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Space Exploration Essay

The world has anxiously followed the Mars arrival of the space vessel Curiosity. Recently, on October 31, 2012, Curiosity’s analysis of Martian soil found it to be eerily similar to that of Hawaii. This mission, like so many before it, exemplifies NASA’s commitment to acquiring knowledge about the worlds beyond ours. NASA, though struggling with budget cuts and the end of the shuttle mission, is still making great progress with its current space program. NASA offers new medical and technological advancements through NASA research and development, inspiration to millions around the world, and an opportunity seeking to adamantly enlarge the boundaries of human knowledge that the universe holds; with all these great discoveries and the incredible contributions NASA has devoted to science and our society, NASA’s space program should be funded by the federal government sufficiently to continue its great work. Critics argue that the cost of funding these projects does not justify the results that are achieved, yet through research and development, NASA has made some incredible, new technological and medical advances that have helped enhance life on Earth.

Though our space program provides new scientific developments, both medical and technological, our country’s debt is dangerously high and increasingly climbs higher each day. Because of this debt and technology and the evolution of technology, many critics feel that NASA’s space program does not have an impact on our country, as the world has become more modernized and less dependent on new technologies for daily survival. Additionally, critics believe technology used in Apollo missions, such as space rocketry and jet propulsion used by NASA forty years ago, becomes outdated, too fast. Technology being used today is not always newest available, or neither will it provide instant results of new findings the moment the probe or satellite is slung into orbit. In addition to lapses in technological capabilities, the cost to fund space projects is not beneficial in the short term, although it can be in the long term.

For example, a space based weapon enabling the U.S. to track terrorists would take a long time to develop and would be too expensive, even if it benefits Nation Security in preventing future terrorist attacks. Also, NASA would have a difficult time building a satellite in time to keep up with current technology; every time NASA engineers attempt to build a space probe or satellite, the technology changes, and the engineers would have to start over constructing it. Conversely, supporters of the NASA space program disagree with the critics and provide significant evidence that when sufficiently funded, benefits are numerous and well-worth the cost. Compared to the budget of other government programs like Social Security, Defense, and Healthcare/Medicare, the budget provided to NASA is small. As funding grows tighter, NASA is unable to do anything monumental with their budget being cut. NASA and scientific development coexist with the outcry for increased education funding so the U.S. can compete on a global level, often hearing the need to invest in math and science education.

But if American motives truly lie in furthering scientific endeavors, why would the government cut the budget of a program that helps reach these goals. Unlike the critics who argue that since NASA cannot keep up with technology, the program’s funding should be cut, supporters argue against this by providing an example. In medicine, it often takes time to test new drugs before they can even be put on the market. This does not mean that new drug technology funding should be cut because it takes time. If this were the case, then many advancements in medicine may not have ever been discovered. The critics earlier pointed out how a space-based weapon enabling the terrorists to be tracked would be too expensive, even if it provided security. However, if such a weapon could have killed the September 11th terrorists before they attacked and did their damage, it would have been worth the money spent on it. The damage caused by terrorism cost the United States billions, more than the amount it would have cost to make the weapon. In addition to the money saved, thousands of lives would be saved as well.

Joseph Harris, in his research affirming the technological benefits of the space program, found that while innovations from the space program were primarily manufactured to assist in sending massive rockets or probes soaring towards outer space, cutting-edge technology produced for NASA has been effectively brought into everyday life, helping millions of people in more ways than just one. From CAT Scan/MRI technology to computer joysticks to infrared cameras, spinoffs and NASA commercialized technology have stretched beyond the realm of spacecraft and found their way in aiding mankind. CAT Scan and MRI technology was first expended in the Apollo Program to enhance the images taken on the Moon. Today, CAT Scan and MRI technology are used in hospitals to detect cancerous tumors and other abnormalities. The computer joystick, initially used in early Apollo mission to steer the rover and explore the moon, impacted the video gaming industry, allowing gamers to play computer games with more precision and sensitivity.

Developed by NASA to observe the Sun and space shuttle’s plumes, infrared cameras are used today by firefighters in pinpointing hotspots of wildfires that rage out of control. Even though these technological advancements have been expensive, they have proven their value through daily use by saving thousands of lives and expanding businesses worth billions of dollars to our national economy (Harris). Opponents assert that NASA’s track record has not been significant enough in the past to merit continuing it; however, space exploration has inspired the world to strive for bigger and better challenges by exploring the new frontier, even if it appears to be an impossible assignment. Since Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon on July 21,1963, NASA has had some setbacks and fatalities under its supervision. Specifically, the disasters associated with the first Mars Rover and the prominent space shuttle tragedies, such as Space Shuttle Challenger and Columbia, illustrate the many fatalities and mistakes the space program has encountered over its lifetime.

For example, the first Mars rover was shot past its destination because the builders in Europe used the metric system, while NASA in America used the U.S. customary measurements. Although NASA is known for its accuracy, this miscalculation resulted in the rover not reaching the Martian planet. On an even larger scale, New York Post’s article entitled “Space Tragedies” shows vital space shuttle tragedies occurring in NASA’s history. On a bitter, cold day on January 28, 1986, Space Shuttle Challenger exploded seventy-two seconds after its departure from Cape Canaveral’s Kennedy Space Center, killing the innocent lives of seven U.S. astronauts, and schoolteacher, Christa McAuliffe. At the time, the “Challenger Disaster” was considered to be the worst space accident in NASA’s history. After NASA-initiated investigations, it was discovered defective O-rings in the shuttle’s rocket boosters, which botched due to cold temperatures, caused the explosion to occur.

