The last space shuttle launch occurred last week. Although NASA claims to be working on a new vehicle, it is years (or decades) away from launching, if it does launch at all.
Having grown up during the space program’s heyday, I see this as just another symptom of America’s declining health. A Democrat president declared that America would not be left behind in the conquest of space, and through administrations led by both parties, NASA put men and satellites into orbit, then sent men and machines to the moon.
As a percent of total federal dollars spent, the space program peaked in 1966, at 5.5% of all U.S. spending. Three years later, I, along with most other Americans, sat spellbound as the first men stepped onto the surface of the moon. Critics of the space program would probably say we got some pictures and a few rocks out of the deal (and we did) but myriad technologies were first used in the space program, including the foundations of modern computers and software. Each year, NASA publishes a list of “spinoff” technologies, by-products of space related tech. If there had been no space program these technologies would either not exist, or would have developed later:
• cordless tools
• memory foam
• gps navigation
• medical implants, including some artificial joints and cochlear implants
• polymers used in firefighting gear
• advanced firefighting oxygen delivery systems
• lithium batteries (yes, like the ones in your phone and in your computer)
• LEDs and LCDs
• industrial robots
There are many more, some of which my spotty understanding of science does not let me fully understand, but suffice it to say that even social program loving critics of NASA probably enjoy talking on cellular phones, watching satellite television on LCD screens, and finding their way with gps navigation.
If this program has been so valuable to our nation, why is it in decline? Perhaps, because the government caters to the selfish. Critics of NASA tend to say something like, “Let’s solve our problems here, before we go into space.” So, the United States government has put more and more dollars into the hands of the so-called poor, the educators, and buying medical care for an aging population.
Despite being the source of new technologies and national price, NASA seems to be in a death spiral. From that high point of 5.5% of federal revenues, NASA was down to .58% in 2007. Current spending on our space program is roughly equal to what was spent in 1960. To put that in perspective, the cost of social security was 30 times greater than NASA’s costs in 2007.
Social programs, although well-meaning, have ruined certain segments of American society, and turned the greatest generation into the “gimme” generation. No outlay of funds is sufficient to provide the poor with what they want. Only work can do that; but with a sputtering economy and a no confidence vote from business, there are fewer and fewer jobs. Elected officials tend to vote to please the electorate which put them into office, and government paychecks trump rockets.
With the space shuttles decorating museums, what will happen to the satellites that provide us with spying capabilities, gps navigation, and Entertainment Tonight? As long as the satellites remain functional, we won’t know the difference. But, with no means of launching new satellites, we will be like Cuba. In Castro’s country, streets are dotted with fifty year old America autos, because there are no new ones coming into the country. After NASA, our satellites will be just like those ancient autos.
Maybe my children will see the first Martian colonists. Or maybe, they won’t see anything, because the satellites will have fallen from the sky.