Gill Robb Wilson
By Dr. Al Koller
This week marks the end of an era in American space exploration. Bathed in history and befuddled with “politics as usual”, our human space flight program appears poised to take its place on the dusty shelves of the past, along with the Shuttle Program and everything that has gone before it.
Although I can understand the reasons surrounding the end of Shuttle and the beginning of new commercial activity, it’s amazing to me that folks act as though what is happening is different from anything that ever happened in the history of humankind. Bull…
How do you think Vasco da Gama felt when he was denied the chance to capitalize on his experience as the first to sail from Portugal around Africa to India? Portugal became an instant leader in the 15th century sailing world, only to fade into oblivion, never to regain the prominence it once held. Rome suffered the same kind of fate, along with dynasties and nations throughout history. If you look, you can find innumerable examples where choices that changed the world were made while ignoring what seems now as gigantic errors but which, at the time, were made with the best intentions.
While we watch in silence the choices being made today for our space program, no one really knows what paths that MIGHT have been opened to us will never see the light of day – at least not in our lifetime. What makes it even more difficult to accept are that (1) we do so with the full knowledge that our only path forward will require that we rely on an old enemy that was never a match for our best minds, and (2) we will cede to others a leadership role that was hard won and never really used to its full potential. We are better than that, and we know it… Why, then, are we allowing this to happen? We have options.
Space exploration for our country never spent one penny outside our atmosphere. Every bit of it paid salaries here on earth. Space never consumed more than it gave back in the form of spin-off technologies we all use every day without even knowing from where it came. The people who took those first steps in space were part of an adventurous few who carried the flag for the rest of us and made our country the idol of the rest of the world. Worst of all, we now have better technology than we could even dream of then, and there are no good reasons to allow ourselves to drift into complacency other than laziness and the lack of the will to lead. To surrender without a real plan for the future is madness…
If you care at all about where we are headed as a nation, take a look at a man who helped found the Civil Air Patrol a long time ago. His name is Gill Robb Wilson, and he wrote a poem called “The Will to Lead” that was published in a 1960 issue of FLYING magazine. Few will remember him or his poem, and even fewer will really care – but ignoring that lesson will leave us poorer and without any explanation for what we are about to see happen to us.
Whoever said that those living in democracy get what they deserve was probably right. That’s because we get what we choose, and we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves when history asks, as it did of da Gama, what in the world were we thinking when we abandoned our legacy in space.
R.I.P., NASA and our U. S. Space Program. What a ride it might have been.
The Will To Lead
Gill Robb Wilson
First published in Flying Magazine 1960
So long as this is a free man’s world
sombody has to lead;
Somebody has to carry the ball in word
and thought and deed;
Somebody’s got to knock on doors which
never have known a key;
Somebody’s got to see the things that the
throng would never see.
Hotter than thrust when the boost is hit,
somebody’s faith must burn;
And faster than mach when the rocket’s lit,
somebody’s mind must turn;
Somebody’s got to get the proof for what
the designers plan;
And test the dreams that the prophets dream
in behalf of their fellow man.
Somebody’s got to think of pay in terms
that are more than gold;
And somebody has to spend himself to buy
what the heavens hold;
Somebody’s got to leave the crowd and walk
with his fears alone;
Somebody’s got to accept the thorns and
weave for himself a crown.
It’s ever thus as the ages roll and the
record’s written clear–
Somebody has to give himself as the
price of each frontier;
Somebody has to take a cross and climb
to a rendezvous
Where a lonesome man with a will to lead
can make the truth shine through.