Oil Substitute Is Achievable
Fifty years ago (47, to be exact), the American space program was a joke- literally. "They launched another submarine down at Cape Canaveral yesterday," comedian Bob Hope told an audience, acknowledging that most American rockets fell into the Atlantic Ocean, never coming close to achieving low-earth orbit. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Communist Russia and the captive nations behind the Iron Curtain) had led the space race from the launch of the first Sputnik satellite in 1957 and showed no sign of lagging. Meanwhile, despite Alan Shepard's successfully orbiting the earth in a U.S.-launched spacecraft in 1961, the Soviet manned space flight record left the United States panting in the dust.
Things were no better back on Earth. President John F. Kennedy had suffered a devastating personal defeat in the Bay of Pigs debacle that left Cuba still ruled by Communist Fidel Castro. Insurgencies in Southeast Asia threatened to spread Communist rule throughout that region. Later that year, the Berlin Wall would become another slap in the face of Western ideals of democracy and freedom. The Free World seemed to be facing one humiliation after another at the hands of a political system that touted the accomplishments of the state and ignored the well-being and personal freedom of the people who lived under it.
On May 25, 1961, Kennedy went before a joint session of Congress to ask for a commitment of funds and, more important, the emotional and psychological support to achieve a goal that at the time seemed to exist only in the imaginations of the authors of science fiction novels. "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth," Kennedy declared. Congress made a leap of faith and agreed. Eight years and more than $9 billion (in 1960s dollars) later, on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong made "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind". Twelve more astronauts, all of them American, would visit the moon before the American space program turned to other efforts in space flight. With heart and will and the collective effort of some of the best minds to focus on solving a problem, we demonstrated our ability to prevail in the race to leave the planet, visit the moon and return safely. It is not unrealistic to suppose that Armstrong's accomplishment played a role in the ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union.
We no longer fear nuclear annihilation at the hands of the Soviet bloc. We are, however, beset by other threats of equal magnitude, among them the soaring price of oil. Thirty-nine years after Armstrong walked on the moon, demonstrating what American ingenuity and determination could accomplish, we are at the mercy of oil-producing and exporting nations who make no secret of their willingness to charge all the traffic will bear for every barrel of light crude. Biofuels provide only part of the answer. The growing use of ethanol has added more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and driven up the cost of almost every comestible to be found on American grocery shelves. Every day, Americans are faced with rising prices and shrinking discretionary income.
The picture is not entirely bleak. Replacements for distilled petroleum are within our grasp. Already, European airlines are using a synthetic fuel that the U.S. Air Force is even as we speak testing in its B-1 bomber. We are experimenting with alternatives to ethanol. Hydrogenpowered vehicles have been tested and found feasible. The answers are there.
Though the specters that haunt us are of a different nature than those of 1961, we feel that the words of the 35th president of the United States still resonate for us today. Like him, we believe that this nation can- and should- commit itself to achieving the goal of devising a substitute for petroleum fuels. While the end of the decade is less than two years away, we are certain that the research and development capabilities of this nation make a synthetic petroleum not only possible but probable withtin only a few years longer.
We call on the companies that drill for and produce oil and gasoline and their related products to spearhead this effort. In the meantime, we would suggest that this country lessen its dependence on oil imports by tapping the strategic petroleum reserve in Alaska. A few caribou may have to shift their grazing territories and a few fish may be frightened, but, like humans, these creatures have demonstrated their ability to adapt to new circumstances. We can share the planet with other species and harm neither them nor ourselves.
The will and determination that gave us the ability to leave this planet, visit its nearest neighbor and return safely are with us still. If we all bend our efforts to finding an inexpensive, environmentally friendly, efficient substitute for petroleum fuels, not only will we find our way out of our present difficulties, we will also ensure a better, safer, cleaner future for the generations that will follow us. We can do it. Let us begin.