by Mehrzad Pashutanizadeh
As the age of technology thrusts us into a world where the ability to overthrow a government and post a selfie are both in the palm of our hands, we have seemingly lost our sense of appreciation for the achievements in science and innovation which have turned our norms upside down. We are increasingly less likely to marvel at the computing power in our cell phones than we are to complain about how slow our 4G connection is. Commenting on this state of disillusionment, comedian Louis C.K put it into frank terms: “Now we live in an amazing, amazing world, and its wasted on the crappiest generation of just spoiled idiots that don't care.” Harsh words, yes, but perhaps these are the types of comments that are needed to deter us from our continual denial that we have a problem.
For millions of years our species has lived and died on this third rock from the sun, calling it a grand success if we are able to live another day. And yet in the past 60 years, barely even one eighth of one second on the cosmic calendar, we have been able to send an object, then an animal, then a human, into space. A feat thought only possible in Greek mythology was triumphed by Yuri Gagarin, a 5’2” farmer turned Cosmonaut from Klushino, Russia. Demigods of their days, astronauts of the 1960s changed the course of history as they advanced education and growth by making the idea of science “cool”. Ask a university student today which spacecraft landed on the moon and you are likely to get an array of Apollo mission numbers with the always comedic conspiracy theorists answer of “none”. Unfortunately, as well as fortunately, for the course of history, technology, and science, the conspiracy theorist is wrong, and Neil Armstrong indeed took that one giant leap for mankind and in turn caused an unbelievable amount of innovation that backdropped the 1960’s to come to a screeching hault. With America’s literal footprint now on the moon, and the Soviets defeated, America’s and the world's interest in space and science was effectively over. To say that the United States, the Soviet Union, and the world chose to embark on this great journey to the outer limits of our planet for anything other than political reasons is naive and foolish at best - but to understand and appreciate the benefits that we reap today from that period is something that is doable.
Satellite children of Sputnik roam the Earth’s orbit and provide long distance communication; firefighting equipment originally created for in-space protection save our heroes from anguish, and the microchips and processors designed for landing modules power the computer I currently type on. A plethora of objects and ideas we take for granted everyday date to decades ago when governments were interested in funding and supporting science, technology, engineering, and math. With such a massive decrease in our own governments support for such vital programs such as NASA, is it really just to blame our ungrateful and uninterested generation solely on ourselves? The average American pays $6,000 a year in taxes, and yet as Astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson dutifully notes “the NASA budget is four tenths of one percent of a tax dollar.”Four tenths of one percent of $6,000 amounts to not much more than a weeks worth of your morning coffee run. Your twenty-four dollars a year funds the space rovers, the hubble telescope, the salaries of 18,000 people, as well as the hopes and possibilities for a better tomorrow. As our government over the decade has splurged $750 billion dollars on bank bailouts ( a number greater than the entire 50 year running budget of NASA ), as well as trillions in costly wars, NASA funding has been slashed time and time again. This in turn has placed a huge burden on the shoulders of private companies such as SpaceX, which with a fraction of the experience and economic capabilities of NASA, have had very underwhelming results. With the recent catastrophic explosion of a NASA contracted rocket, even private sector space endeavors have come to a temporary stop, only further increasing the importance and power of international space agencies such as the ESA (European Space Agency) and the RKA (Russian Federal Space Agency). President Obama’s recent request for an $18.5 billion dollar NASA budget for 2016, a $519 million increase from the previous fiscal year, is a good indicator of a changing political climate, however, it is vital that we continue to increase funding and social support as we begin journeys to Mars, Europa, and beyond - places completely unfamiliar to human kind. Unless we as a nation choose to come together and overhaul our past 40 years of follied policy, soon enough we will not only be a country unhappy and ungrateful of the world we live in, but overrun by the growing number of nations that choose to take science, innovation, and exploration, seriously.
Further Readings: Will rocket’s ‘catastrophic’ failure set back the private space industry?
House passes NASA Reauthorization Bill for Fiscal 2015
More than a Space Race
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