Ever hear someone speak, then scratch your head wondering "is this guy serious"? President Obama seems to fit this category quite nicely lately (ok, maybe not just lately, but you get what I'm saying). If it's not chastising the Supreme Court in front of Congress; it's his recent plans to cut NASA's budget. NASA has been defending itself and its budget for quite a long time. I still remember attending a press conference in front of the Capital Building in Washington DC when then Senator Paul Simon (D-IL) was doing what he could to kill the International Space Station (called Spacestation Freedom at the time).
We have all forgotten how shocked the West was when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1957. We found ourselves in a "space technology gap" to borrow a phrase from one of my favorite movies, Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned How to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.
JFK knew when he delivered his a speech in 1961 in front of a joint session of Congress where he outlined his vision of putting a man on the moon, that the United States was behind the Soviet Union in space technology. He knew that it was vital that the United States be the leader in technology and in essence, to be the most advanced nation on Earth:
Recognizing the head start obtained by the Soviets with their large rocket engines, which gives them many months of lead time, and recognizing the likelihood that they will exploit this lead for some time to come in still more impressive successes, we nevertheless are required to make new efforts on our own. For while we cannot guarantee that we shall one day be first, we can guarantee that any failure to make this effort will make us last. We take an additional risk by making it in full view of the world, but as shown by the feat of astronaut Shepard, this very risk enhances our stature when we are successful. But this is not merely a race. Space is open to us now; and our eagerness to share its meaning is not governed by the efforts of others. We go into space because whatever mankind must undertake, free men must fully share.
He continues to lay out expenditures and the purposes of those expenditures. See if anything JFK proposes rings a bell:
...an additional 23 million dollars, together with 7 million dollars already available, will accelerate development of the Rover nuclear rocket. This gives promise of some day providing a means for even more exciting and ambitious exploration of space, perhaps beyond the moon, perhaps to the very end of the solar system itself.
Amazing! We actually have accomplished these projects or currently have these projects in place (e.g. weather satellites, communication satellites)
NASA's budget is minuscule compared to the rest of the federal budget. The contributions NASA has given us, many we can't think living without in our technology driven lives. So what are some of the products NASA has brought to us? Good question. Let's take a look...
GPS, Semiconductor cubing, structural analysis, Windows virtual news reader, air quality monitor, virtual reality
Enriched baby formula, water purifying systems, scratch resistant lenses, pool purification, portable coolers, trash compactors, Teflon, cell phones
Solar energy, weather forecasting aid, fire resistant material
Voice controlled wheelchair, breast cancer detection, cool suit
Micro lasers, engine lubricant, interactive computer training
And numerous safety contributions. I've listed just a few things here, but if you visit this site, you will see a longer list that is a snap shot of the more than 6,300 patents NASA has been awarded. To gut this agency would be a horrible mistake. I know, the free marketers that are reading this will say that private business should be in charge of doing space travel, etc. First, I would say that nothing is really stopping private enterprise from doing space travel right now other than cost. Second, I think out of all the bloated agencies that the federal government has, NASA is actually one that works. Can they do a better job curtailing costs? Yes, and I believe they have done that. This was evidenced by the Spirit and Opportunity missions when they lowered the costs and still completed the missions.
I'd like to remind people what could happen when DC goes around cutting programs willy nilly. Today, Russia released photos of their new stealth fighter - and yet we killed the F-22 (putting American workers out of jobs too). The powers that be said we didn't need it. They said the F-22 was a plane for a different time and a different battlefield. All I have to say to that is this, how soon until these new Russian stealths show up in N. Korea, Iran, Venezuela, Cuba or China? Then what? Also, China, India and Japan are making strides at space exploration while we seek to cut our space program. So we lessen our military prowess and our scientific edge all in one year? Congratulations President Obama, coupled with your economic plans, NASA and military cuts, you'll make us a 3rd World nation yet!!
Cross-posted and edited for content from www.downstateiladvocate.com.