Or, more precisely, how far we have refused to raise ourselves in recent times:
We used to have an SST. No more. We revolutionized astronomy with the Hubble. Its replacement, the Webb, has been cancelled. We used to visit the vacuum of perpetual night in a spacecraft straight out of Amazing Stories — and the last one will shortly make its last flight. The International Space Station is scheduled for “deorbiting” in the next ten years. There is no plan to replace it. Humanity, which once crossed oceans in hilariously tiny boats, has turned inward, and instead of reaching for the stars, now stares morosely at the ground, its shoulders bent in a shrug of despair. No more vision, no more courage, no more faith in our own destiny.
Yeah, but look! We have twirly light bulbs!
Sometime, something great happens. The moon landing. The atomic bomb. Even the interstate highway system were all great advancements brought to you [by] Uncle Sam (apple pie not included).
But then Uncle Sam gets complacent. We haven’t had an infrastructure improvement worth noting in my entire lifetime. NIMBYism is keeping our cleanest, cheapest source of energy out of reach. And we are retiring a shuttle that came out the same year as the Fleetwood V-8-6-4, with nothing to replace it.
These days, even our apple pie is fake.
Addendum: Andrea Harris notes:
Perhaps science fiction is to blame. As long as outer space shows us a pretty but empty face, we’ll be content with using our imagination to populate the stars while we stay right here on Earth. In space no one can hear your sigh of disappointment.