Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat. The new Space Force, which is the brainchild of current Vice-President of the United States, Mike Pence, is not NASA. The Space Force would be a sixth branch of the military, and while this new military branch might look to NASA for help going forward they aren’t related in any way. Also, in this article I look to keep myself as politically neutral as possible and just looked the numbers. Others might want more political input, but it’s my personal desire to keep my political leanings out of this and just focus on NASA.
NASA deserves more of our money. I think it's a shame that their budget has been cut down, and even a small percentage upgrade in funds could be good for our country. Space has always marveled humanity, and when NASA was first established in 1958 it signaled our first concrete plan to reach beyond our planet. When President Eisenhower established the program, he was keen to make sure that the emphasis was on exploratory goals rather than military expeditions. Coming from a former general, this showed how important peace in exploration and discovery was to the government at the time. This doesn’t come as a surprise after the exploits of World War II still fresh in many people’s minds, and growing tensions with the USSR didn’t help either. NASA was originally created as a response to Sputnik’s success in Russia, and the people in Washington knew that getting to the moon was crucial for both national morale and political power during the Cold War. That doesn’t mean that NASA was born with militaristic goals though. Exploration has always been NASA’s first and foremost goal, as seen by the Apollo missions to the moon, the Voyager missions that are some of the most beautiful and symbolic things that we have put in space, and incredible pieces of technology like the Hubble Space Telescope and its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope which will launch in 2020. None of these show any military-like conquests to outer space.
If NASA was put forth in a more military like mindset it would have been detrimental to our relationship with outer space and would have permanently changed our outlook on it. Mentality affects the ultimate perception of an object or event. The movie Arrival illustrates this concept in exquisite clarity. The movie is about aliens who have landed all over the world, and in each country they landed in there are individual efforts to try to communicate with them. The Chinese were using the traditional game of Mahjong to try to converse with their group of aliens, because it involved a clear goal and visuals to go along with words they were using. This sounds good on paper, but the problem is that in a game there is always a winner and a loser. Principles like this create an immediate imbalance between you and whoever you are trying to converse with, and it leads to the climax of the movie as the Chinese prepare to go on the attack as other countries figure out that the aliens are not hostile. If we went into space with the mentality of war, we would end up getting war in space. Militarizing NASA would in turn convince other countries to militarize their space efforts which would then lead to war in space. Imagine if the Voyager expeditions hadn’t just been probes to explore the depths of our solar system, but had also had goals to advance the US military position in our atmosphere? We would have left our own craters on the moon by now. I know that Vice President Pence has pointed out that the US Government is scared about the advancements from places like China and Russia, and they have fears that those countries will look to militarize space too, but it wouldn’t benefit them to do that. We have collaborated with Russia several times for the International Space Station, and that partnership has been mutually beneficial. Putting each other at odds in space again will hinder future exploration ventures.
But enough about the Space Force, our country would benefit from giving NASA more money even if it weren’t just taking money from the future Space Force budget. NASA has had a fluctuating budget ever since it started which is par for the course. When certain programs NASA was running needed more money, they got it from the Federal budget for the most part. NASA’s piece of the pie peaked in the mid-60s which isn’t much of a surprise as it was the peak of the Apollo missions before we landed on the moon. In 1966, NASA received 4.41% of the Federal budget which is the highest they ever received. In today’s dollars, that’s $43.5 billion which is a pretty big chunk, and most of that was going to the development of the Apollo rockets. That was one of the best investments that the US Government ever made as we landed on the moon just three years later. A 1971 report showed that the United States had received double on their money they had invested into NASA. Ever since then, with the exception of the early 1990s, NASAs percentage of the budget has steadily decreased. A lot of this makes sense, we don’t need to pump in the Apollo money anymore and match the 4.4% that they did in 1966, but in 2017 NASA received its lowest percentage of its history at just 0.47% which came out to $19.5 Billion. As the Federal Budget grows, all of the organizations under its wings get more money but NASA is still being cut out. I’d argue that NASA should be getting more than the $43.5 Billion that they got in the 1960s because it’s going to cost more to develop technology to get us to Mars. An incredibly well-researched article from Northeastern University quotes a lot more studies than you would care to know, but they said, “estimated ratios of revenue generated compared to spending have been as high as 14-to-1.” Putting money into NASA boosts our national economy.
