A Look Back Creates Optimism for the Future

Editor in chief: TERESA HANSEN

A few weeks ago, our country celebrated the 40th anniversary of man’s first steps on the moon. Just three days before that anniversary, Walter Cronkite, well-known for his coverage of the lunar landing and Neil Armstrong’s and Buzz Aldrin’s historic walk, died at age 92. If you watched television at all during that 40th anniversary week, you had the opportunity to relive the event as it was narrated by Cronkite. If you are too young to remember or weren’t born when it occurred in 1969, you were able to see what many of us saw 40 years ago.

The replayed news archives show that putting a man on the moon greatly impacted our nation and its people’s psyche. In a time when the country was engaged in a controversial and divisive war in Southeast Asia, a cold war with Russia and was enthralled in the civil rights movement, just to name a few issues, the nation came together and accomplished a technological feat that many believed was impossible.

For the past several years, I’ve heard speakers at various events say the United States and the electric utility industry need to adopt a space program mentality when it comes to meeting energy challenges. I’ve also heard many people compare President Obama’s call to develop new, clean energy technologies and create clean energy jobs to the late President Kennedy’s call to put a man on the moon. While I don’t care to discuss similarities or differences between Presidents Obama and Kennedy, I do think parallels and similarities exist between challenges today and those in the 1960s.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was created in 1958 while President Dwight D. Eisenhower was in office. It is still a government entity. Many say big government never accomplishes anything worthwhile, yet NASA employed some of the nation’s brightest scientists and engineers who embraced challenge and put a man on the moon. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) isn’t structured exactly like NASA, but it, too, is a large government agency that employs some of the nation’s best and brightest scientists and engineers. The head of the DOE, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, is one them. The DOE has been challenged to satisfy our ever-increasing appetite for electricity with new technologies that do not emit greenhouse gases (GHGs), as well as reduce GHG emissions while continuing to use our existing generating sources. The DOE is also tasked with improving efficiency from power plants to transmission and distribution systems to the equipment that consumes energy on the customers’ premises.

These are mammoth challenges, and they aren’t the only ones the country faces. Some people doubt that we can meet them; others say we will meet today’s challenges and will emerge a stronger nation. The recent look back to 1969 makes me believe the optimists will be right.

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