Snyder: NASA needs money


Courtesy of NASA

SNYDER: Give NASA money

Stephen Snyder

Given NASA’s failed rocket launch in Virginia, space research and exploration has come back into the public eye. The final frontier of human discovery is no longer viewed with the same wonder and admiration that it was during the late 1960s and 1970s. Due to decreases in government funding, NASA has been forced to rely increasingly upon private companies to undertake their space flights.

These companies, specifically Orbital Sciences Corporation—the company which supplied the rocket which failed to launch on Oct. 28—and Space X, a company from the mind that brought you PayPal—have been NASA’s answer in the shift from federal spaceflights to commercial space flights. The work which these two companies are doing is important, given the fact that federal money no longer supports NASA’s objectives. Even though their obvious objective as businesses is to remain profitable, no blame should lie with them regarding the failed launch.

The blame instead should be placed on the federal government and with us, the American public. The decrease in federal funding for NASA has been a trend for years, but not enough people pay attention or voice their dissent for anything to be done about the problem.

When America entered the space race, it was mostly for the purpose of displaying America’s dominance over our national enemies. Now that international tension has shifted to different forms of the “anything you can do, I can do better” competition, American sentiment towards NASA has changed. Americans do not by any means disapprove of NASA and the work that the agency does. Roger Launius of the Smithsonian Institute evidences this fact in his paper “Public opinion polls and perceptions of US human space flight.”

“Overall there has been consistently good news for NASA and the cause of human exploration. The public has always, insofar as data exists, accorded NASA a quite favorable rating. This is unusual for most federal agencies…” Launius said.

Launius said that over 70 percent of those polled indicated that they hold a favorable opinion of the agency over the lifetime of the question, which was from 1978 to 1999. Why does one of the most popular federal agencies receive less and less federal support? Launius may have that answer as well, as he mentions that while Americans have a favorable opinion of the agency, “they may not know much about the space program.”

That is where the issue exists. Support and popularity does not equate to understanding, and apparently not funding either. When NASA proposed its 2015 budget, they asked for one percent less than they did in 2014, though if the recent funding trends continue, they will once again receive less than they ask for. While a one percent decrease does not represent a significant loss—the requested budget is 17.46 billion—the issue is where those cuts are going.

Earth sciences and research will encounter a loss of funding, which is somewhat disturbing due to growing concerns about global climate change—based in scientific studies—but denied by countless members of the United States government.

More disturbing, however, is the fact that NASA’s education budget will see a nearly 24 percent drop. Phil Plait, writer for Slate magazine with past experience as part of NASA’s public outreach programs, had a comment regarding the loss of educational funding.

“This is madness. I can’t brand it any other way. One of NASA’s shining triumphs is public advocacy, from creating educational products to garnering public interest in the overall mission of exploring the Universe… There’s no need to change this and to my knowledge no one in NASA asked for it. It was simply decided from above. I think that’s a big mistake.” Plait said.

I tend to agree with him. Many complaints about NASA align with the idea that we should be spending less money researching the universe and instead put that money to solving problems here on our own planet. This line of thinking is directly associated with the astounding public ignorance of NASA’s work and goals. Countless technologies used here on Earth were all pioneered millions of miles above us in places like the International Space Station. Not only that, but the ISS is our world’s best and arguably most productive example of international cooperation for the sake of human development.

The United States Department of Defense has asked $495.6 billion this year in their budget request. That money will go into researching and performing the most creative and efficient ways to destroy nations. Meanwhile, the federal government will give only a fraction of that money to NASA, which will use it to pursue new meaning and purpose for mankind. In light of such allocations, national priorities have never been clearer.

Funding NASA is a direct investment in the future of this planet and our global community; a cause which cannot be overstated and will hopefully not be overlooked.