A National Disappointment: Why We Should Care About NASA’s Budget4 min read

With the space shuttle having been retired for a while now, I think it is time we examine NASA, its legacy, and its current state.  NASA has had a profound impact on the postwar world, helping America win the space race and ushering in the Space Age.  Its contributions to our lifestyle are immeasurable; most of what we take for granted in our modern lives can be traced back to NASA.  The crew of Apollo 17 captured the image of the Blue Marble, one of the most famous photographs of all time.  The agency created an enormous number of new technologies over the past several decades, including LEDs, solar cells, freeze-drying, water purification, and most modern computer technology.  Without NASA, GPS, cell phones, and laptops may not have been invented for another couple of decades.

Bearing all of this in mind, Americans ought to care more about what happened to NASA.  The budget has shrunk over the decades, getting lower and lower until it is now only about 0.5% of the annual budget.  At its height, it was nearly 5%, but for most if its lifespan it hovered around 1%.  As the years went by, the budget has only gotten lower as people began caring less.  In the 1960s, America was in the midst of the space race and citizen’s faith provided the budget for NASA to fly men to the moon.  We went from going to the moon to having to borrow Russia’s shuttle just to get to earth’s orbit.  What happened?  Sure, there is talk of going to Mars, but no one seems to take that seriously, placing the date in the far-off 2030s while not adjusting the budget accordingly.

What is truly tragic is that many Americans believe NASA’s budget to be as high as 20% of government spending.  I wish there was truth to that claim.  Americans’ misunderstanding of the government budget has led to numerous law-making problems over the years.  More than 40% of Americans want to cut foreign aid even though its portion of the budget isn’t much bigger than NASA’s.

Another tragedy for the NASA problem is China.  This developing nation is committed to landing its own probes on the moon in this decade.  It is particularly troubling how little attention this story is getting in America.  In the 1960s, a story like this would spark outrage and renew our commitment to the space program.  Today, people have more important issues in mind, like marijuana and gun control.

So, what should we do about NASA’s budget?  As Neil deGrasse Tyson said, if the budget was doubled to 1% of the Federal budget, NASA’s program could be revitalized and America could once again reclaim the dream of tomorrow.  But I can already hear some counter-arguments.  The most prominent one is a fairly recent phenomenon.  Some people might say NASA is no longer necessary because private companies are beginning to take over its role.  This sentiment is only partly true.  Private companies are beginning to offer their own versions of a space shuttle and some are even proposing their own space stations; however, that is the full extent of their power as of now.  In order to go further, say, to Mars, we will need a government program.  No private company is willing to take the risk of sending someone to another planet.  It is too costly and there probably isn’t any money to make.  That has been the way of business for most new industries.  Take the Internet for example.  No private company would have been able to build the Internet.  It would have been too costly with very little or no profit involved.  Instead, the government invented the Internet as a military project, which eventually evolved into the Internet we know and love today.  Private companies followed later when it was already profitable.  The same goes for these deep space missions.  We need a NASA to be the vanguard of this new frontier.

A final counterargument reflects people’s view that, despite the multitude of inventions and technological progress brought about by NASA’s space pursuits, there are so many problems here on Earth, why look beyond our own planet?  The answer is simple: because it inspires us.  It is human nature to explore the unknown.  There is no better cure for our nationwide emotional depression than a drop of the pioneering spirit and hope of a brighter tomorrow in space.  That is the stuff of dreams.  Earth is tiny, but space is huge.

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