Going back to the big leaps
Cutting NASA funding shows ignorance of the agency’s importance
It's been a couple big weeks of anniversaries and achievements for NASA. The rover Curiosity just successfully drilled into the surface of Mars and collected a sample from its interior, the first time ever on the planet.
In addition, Jan. 25 was the nine-year anniversary of the beginning of the rover Opportunity's Mars mission, a project NASA mission managers originally said they would be pleased if it lasted 90 days. Opportunityhas proved to be one of the shining achievements, leading to discovery of chemical proof that the surface of Mars once had had standing water.
Despite all this, many people's interest and perception of NASA's importance is waning, citing the country's current financial crisis as a reason to cut the program's funding. To do so further would be an insult and a hindrance to our exploration and advancement.
The United States is currently in trillions of dollars in debt - over $16 trillion with an expected debt of $17.5 trillion by the end of the 2013 fiscal year. Add in a few spending limit crises and a massive fiscal cliff, and we're heading for a disaster. It would only make sense for us to trim the budget and cut the luxuries.
NASA, however, should never be considered a luxury.
People who support cutting the budget support it in ignorance of not knowing what the program actually does and what it costs to us. A 2007 study asked respondents what percentage of the national budget is allocated to NASA. On average, it was estimated at approximately 24 percent; in reality, NASA's allocation of the national budget in 2007 was 0.58 percent. Federal funding in 2012 dipped even further to 0.48 percent, making it the second-lowest year of funding since 1958 and 1959 - the founding years.
And according to the 2013 fiscal budget, it's expected to take another $59 million decrease.
That level of funding completely disregards the agency's vast economical and technological importance. The research that goes into and comes from NASA goes into technology that benefits and controls every aspect of our lives. You may be one of those people (and so many of them exist) who say, "well, what has it done for me?"
There's a level of self-involvement in everything (ironically enough because our advancement of technology and the digital age), leading to our impatient society. We want instant gratification. We expect every planet to have been visited by now, existence of life found and colonies built. And we still want it as cheap as possible.
Not enough people are aware of how much our space program does to benefit us. Without NASA, though, we would be without satellite television, MRI and CAT scans, temper foam, Life Alert, cell phone cameras, clean energy technology, water filtration and scratch-resistant lenses, just to name a few. These are innovations that benefit all of us. How much do they cost you personally? Half a penny to every tax dollar.
There is a responsibility to fund the agency not just for today but also for the future - especially for the future. We spend so much of our money dictating where our money should go - both in our country and in others - and as a result, we fall behind in innovation. We continue to request more and more people get an engineering degree but then fail to support a major component of the field.
The program could be used as a successful economic stimulus, with many previous studies to back that up, but we don't want to take that risk because we are currently in a bad place financially. But who knows how long it will take for us to get out of that hole, and if we don't focus on advancing at all, where will that put us when we finally do?
We clearly don't have the resources to make NASA a major priority, and that's fine. But the attention we give it is insulting. We fail to see the importance, and subsequently, we'd rather spend billions of dollars filming stars on the silver screen than exploring the stars and space. Times are tough and money is tight but being able to give NASA at least one percent shouldn't be considered generous. It should be a given.
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