Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Monday, January 22, 2018

Space exploration programs must continue

Why we should increase funding for NASA

Space exploration programs must continue

There have been few events in world history that have successfully connected people from all around the planet regardless of country or culture. In 1969, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first human beings to set foot on the moon, the world watched in awe of the scientific and technological feat that so closely resembled a miracle.

The moon is a constant for every human being; no matter where you live, you look to the same moon as the seven billion other inhabitants of Earth. On July 20, 1969, everyone was united in the unprecedented, incredible space adventure of three American astronauts. At that time, the United States was far ahead in the international “space race”, and we intended to keep it that way.

Over many decades and eleven presidents, we have grown less and less involved in our efforts to understand and explore space. Today, many people argue that NASA is dying; some believe it is not worthy of any further government funding.

Our slowed exploration in comparison to other nations like China and Russia has taken away our old and proud status as the most committed space pioneers. American astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson explained, “In America, contrary to our self-image, we are no longer leaders but simply players. We’ve moved backward just by standing still.” It is time we start moving again.

I don’t believe that winning the so-called “space race” should be the real reason why the United States should increase its funding for NASA and get back its motivation to explore space. The true reason lies within the spirit of the United States. 

This is not easily explained as a matter-of-fact concept, like saying that it would be good for our economy or that it would create jobs (although research points that way). The mystery of space is heavily ingrained in our popular culture through timeless films and television shows like “Star Wars” and “Star Trek,” and more recent blockbusters like “Passengers,” “Gravity,” “The Martian” and “Interstellar.”

Space is just inherently cool, reaching across cultural and personal lines and infatuating us all with its mystery. That may not be a good enough reason to pour more money into the U.S. space program, but the passion and the spirit of adventure that the U.S. prides itself on should be considered a great reason for space exploration.

Though you may not need reminding, the United States is in a huge amount of debt. Increasing the funding of NASA may seem like an “extra” or a want, not a need, that we just can’t afford right now. In the fiscal year 2015, only .47 percent of the US budget went to NASA, the lowest it has ever been since 1960.

These cuts are counterproductive. Even though they save money in the budget, spending more on a program like NASA and enabling it to flourish stimulates the economy, improves upon our technological abilities and creates jobs for Americans. 

When NASA’s Discovery space shuttle was retired in 2011, an estimated 4,600 jobs were lost. The work that NASA does has even improved the success of other businesses. Many private companies have gained immense success by working with products developed by NASA including the very popular Tempurpedic mattress, which is made using the memory foam technology NASA originally created for its astronauts during space travel.

NASA and its groundbreaking work represents good old-fashioned American innovation. The folks that work there are the pioneers of the smartphones in our pockets and the GPS systems that get us where we want to go, along with countless other technological advancements that today seem so commonplace. Space travel, though many would argue to be the most exciting part, is only a piece of the work that NASA does in advancing science and technology.

The next frontier that astronauts look to explore is Mars. NASA is developing the technology and advanced spacecrafts to send human beings farther into our solar system than ever before. The goal now is to successfully get the first human being to Mars. 

Perhaps in our lifetimes, we will huddle around the television like our relatives did in 1969 to watch the first human being set foot on the surface of the red planet. NASA’s work is well worth our funding. Not only is it good for our economy and good for our technology, it is good for the American spirit of adventure and connectedness. Something, I daresay, we could use more of these days.

Olivia Richter is a junior in the School of Communication and a columnist for The Eagle.

orichter@theeagleonline.com


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