Last year I wrote about a great marketing story that “wasn’t” and it had to do with NASA. You remember NASA right? The National Aeronautics and Space Agency. Aeronautics? Does anyone really use that term outside of the agency itself? It might have been relevant in 1958 but now? http://history.nasa.gov/brief.html
My big problem is that NASA does really cool things and people forget about that and only focus on the difficulties NASA has on various missions and budget. Part of this is NASA’s fault for not promoting what’s so impressive about its projects. Last week you may have heard about the NASA mission to Jupiter called JUNO. Today people tend to take space exploration for granted unlike the way it was in the 1960’s. The United-States – Soviet Union race to be first to reach the moon transfixed a nation and the world. And it was 47 years ago this month. I can tell you from experience that the sense of pride and accomplishment that I felt for my country as a result was one of the most proud moments for this American.
Is putting money into NASA and space exploration frivolous when so many Americans need help in other ways? The U.S Government 2016 budget for NASA is $19.3 billion. It represents less than ½ of 1% of the $4 trillion overall budget. And that NASA budget is to be reduced to $18.5 billion for 2017. From the NASA website:
NASA will spend $3.3 billion to further develop the Space Launch System, a heavy-lift rocket. It will carry astronauts to the moon, Mars, and even asteroids. NASA successfully tested the Orion crew capsule in 2014. That is the first new U.S. design to carry humans in 40 years.
Another $1.5 billion goes toward the Mars Land Rover mission in 2020, and planning a trip to Jupiter’s moon Europa. NASA will also use its deep-space system to explore asteroids so it can protect Earth from any impacts. It will identify potential asteroid threats, fly a human to an asteroid, and redirect it using solar electric propulsion systems. It is developing that technology now.
NASA has identified several small asteroids that it plans to capture. It will place them on the moon for astronauts to study. (Source: Ian O’Neill, “White House Requests Boosted $18.5B NASA Budget,” Discovery News, February 2, 2015)
NASA will replace the aging Hubble Space Telescope with the new James Webb Space Telescope, planned to launch in 2018. Those projects will cost $1.25 billion. (Source: NASA,NASA Fiscal Year 2015 Budget Request, April 10, 2014)
Another $5.1 billion will enable the U.S. to transport its own crews to the International Space Station. Right now, we have to pay Russia for crew transport. The U.S. will regain its ability to shuttle its crew and cargo to the International Space Station using commercial partners. It plans to launch the first crew flights in 2017. It hasn’t done this since NASA retired the space shuttle Discovery in 2012. NASA continues to support research in the space station.
NASA manages the satellite imagery of earth. That’s included in the $2 billion budget for Earth Science. It will spend $700 million on space weather modeling based on two additional Explorer missions.
NASA will spend $1.8 billion on collaborating with commercial aerospace companies to bring new space exploration technologies to earth. These include new energy-efficient aircraft, solar electric propulsion, and robotic satellite servicing. Education is part of this initiative.
It costs $3.3 billion to maintain NASA facilities and equipment. It has 20 facilities and 14 visitor centers. NASA employs 18,000 people as employees and contractors. (Source: NASA FY 2017 Budget Request. Centers and Facilities.)
I feel good about the projects and efforts of NASA as noted above.
The question I keep asking is why people in general seem to undervalue the search for knowledge beyond our planet? Surely it cannot be that we as Americans as well as citizens of Planet Earth don’t care about learning more about our immediate solar system, the Milky Way and the Universe as a whole. It has to be that space exploration like seemingly everything else these days has to be a ‘value proposition’ for most people.
Yet the success of the human race cannot be attributed to protecting what countries and people already have and want to keep with no concern for future generations. Americans if nothing else, are an intrepid and pioneering people. That’s how the U.S. got started in the first place. Space exploration was a natural outgrowth of the pioneering spirit that ruled the western states in the 19th century even if the result was spurred on by a race to beat the Reds (no not the ones from Cincinnati).
NASA’s Juno mission blows my mind in many ways. Astrophysics is a field that is complex, confusing and fascinating. I’m grateful there are many smart people that dedicate their lives to the pursuit of interplanetary knowledge. Is there wasted money as part of the budget? It’s hard to fathom that there aren’t any blind alleys, or mismanaged aspects of a near $20 billion budget.
Think about American idealism of the 1960’s evidenced in television shows such as Star Trek. Has there ever been a more righteous character than Captain James T.Kirk? Star Trek (like Superman) was so much about truth, justice and what was considered at the time to be ‘the American way’. How about today the United States shows its commitment to world leadership in the form of space exploration that can benefit the entire planet? Is that too ambitious to wish for?
NASA could use all kinds of help in marketing its missions and accomplishments. For what it’s worth my team would be excited to help that mission
Part of the problem may be that once we got to the moon, we were sidetracked by the shuttle program – which on reflection – now makes some sense considering the effects of long term space travel and zero g on humans. What we’ve learned about space travel during that detour will probably really help if we really want to put people beyond the moon.
The other issue is that in the 47 years since the moon landing, the small anti science anti intellectual movement in this country has become full fledged and powerful. That impacts far more than just NASA. Can that be counteracted? I hope so, but I’m not convinced that it can.
I hope so too Joe. Thanks!