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Athletic, space achievements provide inspiration
You've probably noticed them around your office or workplace. You know the ones I mean, bleary-eyed, hanging around the coffee maker, nodding off at their stations.
They're the ones who can't tear themselves away from the television and go to bed without watching the latest Olympic event.
Sure, the results are easy to get; the actual competition took place hours earlier, and the Nightly News now includes "spoiler alerts" adapted from the Internet.
But knowing the results intellectually just isn't the same as watching them unfold chronoligically by video -- and, no, it doesn't have to be by broadcast TV, cable or satellite any more.
You don't have to be a serious sports fan to find yourself cheering for Michael Phelps as he wins his 18th gold medal, or falling in love -- in a paternal or maternal sort of way -- with young athletes Colorado swimmer Missy Franklin or gymnast Gabby Douglas who lives and trains in Des Moines.
Who would believe we could all be wrapped up in the latest beach volleyball match, cheer for a rowing team, or even take an interest in Ann Romney's dressage steed?
Even sports agnostics, jaded from football fever and March Madness, have difficulty not getting caught up in the "thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat" -- no, wait, that was another sports show in another era.
Perhaps the most refreshing thing about the biennial Olympics phenomenon is the way it puts competition in perspective, setting goals that are challenging enough to bring out competitors' best and resulting in clear winners and losers uninfluenced by media spin, for the most part.
If only our current political contests could say the same.
If you notice some of those bleary-eyed coworkers are "nerdier" than the others, they are probably the ones who stayed up until the wee hours to see whether NASA's latest probe, Curiosity, survived its "seven minutes of terror" or disappeared in a $2.5 billion interplanetary mystery.
In the Olympic-inspired words of the Los Angeles Times, the largest and most advanced spacecraft ever sent to another planet "stuck" its landing on Mars.
On Friday, NASA awarded $1.1 billion in contracts to three private companies to build spacecraft -- two Apollo-like capsules and one a miniature space shuttle -- to enable Americans to once again launch their own astronauts into space.
With the U.S. faction trillions of dollars of debt, space exploration faces an uphill funding battle. Like the Olympics, however, the inspiration such achievements provide is hard to put a price on.