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One of the most prominent controversies of government spending in recent years has been the funding of space exploration. Space exploration requires substantial costs and commitments, which are certainly enough to put a country in serious debt if budgets are handled poorly. With other domestic issues becoming more prominent and requiring more funding, NASA has become something of an afterthought. At first glance, space exploration funding seems like a waste of time and money that would be better off invested elsewhere.
However, the importance of space travel and its many advantages surpass the costs of funding NASA, which really is not overly expensive when put in perspective. NASA has created an improved understanding of the world and has changed society in ways previously unperceived. The knowledge, innovation, and economical benefits gained through space travel have and will continue to outweigh the expenses incurred, as long as NASA continues to be federally funded.
The peak of NASA funding occurred in 1966 when it was around 4.
41 percent of the federal budget (Huffington Post). Today the NASA budget is only about half of a percent of the federal budget, meaning that space exploration has rapidly diminished as a national priority. The central argument concerning NASA spending is that the required research, technology, and education are far too expensive to be considered a beneficial use of the federal budget. This argument is flawed considering that the percent of the national budget spent on NASA has not eclipsed one percent since 1974, which was only sixteen years after the creation of NASA.
Besides a slight increase in spending in the late 1980s and early 1990s, NASA’s budget has steadily decreased to its miniscule present day budget and has garnered heavy consideration to shut down the program entirely. If space exploration had not already proven to be highly beneficial, it would make sense to not fund the program. However, NASA has proven to not only expand science and technology, but also to be beneficial economically. Through the research of the University of Texas at Austin aerospace engineering program, it has become apparent that “the total economic benefit of each dollar spent on the space program has been between $8 and $10” (Fowler, Wallace). Satellite television, satellite radio stations, and GPS systems, each of which are used daily by the majority of the United States population, would not exist without satellite technology. All three of these inventions have been impactful not only for their consumers, but for the overall economy as new businesses and jobs were subsequently created. This confirms that the severe expenses of NASA funding have been blown out of proportion and instead should be viewed as worthy investments. The multi billion dollar NASA program is only a small portion of the nation’s 3.8 trillion dollar federal budget (National Priorities Project), and additionally generates substantial profit and economical value.
Further arguments opposing the funding of NASA include the safety of space explorers.. Manned missions are an extreme risk to astronauts because of the harsh conditions of space and the slight room for error. A simple mistake could prove fatal to an astronaut. Although risking human lives is certainly not ideal, most astronauts have spent their lives aspiring to explore space. Astronauts are well aware of the risks but are willing to fulfill their lifelong dreams. Manned missions are not completely necessary because advances in technology have led to the construction of robots which are able to complete the tasks of astronauts. Advancing technology and improving knowledge of space also means that accidents occurred during space missions will be more preventable than previously.
Another argument against space exploration is “space junk” pollution. Space junk is Earth-orbiting debris that is left behind by satellites and space travel. Although space programs have caused the space junk, the problem can not be fixed without the funding of space programs. Realizing that space junk must be eliminated, NASA and, according to theverge.com a news website specializing in technology used for science, space programs from other countries have begun to test ways in which current space junk can be eliminated and future space junk can be prevented, or at least reduced. It is apparent that the issues concerning space exploration can be solved or have already been solved.
Knowledge of space has been one of mankind’s greatest curiosities for centuries. Scientists have learned vast amounts from space observation and exploration, but still have countless more questions about space than they have answers. One of the greatest curiosities is the question of whether or not life exists outside of Earth. Although it may not be discoverable in the near future, improving technology and extensive research could potentially lead to the answers to these scientific mysteries. Scientists may also discover inhabitable planets in which humans can potentially migrate to if earth were to ever become overpopulated or uninhabitable. The amount of information brought to earth by NASA in its fifty-nine years of existence has substantially exceeded the knowledge and expectations of scientists before the founding of NASA. In discussing why discoveries from exploring space have limitless potential, a writer for universavvy.com, a website containing an abundance of astronomy information, states that “We may even find new human-like species, or aliens who are more developed than us. Exploring space may lead us to the discovery of an all-new world.” A well budgeted NASA fund employing space travel could lead to numerous possibilities and pave the way for generations of the future. Even if life elsewhere is never discovered or if inhabitable planets are never found, knowledge of space as well as the understanding of Earth will continue to grow with space exploration.
