The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Houston: We've Got Financial Problems

3 min read

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The budget crisis has affected all areas of government, but there are few agencies that have seen the tangible effects quite as strongly as NASA.

According to the Los Angeles Times, congressional budget concerns are leading many experts to think that NASA’s 2010 budget of $18.7 billion will not be repeated. The White House has asked all government agencies to submit 2013 budget requests that are 10 percent below their 2011 levels. For NASA, this means a $1.85-billion cut.

The agency has already been forced to shut down its space shuttle program, forcing American astronauts to find other ways to the International Space Station such as hitching rides with the Russians and Chinese.

Manned space flight, as proved in the space race, is a torch of imperialism. Developing countries like China and India are expanding their manned space programs, while we are cutting back, signaling a blow to American imperialism.

If anything, the failure of two Russian rockets carrying supplies to leave the Earth’s atmosphere before exploding and subsequent statements from the International Space Station that they would abandon ship if these problems were not fixed immediately, shows that we should not be dependent solely on other space programs.

Pulling economic resources from NASA puts their current aspirations, the James Webb Space Telescope and the Space Launch System and Orion capsule, capable of taking humans to deep space beyond the earth’s orbit, at risk.

The price estimate for both have recently increased by billions of dollars or are at risk to do so, according to internal NASA documents and external evaluations, as reported by the Los Angeles Times.

According to NASA, the Webb telescope, the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, was once expected to cost $3.5 billion and launch this year.

Now, the estimate has reached $8.7 billion, and has a 2018 launch date. And NASA’s proposed deep space rocket and crew capsule could cost NASA at least $32 billion over the next decade, a figure that experts caution could go significantly higher.

But it is not just the larger scale projects at risk. Less visible endeavors such as space probes and Mars robotics projects may have to be abandoned with the diminishing budget.

This could not come at a worse time, with exciting advances being made in our understanding of the universe. Just this summer, images of Mars gave evidence that during the planet’s warmer months, there could be liquid water on the Martian surface.

And probes such as Cassini, which is due to fly by Saturn’s moon Titan on Monday, yielding up-close views of this most fascinating moon, are integral to the understanding of our solar system.

The benefits of NASA, not only in the idealistic sense of “exploring space because it’s there,” outweigh the costs.
A 1992 article in Nature stated, “The economic benefits of NASA’s programs are greater than generally realized. The main beneficiaries (the American public) may not even realize the source of their good fortune. . .”

The Chapman Research Report from 1989 examined 259 non-space applications of NASA technology during the eight-year period preceding the date of the report, finding $21.6 billion in sales, 352,000 jobs created, and $355 million in federal corporate income tax.

These figures only represent one percent of space program spin-offs.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the aerospace industry accounted for $95 billion in U.S. economic activity in 2002.

Currently, making a trip to Mars would cost roughly as much as a federal banking crisis. But it would be money well spent.

Few images have inspired the human race so much as the pale blue dot or earthrise, taken during the Apollo missions.

Those missions not only allowed us invaluable scientific advances, but also became a shared cultural experience, with an estimated one-fifth of the world having watched the Apollo moonwalk’s live transmission.
Can we put a price on that?