Now I think it’ll be good to look at why NASA has had budget cuts since the early 1990s when the space shuttle was in its heyday. Even in today’s dollars, they’re getting less in 2002 when they were receiving right around 1% of the budget. NASA made some pretty expensive mistakes in their pursuit for both Mars and even with the space shuttle program. The Challenger disaster was by far the most public tragedy and stained the program in the public eye for many. The Columbia disaster was one that could have been avoided as well. Both tragedies are extremely sad and watching them gives you chills. As public perception went down, the Government took away some of that funding that they lost in the disasters, which makes sense. Probably the biggest gaff that NASA made was in the late 1990s for their Mars Climate Orbiter which they made in collaboration with Lockheed-Martin. The project itself cost about $327 million, and it burned up in the Martian atmosphere and crashed onto the surface of the planet. When the inquest happened around the company to see what went wrong, they figured out that NASA was using the universally recognized metric system, and didn’t let Lockheed-Martin, who as an American company was using the empirical system so the correct units were way off between the two organizations. All of this combined didn’t bode well for a nation that was about to enter a war with Iraq and Afghanistan, so funding was cut even more.
Regardless of these mistakes, the investment will be worth it sooner rather than later. History is on NASA’s side here in terms of what comes back to Earth from their missions, not just with material from the surface of the Moon, but with the technological advancements that have come from NASA work. Countless technologies that have been developed for space travel have ended up coming back to earth to be used in our everyday lives. Probably the biggest one is the device you’re using to read this article right now. The development of computers came about through our goal of getting into space. Almost all of NASA’s computer programs have bettered our computers that we use every day. NASA has created technology that has bettered our airplanes through anti-icing technology, and even our grooved highways were developed through NASA. We have them to thank for advancements like memory foam, prosthetic limbs, and even better baby food. There are those almost trivial advancements, and then they are also helping with advancing our solar panel technology which could be the way forward for a greener planet. Wireless headphones, scratch resistant glasses, and even LEDs are thanks to NASA technology. None of these were original goals from the researchers there, but they found incredible uses for us here on Earth too, and that can’t be understated when investing into NASA. We might find technology that advances cancer research on our way to Mars, or we might find technology that makes our cars more efficient when we send probes to asteroids. Neil deGrasse Tyson even said, “You have to innovate. When an engineer comes out with a new patent to take you to a place (in space), intellectually, physically, that has never been reached before, those become the engines of tomorrow's economy (here on earth).” Putting this money back into NASA would create jobs for these people to create more technology to aid us here on earth, and in turn we could pump that technology back into NASA as well. It’s a system that could end up being self-generating.
NASA has been a big part of all our lives, and the program would be a great use of our Federal Budget. I don’t think it would be very hard to allocate them even a percentage more than they currently are allotted. Imagine the possibilities that we could achieve if we invested more money into NASA and arrived on Mars earlier than expected. Not only would it return on the investments and work well in a business sense, but it would raise national morale during a time in which we really need it.
We live in a world without explorers in the traditional sense anymore. Astronauts were our most recent figures to venture into the unknown, now that our earth has been mapped. The perception of space for the future generations needs to be one of exploration. When they look up at the stars, they need to have a mindset of wonder, not with fear. Our future explorers will need to go into space not with guns, but with bravery, hope for mankind, and as heroes. Going in peace is the only option if we don’t want space exploration to spiral out of control in a negative feedback loop of violence. When we send people off into space, we want to make sure we are sending explorers, not soldiers. Exploring space is the future.