The successful landing of the Mars Curiosity rover distracted us from the 2012 Olympics and got Americans cheering again for space exploration.
Well, not quite all Americans. Almost drowned out amidst the kudos and boisterous jokes are some very negative comments from frustrated, poorly-informed taxpayers.
A search for “nasa waste” on Twitter turns up a mix of comments pro and con for the latest remote mission and NASA’s purpose in general. What’s surprising to this writer is how many are against NASA. While the financial crisis continues to contribute to understandable angst, it is post404’s opinion that complainers and naysayers are largely misguided in their anti-NASA vitriol.
Science fans find it easy to defend space exploration on grounds of technical advancement and pure knowledge enrichment. The latter is subjective and therefore not simply quantified, but there’s plenty of evidence supporting NASA’s direct role in moving technology forward. Those attacking NASA for sucking up funds better spent on the homeless, jobless and helpless are overlooking the fact that not only has NASA contributed positively to advances in areas such as medicine, information technology and sustainability, it is also a sizable employer of gifted Americans.
There’s a better bogeyman to attack, one surprisingly missed by many of the detractors. That’s the United States’ military budget, which now consumes approximately 20 percent of the overall. This significantly dwarfs NASA’s current tiny take of 0.48% out of the whole. Yes, you read that correctly: under 1%.
Cuts are already proposed for the current and upcoming military expenditures, but they can go farther. Our military is still designed for expensive offensive purposes when all we really need is a solid defense.
What many Americans forget about federal budgets is that they are designed to tackle projects too large and risky for states and corporations. Not every program will benefit every citizen, but such is a natural factor of civilized society. And in those massive budgets lurks true waste, a far more reasonable target for taxpayer outrage.
Claims that NASA’s funding should be slashed and the proceeds used for social programs like food for the poor miss the reality of food waste in this country. We throw away more food than many nations produce; solve that travesty, please, before calling for curtails to valuable scientific endeavors.
The US space program isn’t causing hunger. It isn’t causing homelessness. If anything, it’s stimulating solutions for those and other social problems.
Space exploration is now in a transition period, as private enterprise moves in to take us to new adventures such as tourist flights and asteroid mining. But these enterprises relied heavily on the initial government efforts; the high risk of failure and distant promise of reward were just not acceptable to commercial entities, who are only now positioned to take advantage of prior taxpayer-funded work.
No matter what, we will always have to suffer the folly of “flat earthers”. Whether by design or delusion, there will always be those who choose not to educate themselves beyond zones of close comfort. I just hope I never live in a world where we have generally grown so ignorant and incurious that the lazy naysayers are able to do more than gripe in futility.
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