There is really no purpose in beating around the bush and trying to sugar coat it. Today, fifty years on, we celebrate successes then at the limits of our imagination. Today, we parade those heroes of a bygone era once more in front of the admiring choir, many deserving of recognition that eluded them back then for the risks they took on our behalf. But that list of heroes is now growing shorter and is not being replenished.
Nor have our imaginations.
Tonight we attended a funeral disguised as a celebration. For some 30-40 years the "old fogey" has been on life support. Provided with resources, but showing no signs of life. It is now time to just let go.
The attendees at the wake, most on leave from the old folks home, told the same ancient stories to the same wrinkled ears that have been handed down through the decades. Background music from the 60's set them scrambling to reset their hearing aids. Just as the agency today is a stiff replica of its former self, Frank Sinatra, Jr. imitated his vastly more talented father singing among the stars.
Young people, who once led the agency to triumph and are desperately needed to reinvigorate it today, were not on the invitation list tonight. The have grown tired of the recurring dinosaur stories and seek more interesting stimulation in their daily lives.
The Emperor, intimidated by the real heroes who spoke before him, claimed that his domain is "doing well" despite lack of whole cloth. Yet he only discussed the more youthful robotic missions and their accomplishments in making that claim. And once again, the capstone of his speech was the description of his woe at having to buy Soyuz's to fill the capability gap of his sole making. It was too bad the "hook in his bosom" wasn't the one dragging him off-stage before further embarrassment.
Perhaps the saddest part of this vigil was that none of the honored risk takers of yore could reach back to the spirit that they possessed in their prime. None could pose the challenge to dispense with yet another celebration looking backwards and to call out the Emperor for lacking the vision to turn his $16B a year gift from the taxpayers into something beyond the uninspiring ancient capsules and rockets we developed 50 years ago.
After paying our respects, the time always comes to bury our dead. We make room on the surface for the young to come into their own and make progress past their forefathers'.
Time to move on. Time to move forward.