Ever since NASA was first established, scientific breakthroughs have generated advances in science and technology that have led to numerous pivotal inventions. Many of these inventions “have provided benefits to society on Earth in areas including health and medicine, transportation, public safety, consumer goods, energy and environment, information technology, and industrial productivity” (International Space Exploration Coordination Group). The advancements society has made in the last century are largely due to NASA’s exploration and research. Solar energy has become possible due to research of the Sun. New sources of energy could potentially become available with further research of the universe. It is not improbable that scientists will find ways produce energy that are more cost effective and environmentally friendly. The invention and installation of satellites have created satellite television, satellite radio, GPS systems, and weather forecasting which have proven essential to modern society. NASA also has the capability to drive innovation since technology used in space equipment, such as robotics and computers, is constantly requiring improvements which then lead to new advances. If NASA’s research and discoveries have already led to many extraordinary and groundbreaking technological advances in fifty-nine years, there is no telling how advanced society will be decades from now.
The protection of Earth and mankind has become considerably more possible as a result of NASA. NASA has created a greater understanding of Earth, its atmosphere, and the solar system around it. Studies have led to the understanding of Earth’s climate changes and its effects, specifically global warming and its impact on the ozone layer and the environment. These understandings “help the scientists assess how well and for how long our planet will be able to sustain life” (universavvy.com). Because of NASA, scientists now know how to prevent the Earth’s destruction, which can be generated by both human pollution and natural causes. NASA’s research has also created a way to track asteroids, which have disastrous impacts, and can divert them away from Earth. The ability to track the growth and path of storms through satellite technology has proven to be a necessity, as storm victims can evacuate or prepare for fatal disasters such as hurricanes. There is much that is still unknown about the earth, and with the continuation of NASA funding, Earth and its inhabitants will be able to last longer.
Believers in eliminating NASA spending are ultimately narrow-minded on the subject and have failed to put the investment benefits into perspective. Jerry Degroot, a history professor at the University of St. Andrews, has written an article titled The US Government Should Cut NASA Funding that greatly opposes space program funding. Degroot has been unsuccessful in realizing NASA’s tremendous benefits and has even called NASA’s efforts “meaningless gestures.” He believes that NASA’s budget, which is half a percent of the federal budget, is far too great and that NASA should eventually terminate its program entirely. One of his main points is that the Orbiting Carbon Observatory, a 278 million dollar project that would have significantly improved the studies of global warming, was a complete waste of the nation’s money. Although the observatory crashed into the ocean shortly following its launch, improving the nation’s knowledge on global warming, which, without prevention or preparation, would prove to be fatal to the Earth, is too important to ignore. He even directly criticizes NASA’s motives in saying “NASA isn’t interested in global warming; it simply realises that wearing green is a way to get government money” (Degroot, Jerry). In no way would it be logical to expend 278 million dollars on a potential world-saving project if the main intention was to gain a profit. NASA’s budget, albeit a small portion of the federal budget, can afford accidents like the Orbiting Carbon Observatory. Had the investment gone as planned, NASA would have likely received praise for its contribution to the future of the world. Degroot also criticizes NASA’s desire to potentially discover a place for humans to populate if the Earth were to ever become uninhabitable. The likeliest candidate to prolong human existence is Mars, although its ability to sustain human life has yet to be confirmed. Degroot ignorantly states that “Mars makes Antarctica look like a paradise” while trying to denounce NASA’s ambitions. Antarctica, an already inhabitable location, certainly would be a preferable choice if the rest of the world became unlivable, and the general population would surely rather continue their lives on Mars if it were to become humanity’s best option. If society ever begins to approach an end on Earth, the possibility of human survival will be far more significant if NASA, having centuries of acquired knowledge and technology advancement, were to continue receiving government funds.
Humans have a certain hunger for adventure and knowledge that is greatly satisfied by space exploration and research. The development of society was founded upon human desires for new discoveries and accomplishments. With all the benefits and advantages NASA has created since its beginning, it deserves to once again be a focal point of the federal government’s spending. NASA’s current low budget has made space exploration unaffordable, thus hindering NASA’s research. A higher budget would not only lead the world back to its era of technological advancements and scientific breakthroughs, but it would also create jobs for engineers, scientists, and astronauts. It is clear that if the government decides to increase NASA’s budget, NASA will prove its worth, as it has in the past. Humans may never have all their questions answered concerning space, but the path to get to these answers evidently improves life on Earth.
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