ELLENTON -Heading into get coffee at Dunkin Donuts, I decided to go in, rather than drive through. In Florida, all morning fast food eateries are social institutions; the retired folk who inhabit these places each morning turn them into veritable salons of conversation. I had other plans, bringing in my laptop. But the sun was in the corner, and I sat in one of the comfy lounge chairs next to Steve, a retiree.
He had worked at Honeywell in Clearwater; his job was rocket and space guidance systems. We talked of the recent nine year trip of the New Horizons craft that took the first, in depth photos of Pluto, and is now heading to a distant object still. One of his main projects was a missile defense system. When it was proposed, it almost did not work. At Honeywell, dozens of engineers worked for years with the system, which was pejoratively nicknamed Star Wars and also became technology that is the Iron Dome that protects Israel.
In this political season, my mind went back to the 1980s, when many of my teachers and the media pejoratively made fun of the Ronald Reagan “Star Wars” program, initially called High Frontier. I told Steve that it made no sense to me then, even as a high schooler, that you would not spend almost ANY amount to defend yourself, even if there were a chance that it might not work. However, we children had been indoctrinated with the supposed wisdom of Mutually Assured Destruction, and we were supposed to live with it. Even as naive high school students, we could see hippie foolishness right in front of our eyes. Thank goodness it did not win.
Well, Reagan had different ideas. And behind him were hundreds of engineers working with blueprints, gyroscopes and software to do something different, and try something new. Ironically, I am sure Reagan was emboldened by John F. Kennedy, in his famous promise of the moon.
Today, technology allows us to pinpoint Pluto in a nine year trip, and it can prevent lethal weapons from destroying Jerusalem, and Washington. Thinking about it, I have chills. Good chills. Mostly about the genius of our country, and great projects. But also I have chills that dreamers won over naysayers.