I never thought I’d grow old in an era where everything is actually worse than it was in the good old days. Civilization has seemingly gone several steps backwards spiritually, socially and technologically since the 1970s. I grew up expecting to take my summer vacations on Mars, and here it is 2014 and we’re living in a country that currently lacks even a high-speed rail system.

The aging space shuttle fleet was decommissioned a few years ago, following numerous catastrophic failures, yet America is supposed to be the wealthiest, most technologically advanced nation on earth. What went wrong?

This is certainly not the future I envisioned growing up. We were supposed to be living in moon bases by the end of the 20th century, hanging out on space-stations and cruising around in anti-gravity vehicles. Promises were made. It was our duty as Americans to lead the way in this noble endeavor “for all mankind.”

Instead, our nation now stands on the verge of economic collapse and our technological advantage is quickly eroding. The sciences are being systematically defunded at a time when funding should be greatly increased. The most sophisticated technology available is being used to track, control and kill people - not to help them.

A perfect example of this phenomenon is the fate of America’s space program. It defies logic that 70-year-old solid rocket technology is still the foundation of modern space travel. The Nazis built the first ballistic missiles in 1944 for use as terror weapons against the Allies. Following the war, instead of being prosecuted for war crimes, thousands of Nazi scientists were hired to help develop America’s nuclear missile capabilities against the Soviets. In 1958 NASA was conceived by the Department of Defense as the public face of America’s manned space program, and former SS lieutenant Wernher von Braun was appointed its director. Thus began the Space Race.

By the time NASA retired the shuttle fleet in 2011, America was the undisputed leader in space exploration. Our scientific achievements were a source of great national pride for many. Yet we were told at the time that no replacement vehicle had been created to succeed the already obsolete space shuttles, which had been in service since 1981. Now we’re supposed to believe that the only way to get our astronauts to the International Space Station is by paying the Russians to launch them using even more antiquated technology than the shuttle.

The Air Force claims to be in the development stages of the next generation of military space plane (the X37B) “capable of striking any target in the world within 24 hours,” although of course it’s highly classified. Meanwhile, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence for the existence of Aurora – a top secret space vehicle rumored to already be in service. This scenario makes perfect sense. It is inconceivable that the U.S. military would give up the strategic high-ground of space and simply shut down the shuttle program without a fully tested and operational replacement already in the wings.

The recent failure of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, which exploded over the Mojave Desert in California, killing one pilot and seriously injuring another, demonstrates how dangerous commercial space travel can be, and it raises serious doubts about the wisdom of leaving such an important endeavor in private hands.

The SpaceShipTwo tragedy does not bode well for the space tourism industry or commercial space flight in general. New Mexico stands to lose a lot of revenue if Virgin Galactic fails. Proponents and critics of commercializing space are already starting to rethink strategies. Some experts foresee difficulties obtaining funding, while others worry about systemic technical problems. Still others lament that Richard Branson’s dream might be over. Industry insiders are quietly concerned about restoring public confidence.

There are two sides to America’s success in space: the publicly acknowledged program (NASA), and the highly-classified, far more advanced military space program. The Pentagon’s “black budget” consists of top secret funding estimated to be anywhere from $60 billion to nearly $1 trillion dollars – and it is beyond the scrutiny of most members of Congress and even the President. It says a lot about our national priorities that public funding for science has been drastically cut while the black budget continues to grow exponentially.

Researchers have long suspected NASA of being a front for other, more exotic military space programs funded through the black budget. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that there exists a “breakaway civilization” within America’s vast military-industrial complex. It’s possible that a supra-governmental coalition already has access to radically advanced technology - light years ahead of contemporary science -- but they steadfastly refuse to share it with the rest of humanity.

It appears that America’s true destiny in the universe has been hijacked for the sake of national security.

Jason Darensburg is a columnist for the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at opinion
@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @DailyLobo.