I grew up in the heroic age of American science and engineering. In my lifetime, the space program put men on the moon, the interstate highway system connected the continent, Salk and Sabin conquered polio, and computers went from room-sized behemoths to hand-held wonders. In my youth, America clearly led the world in its ability to conduct large-scale science and engineering projects. True, some of these projects were morally disturbing. The Castle Bravo test of March 1, 1954, a 15-megaton thermonuclear blast at Bikini Atoll, caused radioactive fallout to rain down on unsuspecting victims. Yet the nuclear tests also represented scientific and engineering expertise of the highest order.
When John F. Kennedy said in 1962 that we would go to the moon in that decade, he was not indulging in wishful speculation but was confidently projecting on the basis of proven success. Tom Hanks, playing Jim Lovell in the movie Apollo 13, said that it was not a miracle that we got to the moon. We j...
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