Is Funding NASA Worthwhile?

Today, the Daily Tech reported that, according to NASA, Barack Obama is planning to scrap the Constellation program. Constellation is a pair of vehicles NASA has been working on with the stated purpose of getting the United States back to the Moon for the purpose of building a permanent Moon Base by 2020.

This base is important for several reasons: Learning about life in Micro-Gravity (not Zero G), Telescopes and Radio Telescopes cheaper than Hubble but still free of the Earths Atmosphere, and the stated goal of being the jumping off point for a manned mission to Mars. Even with the plans for ARES, we are already facing an enormous lag of Space Service with the impending retirement of the Shuttle in 2010 (which is long overdue), and scrapping ARES at this point would put the US at such a severe disadvantage as the issue of Space Exploration heats up again.

My main issue is why anyone is surprised. Yes, Obama did endorse a $2 Billion bill to extend the shuttle a single misson, but his stance had always been that he wanted to cut NASA’s funding to support his educational programs. Obama doesn’t feel that human space exploration is worth the cost. And it is expensive. And it is dangerous. But the people engaged in the program are well aware of the risks, and they accept them, for the purpose of science, and the furthering of Human Knowledge and Understanding.

And this is woefully important. Already, we face a looming crisis on this planet. Our population is rapidly approaching 7 Billion, while rising oceans are slowly creating a refugee problem. Ecologists have estimated that the Earth’s Biosphere will only be able to support around 10 Billion people. At the current rate of population growth, we’re likely to face a try, honest, global famine within the next twenty years or so. Science may be able to help us find a way out of this, and space may be able to as well. We’re barreling into a pretty miserable situation, and cutting back on Science is not a good long-term strategy.

Space Exploration may not be the thing that saves Mankind, but the things that we’ll need to fund to sponsor the development certainly won’t hurt. Further development in Hydroponics, Solar Power, Low-Power Electronics, and on and on will be necessary to fund to take us in this direction. All of these have honest, and sincere potential for changing things meaningfully in the next ten years, and the Space Program can (and should) be but one of the ideas pushing this. Even people who don’t believe that the problems of Climate Change are real (or as serious as some claim) can easily get behind pushing these technologies in that realm.

I am reminded, once again, of the words of President John F. Kennedy, given at Rice University in Houston, TX in 1962, where he focuses on the fact that these expensive, and impossible tasks serve to unite us, and drive us forward in ways we never thought we could. We need this sort of inspiration now, we need a goal, and not only the doomsday scenario we are facing. I firmly believe that solving those problems with help with many of ours.

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.