China has officially joined the "Moon Landing Club," which, until Saturday, was the exclusive domain of the United States and the former Soviet Union. China's rover will now putter around, doing what such missions are typically designed to do: taking lots of pictures and analyzing lunar dirt, more scientifically referred to as regolith.
It may be tempting for Americans to think, "Been there, done that." However, China is now envisioning the very same sort of ambitious megaprojects that the U.S. once dreamt of more than 50 years ago, when President John F. Kennedy urged America to "commit itself to achieving the goal ... of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth." For instance, China hopes to mine the moon for natural resources and to use it as a staging ground for further space exploration, although some believe the former goal is unrealistic because the cost is likely to exceed the value of the materials.
Still, China's wild-eyed aspirations are inspiring. It should make us yearn for the days when we, too, thought we could do anything. But those days now seem so long ago. Indeed, the latest Rasmussen poll finds that 52 percent of Americans think that our best days are behind us. What happened?
It appears that years of poor governance -- spanning at least two presidential administrations -- combined with a lackluster economy have sapped Americans of their optimism. The toxic, divisive nature of partisan politics has made Washington dysfunctional. As a result, Americans hate Congress, disapprove of President Obama and are, as The Economist writes, at risk of becoming a "low-trust society" in which suspicion of others' motives eclipses the camaraderie that typically underpins the American attitude. This is not a recipe conducive to long-term success.
In his 2011 State of the Union address, President Obama called for a new "Sputnik moment." Similar to how Americans once rallied to beat the Soviets to the moon, Mr. Obama wants us to revitalize our commitment to science and technology. But like most of his lofty speeches, this entreaty was soon forgotten. Perhaps the stark reality of a zealous and determined China will finally reinvigorate our dejected national spirit.