Thursday, July 15, 2004

Rant of the Week: Bashing NASA Bashers

I have a subprofile for my AIM account and one of its features is a "Rant of the Week". Honestly, though, the rants really just come when I feel like them. Since "Number One" is urging me to post onto the blog, here is the rant from my subprofile. Christian, Fritz, et al, please forgive the gramatical errors in my rant:

So I recently had an interesting debate with a colleague of mine about a month ago about the viability of the NASA Program. She and I stood opposite ends of the spectrum regarding space Programs and their influence in societal advancement. I have faith in the Program for a many reasons; stemming from our being explorers to the technological advancement due to the Program. Fact is, the Program inspires us to be more than who we are, and I am not relying on anecdotal evidence seen in October Sky to prove my case. My colleague however believes that the Program is not worth it; to her there is not enough empirical data or tangible results to continue its support. To her, the money spent on NASA could better be spent on things like the “war on poverty”.
The point of this rant, because this is a rant, is to prove my dear, dear colleague to be ignorant of her ways regarding this topic. Though I do defend and have my own plank regarding the Program, I will concentrate on my critique of her. Now let us begin with the empirical data she seeks; what she is challenging is the risk associated with the Program. Fact is we do spend billions on projects that can break down. Hubble did not initially work, and the space shuttle fiascos are two examples of billion dollar projects failing. To my friend, the risk of such money isn’t worth it.
However, she doesn’t consider that we risk all sorts of things on a daily basis with no real empirical backup. The most prominent of such risk is the pharmaceutical industry which has been known to spend tens of billions researching one drug to no avail. Does she endorse, then, companies stop funding research? I would hope not considering that such research, whether by accident or by actual intent, have helped cure such things as polio and given us penicillin.
Her next argument was that the Program has no real tangible results. When I challenged her by asserting that breast cancer detection, smoke detectors and life shears all came as a by product of space research, she argued that was not their first intention. Fact is, NASA dedicates parts of its research numbers to Earth-based projects. People also forget that the backbone of modern economic industries go back to NASA’s earlier days. Fact is, our reliance on cell phones, radio stations and many other wireless systems can be traced back to NASA’s research bank. So the basis of the 10 trillion dollar economy is relied on data collected by NASA; how’s that for tangible results?
We are an exploring race; so inquisitive and always wanting to better ourselves and imagine a better world. That reason alone should be enough to justify the Program but for many it’s not. The annual federal budget is 2.2 trillion dollars and many of that fund is dedicated to social programs like fighting poverty. Only a paltry 14 billion is given to NASA to work with. Because of this neglect, the shuttles are deteriorating; the projects have become less challenging. Many predicted by now we would be terra-forming the moon but we are barely at the proposal to create a base there. Sure, we can shut down the Program and stipulate the 14 billion over to “poverty” but it won’t solve that social problem. Instead, we’ll be shutting down part of who we are.
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