Years later, the Space Shuttle Columbia accident still revealed more mistakes and resulted in casualties after the completion of a nearly immaculate sixteen day mission. Upon re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere on January 1, 2003, Space Shuttle Columbia exploded when insulation tiles from the wing’s leading edge dislodged upsetting airflow over the lifting surface causing it to disintegrate. As a result, all the crewmembers were presumed dead (“Space Tragedies”). Although NASA’s history reflects that the agency is not perfect, and it has suffered some problems and losses in its history, humans are not perfect and space exploration still continues to progress, develop, and learn from its setbacks and mistakes. NASA fully realizes that every endeavor taken in their history will have its obstacles.

They also continue to be inspired with their efforts because failures move them forward. For instance, the Soviet Union beat the United States in sending man into space, but NASA, inspired by their actions, bounced back when the United States put a man on the moon. While reviewing Neil Armstrong’s accomplishments in the Los Angeles Times, authors Marvin Miles and Rudy Abramson revisit the famous phrase uttered by Armstrong while landing on the moon in 1969 when landing on the moon, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” (qtd. in Miles, and Rudy Abramson A1). Armstrong’s words echo NASA’s mission to continue to be inspired to move forward in space exploration, taking small steps to create giant leaps with its progress. Human curiosity is the key to progress, which presents an opportunity to uncover known truths and obtain knowledge about our universe. NASA’s missions, started four decade or two ago, have began to pay off and Neil Armstrong’s words show what strides curiosity can make.

According to the article entitled “Voyager” from the Britannica Encyclopedia, Voyager 2 was initially dispatched in the 1980s to examine Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Voyager 2 is still gathering information and sending the data back to Earth, even though it is far beyond the Solar System (“Voyager”). NASA intensely researches, tests and checks everything they do, nothing can ever be perfect. There is a margin of human error and in some cases maybe even natural error that no one could control. If no one ever took a risk with something and fear of failure would overtake inspiration, curiosity and the desire to progress, then nothing would ever get accomplished and NASA could not move forward and take those “giant leaps.” Though NASA was aware that the foam insulation damaged thermal protection system posed a risk in the Columbia incident, this curiosity led to re-examination of materials used and the dynamics of the space shuttle.

Challengers of the space program argue that NASA funding will be better spent on reducing Earth’s everyday social and environmental problems; nevertheless, while it is accurate that the space program is costly, it is well worth the money spent, as the space program provides helpful technology that people use in their everyday lives. Detractors believe billions of dollars are being spent launching telescopes that do not function and require expensive repairs, space probes that do not reach their destinations, and manned flights that circle around the planet a few times. Meanwhile, millions of people are dying from illness and starvation, living as hopeless refugees under horrible conditions in camp, or becoming innocent victims of ethnic slaughter and civil way.

Instead of investing in exploring space, Congress and the United States government need to spend taxpayers’ dollars on education and reducing the poverty level, rebuilding and replenishing, and finding a lasting solution to peace here on planet Earth. However, although these concerns are legitimate, they do not entirely address the need for NASA. In her book entitled Space Exploration: A Pro/Con Issue, Sarah Flowers takes a closer look at the contributions of NASA’s space program. Absolutely, these demands on Earth need to be met currently, but NASA’s space program also contributes to those needs by pursuing to widen the boundaries of knowledge that outer space holds. What would we do without weather satellites? Satellites track dangerous severe storms and yield us of cyclones, tornados, tsunamis, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. Global positioning system satellites allow people to receive directions instantly.

Communication satellites bring information, and therefore knowledge, to the farthest reaches of the planet; it is true that the Hubble telescope did not perform up to design and expectations, but it has nevertheless provided scientists with invaluable information, such as how stars and planets are formed and comet crashes. One space probe didn’t reach its destination, but others are on their way, performing gallantly as messengers from space. Furthermore, important medical and scientific experiments are performed on board manned flights and the International Space Station. Lastly, we cannot reject the human necessities offered by space exploration that someday will see Americans and other world countries populating Mars and other planets, and allow us to see life, and the need for peace, in a new perspective (Flowers).

As the world is technologically advancing at a rapid rate, continuation of the space program is detrimental to the United States in competing for national greatness on a global level. NASA research and development have given humanity ample technological and medical innovations, such as computer joysticks, CAT Scan/MRI Technology, and infrared cameras. The next “great leap forward” for NASA will be putting man on the moon again with Aries rocket, as the space shuttle has been retired.

The idea of a possible manned moon station has stemmed NASA’s desire to explore the universe that has been an inspiring trek of knowledge, repeatedly provoking human curiosity to inquire beyond Earth and the Solar System. Deep space travel allows us the opportunity to unlock answers and obtain information about the origin of the universe. For example, the Mars Curiosity Rover is examining Mars’ atmosphere and surface to establish whether the Martian Planet is capable of supporting life. The federal government must continue to fund NASA’s space program if the United States wants to keep progressing. Imagine where the United States would be today if Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, never had the opportunity to voice those famous words, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” The leaps must continue.

Works Cited
Flowers, Sarah. Space Exploration: A Pro/Con Issue. Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow, 2000. Print. Harris, Joseph. “Space Technologies and Everyday Life.” Space Exploration: Impact of Science and Technology. Pleasantville, NY: Gareth Stevens Pub., 2010. 28-35. Print. Miles, Marvin, and Rudy Abramson. “Armstrong Beams His Words to Earth After Testing Surface.” Los Angeles Times [Los Angeles] 21 July 1969, Morning ed.: A1. Print. “Space Tragedies.” New York Post: 009. Feb 02 2003. ProQuest Newsstand. Web. 16 Nov. 2012. “Voyager.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online Academic Edition. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2012. Web. 16 Nov. 2012.


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