25 January 2011
I read a really interesting article in the New York Times today concerning the United States and space exploration. The fate of NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) hangs in the balance as the agency will need to streamline its budget and do "more" with "less." Many believe that the government should continue the space missions and programs currently in progress just as we always have; with big budgets and no time frames. However, there are others who feel that NASA's current state of operations needs revamping of budgets and redirection in it's purpose.
Continuing the space program in its existing form, which is the legacy of the Bush Administration, has several benefits and disadvantages. With the large appropriation of funds, there is a prodigious amount of resources for the advancement in space technology. We can actually achieve human space exploration beyond the moon. The Constellation Project would become a reality; from Earth to Moon to Mars. Future colonization of interstellar bodies would actually be possible and we would become proficient in creating long distance spacecraft travel.
On the other hand, the cancellation of many of the missions can be advantageous. The government would be better able to delegate necessary funds to programs like social security for senior citizens and development of jobs in our degenerate economy. Also, by cutting back on sending human beings into space (only until NASA can figure out safer and more effective means of travel), there will be a remarkable growth in terms of "robotic sciences and aviation," (Chang). NASA could allocate funds from the private sector and raise revenue to support their research and development departments. This could be a way of problem solving the accumulation of capital.
But, the abandonment of this vital program also brings complications. By cutting revenue to the space missions and programs, NASA will be forced to solicit "rides" from other countries with spacecrafts. This disadvantage would leave the US at the mercy of paying astronomical fares to explore space, much like New York City's MTA. In addition to this, NASA has stated that it cannot build heavy lift rockets for commercial use due to budget restrictions and limited time-framed schedules (ibid.). Like all other bureaus in government, NASA will need to re-organize, downsize and prioritize it's spending. My fear is that the US will revert back to the days of Reagan when all of the US space shuttles were nothing more than glorified taxi services for high-powered companies.
It's interesting that this same concept is in Stephen Baxter's Manifold Space. Baxter discusses the existence of life other that originated on Earth. He discusses the possibility that the United States, and in turn other countries, lose site of our innate compulsion to expand and explore. Perhaps I'm nuts, but I really feel that space travel is that next insurmountable plateau. We can better find resources to sustain ourselves if and when we expand. I'm afraid that Easter Island, the eradication of natural resources and the disappearance of an entire people, will happen on a global scale should the world population continue to increase (we all know it will). The only answer that I can come up with is will be to spread to the stars, like Octavia Butler's Earth Seed.
What are your thoughts or point of view on this? I want to know!
Images from Wikimedia Commons.
Constellation project.: NASA Website.
Chang, Kenneth. "For NASA Longest Countdown Awaits." New York Times (New York City) January 24, 2011, Morning Edition, Section: D1.