Hall of Fame Astronaut Prompts Inspiring Moment in Senate Debate on Health Care

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Dos Equis beer folks have The Most Interesting Man in the World as their pitchman: “He runs against the bulls, not with them.”  Of course, they had to invent him.

Sonia Chang-Diaz, a two-term member of the Massachusetts Senate, has The Most Interesting Dad in the World.  I invented the title but the man is 100% real.

Meet Franklin Chang-Diaz, Ph.D., a distinguished scientist and researcher, an astronaut who flew frequently on the space shuttle, a newly inducted member of the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, and incandescent hero to millions of Latin Americans.

Born 62 years ago in San Jose, Costa Rica, Mr. Chang-Diaz earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Connecticut in 1969 and a doctorate in applied plasma physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1977.  Before retiring from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 2005, he was one of the most active members of the astronaut corps, having flown on seven space shuttle flights over a 16-year period and logged over 1,600 hours in space.

In 1986, Mr. Chang-Diaz received the Liberty Medal from President Ronald Reagan at the Statue of Liberty Centennial in New York City, and in 1987 the Medal of Excellence from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.  He is considered an instrumental figure in implementing closer ties between the U.S. astronaut corps and the world scientific community.  In 1987, he started the Astronaut Science Colloquium Program and later helped to establish the Astronaut Science Support Group, which he directed until January 1989.

When inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame on Saturday, May 5, Mr. Chang-Diaz joined the company of such famous men and woman as Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins, Sally Ride and Alan Shepard.   

Senator Chang-Diaz, who occupies the Second Suffolk District seat in Boston once held by Diane Wilkerson, is one of two daughters Franklin Chang-Diaz had by his first wife, Candace Buker Chang, a social worker. 

The first Hispanic or Latina woman to be elected to the Massachusetts Senate, Ms. Chang-Diaz grew up in Newton and now lives in Jamaica Plain.  She is a former teacher in the Lynn and Boston public schools who, at 34 years of age, is already a chair of a major legislative committee, Education, and has a bright future in politics.

On Tuesday of this week, while debating the Senate’s proposed health care payment reform and cost control bill, Senator Chang-Diaz made a strong speech in favor of an amendment that would have required the state to study the feasibility of implementing a single-payer health care system, like Canada’s, in Massachusetts.  She talked of having been at Cape Canaveral when her father entered the U.S.  Astronaut Hall of Fame, of the pride she naturally felt for her father and his accomplishments, and also of her pride in being an American, and of her confidence in our nation’s ability to reform and improve its incredibly complex and difficult-to-manage health care system. 

Likening the complexity of that system to that of building, launching and running the space shuttle, Senator Chang-Diaz essentially said, If we can do the space shuttle, we can do single-payer health care  -- and not diminish the great aspects of health care in the U.S. but actually improve the system and make it more affordable and equitable.

Ever since the U.S. sent astronauts to the moon in 1969, we’ve all heard statements like, If we can send a man to the moon, why can’t we cure cancer, eliminate pollution, make college affordable, stop war, etc., etc.?  It’s tempting, therefore, to dismiss Senator Chang-Diaz’s comment about single-payer health care as a cliché.

Even if it is a cliché, it doesn’t make it false:  We can solve the horrendous costly health care mess we’re in today, not just in Massachusetts but across the U.S.A.  Single-payer may not be the answer.  Most probably it is not the answer for us now.  But there is an answer to be found. 

Senator Chang-Diaz makes a daunting situation a little better by reminding us that optimism, not defeatism, is the more justifiable option for Americans. 

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