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Senator-astronaut tells students: Space travel could eliminate war

September 20th, 2011 Posted in Opinion

Story & Photo by Heidi Hansen

LOGAN—Answers to some of the world’s most intractable problems—things like war, poverty and inequality—can be found in outer space, says a former U.S. senator and astronaut who spoke at USU Friday afternoon.

The occasion was Constitution Day, the 224th anniversary of the final signing of the U.S. Constitution in 1878, and the speaker was someone who has seen America both up-close as a U.S. senator from Utah, and from the perspective of space as a passenger on the Space Shuttle.

Jake Garn, 79, who served three terms as a U.S. senator from Utah from 1974-1993, was the first sitting member of the Congress to fly in space aboard the Shuttle Discovery in 1985. He took advantage of the USU College Republicans’ invitation to come to campus to address wide-ranging topics from social welfare reform to his belief in political term limits and technology.

But his most impassioned topic was the importance of space travel in an increasingly connected global society.

“Space travel will change this planet,” Garn said. “It will eliminate wars when we realize the insignificance of these artificial differences we fight about.”

“As more people travel in space,” Garn said, “we will see that we are all children of God traveling on the spaceship planet Earth together.”

Twenty-seven years after blasting off, Garn, a Republican from Richfield, is still adventurous. If he could get on a one-way trip to Mars, he said, he’d take it.

He said his experience as an astronaut allowed him to gain a unique perspective on the planet. If others could see the Earth from that perspective, he said, they might not care so much about today’s problems as they view themselves in a more universal picture.

This dream is achievable, Garn said.

“What we take for granted as technology today—like jet air planes—those didn’t exist when I learned to fly,” he said. “But now they’re commonplace for everyone.

Similarly, he predicted, “Space travel will become as common as air travel today.”

Garn also criticized President Barrack Obama for his recent decisions to end funding for the Shuttle program “without an alternative vehicle for space travel.”

“What it’s done is made us dependent on the Russians,” said Garn. The end of the U.S. Space Shuttle program means that American astronauts must pay a reported $51 million or more for a round-trip to the International Space Station.

“We’ve never wasted a dime in space,” Garn said, explaining that NASA’s budget was six-tenths of one percent of the total federal budget. “There are no stores in space, all money was spent on Earth, and it created a lot of jobs in the space program.”

But Garn, who is a conservative Republican, indicated that he does not wholly support the Tea Party plan to “cut everything.”

And there are other areas where the former senator disagrees with the conservative movement. “There are people who through no fault of their own, got into trouble and they deserve our help,” Garn said.  “But I also know someone who decided to make a living being poor.”

“Our country doesn’t do a good enough job of taking care of the needy because too many are abusing the welfare system,” he said.

Garn is also a staunch supporter of technological advancement, which is often fueled by federal or corporate funding.

“Remember the amazing opportunities that await you in the future,” Garn told his student audience. “There will be an explosion of technology. Train your brains so you can take advantage of the opportunities that come from technology.”

Joking that he never left the state of Utah until age 19 when he took a trip to Idaho with a friend, Garn said he never could have imagined that he would become an astronaut and see the world.

Garn asked the crowd to “stop and think about how important is it to educate your brain so you can tell others about the amazing things you will do that haven’t been invented yet, that you can’t even imagine.”

Students appreciated Garn’s message.

“It was nice to hear someone who was in Congress who appreciates change in technology,” said Ethan Birch, a computer engineering student. “You don’t hear that a lot these days.”

Under federal law, all universities receiving federal funding must recognize Constitution Day on or around Sept. 17 each year.

The USU College Republicans were glad to step up. “We saw nothing happening here,” said Mikey Rodgerson, chairman of the College Republicans.

“We want to help students be aware of conservative ideals,” he said. “Our country is broken and the Constitution is the answer.”

“Academia is often more liberal-leaning, so we want to let students know about us, that we’re here,” Rodgerson said,

Though Garn has been out of office since 1993, he is not without political groupies.

Susan Henderson traveled from Preston, Idaho, to get him to sign a copy of his book, Why I Believe.

“The first time I read his book, it endeared me to him forever,” said Henderson, a former USU elementary education student, now mom of four.

She described Garn’s speaking demeanor as “present” and “inspiring,” and said she loved the way his experience as an astronaut has informed his worldview.

“I just think he’s right,” she said. “There’s so much we don’t know about space, technology—it makes you feel in awe of life.”

After Garns’ election to the Senate in 1974, he maintained his popularity in Utah; during his second and third terms he won reelection with 74 percent of the vote.

Garn said he decided not to run for another term because, “I believe in term limits, and I was the only one I could impose them on.”

Presidents should be limited to a single six-year term, he said, and senators should stop after a maximum of three six-year terms. This would help equalize Congress, he said, decrease special-interest control and make politics less concerned with reelection.

Given the anniversary of his speech, Garn also had a few words to say on the Constitution.

The former senator and astronaut credits constitutional freedoms for U.S. advancements that have blessed Americans’ lives.

“Others in the world don’t live the way we do,” Garn said. “Don’t forget how fortunate we are to live in a country that allows us to decide what we will do on our own.”

“The U.S. has set an example of how talented individuals are when they are free,” he said.


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