The dishes cleared and the coffee poured, the Lions listened to kids talk about space.
The tragic failure of the space shuttle Challenger means that space exploration is still "a dangerous proposition," said Rusty Good, 17, a fresh-faced Huntington Beach high school senior. "Time and cost was probably responsible for this tragedy. NASA was expected to do too much too soon . . . . If America is serious about space exploration, Congress should give NASA money without expecting immediate, glorifying results."
Good was one of four Huntington Beach high school seniors who spoke--earnestly and sometimes dramatically--on "Space Exploration, What Purpose?" Thursday night at an after-dinner student speakers' contest held by the Huntington Beach Host Lions Club. The club speech contest, also held by other local Lions clubs, is the first step for competitors in the 49th annual Lions Club national student speakers' contest. Following zone, regional, district and area contests, the final statewide competition will be held June 7 in Stockton.
Thursday, about 60 people--including members of the club, judges, friends, teachers and parents--turned out to hear the speakers: Scott Miller from Voyager Christian High School, Tim Campbell from Ocean View High School, Rob Wimbish from Huntington Beach High School and Good from Edison High School.
Suggests New Priorities
The topic, chosen last year, suddenly became more timely with the recent space shuttle disaster, said Joe Whaling, the speech contest committee chairman.
Good, who said he plans to become a naval or aeronautical engineer, was the only speaker to suggest that America change its priorities regarding the space program.
"We need to re-evaluate our purpose for going to space," he told the audience. "In the future, it will be impractical for large numbers of people to go to the stars," he said, citing cost and time as well as safety. What if, he proposed, space were used to develop industries rather than inhabited colonies?
"The zero-gravity environment in space is excellent for developing crystals, ball bearings; drugs such as interferon (to alleviate some cancer symptoms) could be produced perfectly and cheaply. So-called frictionless ball bearings can be developed that are perfectly round. If you put them in your automobile, one little tap could get you one block because there would be no friction in your transmission. Such industry could help all of mankind here and now."
The Lions nodded and chuckled as Good asked them to picture the effects of giant solar panels constructed in space. "They can transmit energy, cheap energy, back down to the earth. No nuclear power plants, no power plants on our beach--on Pacific Coast Highway--spewing out smoke in the atmosphere every day. No oil. No OPEC. No problems like that."
On the other hand Wimbish, who said he aims to enter politics, suggested manned space stations, "self-contained celestial cities with solar stations and orbiting food-producing stations" would solve the problems of diminishing resources and overpopulation on earth.
Nation's Shock in 1957
Wimbish noted that political supporters of the early space shuttle program in 1971 pointed to the nation's shock in 1957 from the first Russian Sputnik, which challenged the U.S. position of leadership.
"A nation such as the United States indicates its power by . . . an active space program," Wimbish said in his speech. "It is clear that turning our back on NASA and its space programs would be turning our back on technological progress."
Moreover, he noted there is a "psychological escape knowing there is something beyond this (planet). Here on earth, we know what we have . . . . We know what we can produce . . . . We must reach outward and we must reach upward.
"We have to hail those brave explorers, space explorers, who have paved the way for us. Many have sacrificed their lives . . . .
"We should thank goodness that Christopher Columbus did not wait around until he had a DC-10 to prove the world was round and that there was a route to India."
Miller noted that the space shuttle program has taught scientists much about the solar system, sparked the development of satellites that help predict weather and speed communications and fostered international cooperation such as the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz mission in which the United States and USSR conducted tests in space.
"With the recent Challenger tragedy, it's been asked: Will NASA come to a halt? I believe it shouldn't come to a halt," Miller said. "For if the shuttle program were to come to a halt, the seven astronauts would have died for nothing . . . .
"As (Rep.) Dan Lungren (R-Long Beach) stated: 'We are leaders because we are willing to venture forth. If we lose that, we lose the heart of America.' "