Jeff Kottkamp and Rich Ramos: What we should do to come together as a nation

In our republic, the past six months has been enough to make all of us wonder whether there’s anything we can do to unify and lift us up as one nation. Almost every day another story illustrates how divided we are.

For those old enough to remember, 9/11 brought Americans together much like World War II brought the country together after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  When times seem the toughest it’s an American trait to band together and put the interest of the nation above self-interest.

Over time, though, the unity and national pride generated by 9/11 has faded away.  We now find ourselves in a time of deep division.  Are we simply doomed to watch the country’s fabric continue to fray? Is there anything short of war or national tragedy that can bring us together?

We offer a solution.

We need only look to the past to see the path for future unity. On Sept. 12, 1962, President John F. Kennedy delivered his famous “Moon Speech” at Rice University. The president set a goal for our country, to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade, which at that moment was unachievable. We simply didn’t have the technology to achieve such a goal.

Yet the American people didn’t see the president’s goal as an impossibility but rather as a challenge to come together and do something great. Out of that challenge we made it through the turbulent ’60s and in July 1969 we landed on the moon as a unified people “taking one small step for man … and one giant leap for mankind.”

Now is the time for all Americans to again unify behind the common cause of space exploration. Now is the time to unify as a people behind a common goal: to put an astronaut on Mars by 2025. It’s a goal for all Americans … and it would be about more than simply the national pride of landing on Mars. Such a bold goal would drive the advancement of technology, would require advances in our education system, and would help transform our economy by replacing outdated and unneeded jobs with high-wage, high-tech 21st century jobs.

With this challenge we will find our next generation of great men and women who will fill the history books of tomorrow. Their achievements will be monumental and improve the quality of life for all Americans. From the Wright Brothers to Einstein to Steve Jobs: Great minds from each generation meet the challenges of their times. If we accept the challenge to go to Mars, today’s generation will most certainly surprise and amaze us with advances in technology we can’t now imagine. 

Technology developed to make the trip to Mars may unlock the cure to cancer, the eradication of neuromuscular diseases, or simply change the way we live each day in simple but profound way. 

The microwave oven is an example of a technology that was developed in the space program that is now used by most people daily. Who knows what daily task may be profoundly changed as we develop technology for the mission to Mars.

We should accept the challenge to go to Mars because that kind of challenge brings out the best of us as a people. We should do this because it will advance technology and improve our quality of life. But most of all we should do this because in striving to achieve that goal it will unite us as a nation.

This is the first in a series of columns discussing the status of the aerospace industry, education, technology, and the history of space and its effect on our history and future. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp is president of Jeff Kottkamp, P.A. He was Florida’s 17th lieutenant governor from 2007 to 2011. While in office he chaired the board of directors of Space Florida , and helped lead efforts to strengthen Florida’s position as global leader in aerospace. He worked closely with NASA and the Air Force Space Command as Florida developed commercial space opportunities.

Rich Ramos is chairman and director of Ramos & Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business-development and government-consulting firm. He has been a staff aide to a member of Congress, and an executive as well as a legislative leader in state government. This admitted space wonk’s interest and research have fueled his efforts to make it a driving policy issue for nearly 25 years.

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