Monday, October 22, 2012

NASA Budget Cuts Short Sighted, Insult to American

Americans Should Be Insulted At NASA Budget Cuts

A few days ago, a man with a balloon set the world record for the highest altitude skydive ever attempted. Fast forward a few days and this man, Felix Baumgartner, is now a household name. Watching it myself, I couldn’t help but feel like I was watching something akin to the moon landing of 1969; it’s a frontier that no one’s explored before.

Being sponsored by a private company doesn’t take away from the fact that so much of the technology employed in the venture was developed in the first place by NASA. It’s a little confusing to me, then, why a federal program that produces so much in terms of useful technology and research, to say nothing of the sheer wonder and inspiration, is being considered for the massive spending cuts it is.

In America, there are two reasons for disliking NASA as I see it. Number one: we’ve already gone to the moon, so nothing else needs doing for a while. Number two: Other countries are catching up with us in capability in space, so they’re not efficient enough.

Both of these positions advocate for cutting NASA’s budget since it’s seen as ineffective and useless as a government agency. May I say here that these people are largely missing the point of our space program. Yes, Russia is now ferrying our astronauts to the International Space Station due to the discontinuation of the space shuttle program. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have both expressed concerns about this and the fact that China is eyeing a moon landing while we haven’t done so in decades. Therefore, NASA is ineffective and its funding should be cut by $1.5 billion, right? They couldn’t be more wrong.

There’s a fine line between wanting to cut down on wasteful spending and cutting off a major part of America’s research and development capabilities. Private industry has a great potential for innovation, sure, but private industry is limited by the production of what will be profitable. They aren’t typically being presented with new problems to solve, rather settling for improvements on existing solutions.

Taking a look at the medical technologies industry, for instance, it’s quite clear that our understanding of the human body is not the most rapidly changing concept out there. After all, medicine in various forms has been studied on earth for thousands of years.

Once the body is put into long periods of isolation in zero gravity, however, our perception of medicine changes hugely. Oftentimes, the research performed by NASA on the technology needed to keep its astronauts alive is used in innovative new ways by private companies who certainly wouldn’t have stumbled across the solution through a pursuit of profit.

Through this kind of process, government funding for research and development without any clear profitability results in a great deal of useful products using NASA’s technology. Should public-sector research be limited, the rate of innovation as a whole is drastically slowed. You like sleeping on memory foam? Thank NASA. How about more efficient solar panels? Guess who’s helping that along.

All of this is purely taking a look at the commercial applications of the research, of course. I’ll not go into detail on the massive asteroid problem that’s been posed by Neil Degrasse Tyson and Bill Nye (to name a couple of its more famous proponents). That’s to say nothing of the sheer spectacle of NASA’s accomplishments, whether it be landing on the moon or putting a robot or two on Mars. Nothing from any other country can rival what the United States is able to pull off through NASA. It’s one of our greatest resources as a nation and cutting it down to a meager size would be an insult to our national pride.

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