What was the result? The United States was the first and only nation to land people on the moon, and the world reaped the benefits of the unanticipated spin-offs: 24-hour news channels, cell phones, GPS navigation, and, of course, Tang. In 2006, U.S. scientists won every Nobel Prize in science. This all came about because five decades earlier, the United States made a commitment and threw everything at it.
Now leading U.S. scientists and their institutions have warned us of the urgent need to deal with climate change. It is not the American way to complain that meeting this challenge will cost too much or destroy the economy. History shows that addressing this crisis head-on will not only reduce the risks confronting us but will also reap unanticipated benefits.
The last U.S. administration failed to heed the advice of its leading scientists, leaving the challenge of climate change all the more difficult to resolve. What is needed is the determination and commitment once sparked by Sputnik. It is a daunting and exhilarating prospect for the incoming administration, and I can only hope the will to meet it will be found.