Think interplanetary, shop locally

Let's show some support for small business and space travel

It’s weird. The reader knows the results of last Tuesday’s election, but the writer does not. It’s like the Schrödinger’s cat experiment in quantum mechanics, but Measure L is in the box instead of a simultaneously dead-and-alive feline.

OK, maybe not. But this uncertain political state of in-between-ness does force Bites to stop thinking about local elections for a moment and focus instead on other interests. Like sustainable neighborhoods. And space travel.

In the summer, Bites reported on efforts by Curtis Park residents to limit or even ban new corporate chain stores in their neighborhood. Now it looks like the small-biz boosters are changing tactics.

The group Curtis Park Character Advocates has joined neighborhood and business groups to launch a local business “passport” program, encouraging residents to visit the small businesses in their backyard. The Sierra Curtis Neighborhood Association, the North Franklin District Business Association and the Greater Broadway Partnership are also partners.

You can pick up your passport at local businesses on Freeport Boulevard, Franklin Boulevard and Broadway. Shop local during the month of November and collect enough merchant signatures to fill up the passport, and you’ll be entered into a drawing for fabulous prizes. The drawing will be held during a Small Business Saturday event on November 29, at Pangaea Bier Cafe and Gunther’s Ice Cream Shop, from 3 to 5 p.m.

American Express started Small Business Saturday four years ago, right between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and participation and sales have been growing since.

Rosanna Herber with Curtis Park Character Advocates says the chain-store limits are “on hold” for the time being. Hundreds of residents signed petitions in support, but the idea was less popular with local business groups. “One thing we can all agree on is that we want you to shop at local stores.”

“Instead of saying ’We don’t want this,’ we’re taking a more positive approach by showing appreciation for the small business we have,” Herber added.

Last week was a very bad one for America’s space effort, wrote New York Times media critic David Carr, and “a reminder that our country’s privatized effort to crawl into space on the cheap isn’t working.”

First, a commercial cargo rocket operated by a private company called Orbital Sciences and bound for the International Space Station exploded on its Virginia launch pad. Three days later, a test pilot was killed when Richard Branson’s experimental SpaceShip Two, designed for future private suborbital space tourism, crashed in the Mojave Desert.

NASA contracts with private companies like Orbital Sciences to get stuff to the space station, in refurbished Russian rockets from the 1960s. We’ve also outsourced the space transport of actual people to the Russians. Since the space shuttle was retired, NASA depends entirely on rides in the Soyuz—at about $71 million per seat.

How did our space program go so far adrift? As U.S. Astronaut and Davis resident Steve Robinson told SN&R a couple years back, America got into a financial squeeze. It couldn’t do its part to maintain the space station, maintain the shuttle program and develop a new launch system all at the same time. As the shuttle program ended, there was no new vehicle ready to take its place.

“It kind of hurts our sense of leadership and calls into question our future as a spacefaring nation, when we’ve given up, at least temporarily, the ability to send United States citizens into space,” Robinson added.

NASA’s not-so-imaginatively named Space Launch System—the first vehicle in two generations capable of lifting Americans beyond low-Earth orbit—is supposed to begin tests in 2017. But right now America has no particular destination in mind. Obama scrapped Bush II’s plan for a moon return. Republicans have nixed Obama’s proposal to land on an asteroid.

A manned trip to Mars may never occur in Bites’ lifetime. Lots of conservatives and liberals alike sniff at NASA spending. They argue private enterprise can do it better, or that we have more important priorities.

Outsourcing may be cheaper, but it doesn’t seem to be getting us anywhere. And try to imagine how much poorer we’d be—as a society, as an economy—without the Apollo program and other big investments in science. NASA’s budget today is one-half of 1 percent of the federal budget. It bounced around 1 percent throughout the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. Bites doesn’t know what percentage it should be. That’s not really the most important question.

The question is whether we’re still the same country that led the human space effort for 40 years, inspired millions of people and made world-changing advances in science and technology. And what does it mean if we are not?