But over time, the Strip began to realize that the big scientific discoveries -- the ones clueing us in to the nature of other planets, the evolution of stars and the fate of the universe -- were coming not from missions piloted by the likes of Buck Rogers but from much cheaper and more efficient space robots.
Manned space travel, meanwhile, kept taking a beating. After the Challenger exploded and the Columbia disintegrated, it became obvious that easy surface-to-orbit jaunts were in fact a long way off.
As it turns out, space travel is not only incredibly expensive but also still quite risky.
Some might even say that after all we've learned about the dangers involved, only jackasses would hurtle people into the void, risking life and limb just for the sake of national prestige.
But that's not stopping Sam Brownback.
The Kansas senator is one of the chief proponents of a new thrust into outer space. This has earned the conservative Republican some ribbing. The Wichita Eagle, for example, blasted the senator on December 7, saying that "Brownback's head is above the clouds."
But to those would-be detractors, this flank steak says: Lay off.
So what if robot missions, which cost only a fraction of those involving real people, gather information far more efficiently? Do you really think that kind of bean counting is going to stop the red-blooded Brownback, who sees a new space initiative as a way to make America even greater?
"I would like to see the U.S. embrace the idea of dominating the orbits of Earth, moon and Mars. I think it's a goal that Americans can grasp onto," Brownback announced recently.
The former radio broadcaster and Kansas agriculture secretary, who now chairs the U.S. Senate subcommittee on science, technology and space, is looking well beyond niggling safety considerations or shortsighted objections to spending the $150 billion or so that the Apollo program would cost in today's dollars. Setting up lunar colonies would cost far more, but that's simply not the kind of thing that's going to hold back Brownback.
No, safety and cost are the least of his worries. There's only one thing that could spoil Sam's space odyssey.
Suddenly, Brownback's other main legislative priority -- a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as solely between a man and a woman -- makes so much sense. Brownback is expected to be the chief backer in the Senate of a proposed amendment banning gay marriage; Marilyn Musgrave, a Republican from Colorado, will be whipping up anti-homo fervor in the House.
And don't think the senator hasn't thought long and hard about how his two pet projects -- putting men on the moon while making sure they don't tie the knot -- are intimately related.
See, the Kansas lawmaker knows that any successful penetration into space will require many more astronauts, and that will require the services of highly educated, slender and fastidious people able to contort themselves into confined spaces. In other words, a subset of the population that's likely to be rife with homosexuals. And what kind of a victory would it be to establish Moon Station Zebra if hotshot gay and lesbian astronauts were just going to use it as a celestial Vermont, someplace their blasphemous unions could exist outside the jurisdiction of the terrestrial United States?
Space law, it turns out, is murky on the issue. The United Nations in 1967 declared all extraterrestrial bodies the "province of all mankind," making it illegal for any country to claim the moon, for example, as its own.
It's unclear what laws will govern astronauts who take up residence in lunar domes. But one thing's certain -- the current push by individual U.S. states to ban gay marriage will surely have no bearing on life in a moon crater.
No wonder, then, that Brownback is pushing hard for a federal ban.
The very thought of how kinky gay sex could be in regions of low gravity must be keeping the senator up at night.
The Strip, suddenly grasping Brownback's quandary, tried to ask the senator whether he's concerned that queers will take advantage of lax lunar legal codes to experience the ultimate honeymoon. But after its question elicited giggling from the senator's Washington press secretary, this slab of protein heard nothing further.
But don't fret, senator. More than a few of us share your dream of making sure the Sea of Tranquility stays that way.