We need to increase funding for NASA

By on August 17, 2012
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Shortly after the successful landing of the Curiosity rover, Reddit.com lampooned an image captioned “Congratulations on wasting $100 billion landing a remote-controlled buggy on Mars. Not sure how this is supposed to help us poor people here on Earth, but great job.” This cynical, contemptuous voice echoed everywhere, questioning why America chose to send a rover to Mars.

Are such comments warranted? Is NASA really a money sinkhole? A study by The Space Review in 2007 found that Americans believe that NASA uses almost a quarter of the national budget. NASA’s missions are now few and far in between, especially with the end of the space shuttle program. It looks as if money is simply disappearing into thin air at NASA. Yet, I wonder why there are cynical voices.

How much does NASA really cost? In 2011, NASA cost an estimated $18.7 billion in 2011 — a trivial 0.53 percent of the $3.5 trillion that the federal government spent in total. This sum is so miserably insignificant that it does not even show up in the pie chart on Wikipedia. Curiosity totaled only $2.5 billion across nearly a decade of development.

On the other hand, $928 billion went to defense and the military last year —the quarter of the budget that everyone thinks is going to NASA. More than the entire NASA Budget, $20 billion, went to air-conditioning the tents in Afghanistan.

Even with its meager sum, NASA has returned astonishing results. Since 2000, NASA has successfully sent all six of its probes to Mars, returning the clearest pictures yet of the red planet. The Opportunity rover has far outlived its 90-day mission, still returning data after over eight years. Next to the Martian icecap, the Phoenix lander found ice inches beneath the soil.

Other probes are equally successful. Cassini currently circles Saturn, probing into the mysteries of the gas giant. Hubble still takes astonishingly beautiful photographs after nearly two decades of service. New Horizons is currently on its way to Pluto, poised for its arrival in 2015.

People, however, still buy into the “space exploration or help people” dichotomy, believing that space exploration is useless to us on the ground.

Does this dichotomy really exist? The small size of computers and smartphones today are direct results of NASA’s efforts to miniaturize the computer so that it would fit into the Apollo capsule. The ever-present solar panel was developed to power satellites in orbit. Titanium alloys designed for the space shuttle now give amputees new limbs. Even memory foam was originally made by NASA to better cushion astronauts. Countless other innovations made in space exploration have found their ways into the world.

If anything, we should be funneling more money into NASA. In the wake of exciting scientific discoveries, new technologies will trickle down to Earth, benefiting lives in previously unimaginable ways.

Money to NASA is money well spent; we didn’t shove $2.5 billion into a bag and fling it to Mars. It instead helped create jobs across 31 states in multiple industries and is possibly paving the way for future manned missions. The cost of Curiosity, to use NASA administrator Charles Bolden’s analogy, boils down to a movie ticket for every person in the United States. I don’t know about you, but that is a movie I’d pay to see over and over again.

Tianjiao Zhang
Contributor
tzhang@uab.edu

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  • Angie

    Perhaps if people knew more about the amazing things NASA is doing they would receive more funding?

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