronauts in space. There is a space program. It uses Russian vehicles and private projects to put Americans in space.
But the lack of a national commitment is indicative of having lost our way. Something fundamental is gone, lost amid hand wringing and wrangling and spending more than we take in as individuals, families and a nation. The piper (aviation pun intended) is coming to call.
Sometime in the next few years, private industry will start flying astronauts to the space station, and maybe that's for the best.
Waiting for the polar extremes of politics and the bloated, self-preserving bureaucracy ever to agree on anything big and dreamlike again is beyond the ken of science, and the engineers and real experts - real heroes who did their jobs.
Maybe somewhere in the private sector, the entrepreneur-driven sector, there are people who are allowed to do their jobs, are motivated to do them, who know well enough what they are doing to be able to quote an absolutely obscure fix to an emergency.
Can anyone, anymore, just move SCE to Aux?
(Giannamore, a resident of Toronto, is business editor of the Herald-Star. His e-mail address is email@example.com.)