Space program inspires technological innovation

Clarion editorial board

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The passing of Neil Armstrong should remind us to continue exploring space.

The space program was a magical thing in the 1960s. It was a time when nations were trying their hardest to explore and advance faster than others. The United States knew it would be a power to be reckoned with by putting the first man on the moon.

A stark realization, however, is that (as a nation) we only really cared about space exploration at a time when it was necessary to compete. Since then, NASA’s budget has been routinely cut and entire programs within the organization have been ended. In particular and most recently, the 2013 budget puts NASA at its lowest point in four years, by as much as five percent. Although a $17.7 billion budget for the space program sounds large, it is minuscule compared to the $613.9 billion budget of the Department of Defense, for example. This means less robotic space missions, and even less manned-shuttle launches. To make matters worse, the funding was not intended to be cut for 2013; the budget plan alotted $18 billion until 2016. But here we are, down a few more pegs.

Widely recognized and popular astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson touches on this topic, traveling across the nation spreading his message that doubling NASA’s budget would be ideal. In March of this year, he acted as a key proponent in furthering the funding in space research by speaking to congress concerning the budget cut. The cut doesn’t just affect current scientists, but also kids, the explorers of tomorrow. To some extent, cutting funding for scientific research means we are caring even less about an industry that hastens engineering like no other.

We have learned many things through our endeavors in outer space, accomplishing major feats. This year—no more than a month ago—we managed to land the heaviest-yet robotic martian explorer utilizing new engineering equipment, with a landing system never before tried. An automated landing, no less, was executed with near flawlessness. Without adequate funding for NASA’s technological advancement, we will be reduced to mere telescopes and satellites, with a destiny no further than Earth’s atmosphere.

With Armstrong’s passing on Aug. 25, we are all reminded of one thing:  we must give serious consideration to explorations because space is not just “the final frontier,” it encompasses our entire existence. Outer space isn’t something we pursue just because we can, but for the purpose of understanding something greater than ourselves. As Carl Sagan once said, “It will not be we who reach Alpha Centauri and the other nearby stars; it will be a species very like us. But with more of our strengths and fewer of our weaknesses.”

Over the years, it has become obvious that without the incentive of war and neighboring competition, we simply stop reaching for the stars and instead settle for what we already have. Mans last trip to the moon in 1972—nearly 40 years ago—is a startling reminder of this. Shutting out the space program simply because of not needing it based on the lack of progress of foreign initiatives shouldn’t happen.

How can people make congress give NASA a larger budget?