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Why we need another space race (with ourselves)

Dylan LemertBy DYLAN LEMERT

Columnist

@dlemert

We’ve come a long way since the humble, utopic vision of the mid-20th century. Refusing to be anymore defined by white picket-fenced yards and clean-pressed suits, our current national opinion of ourselves seems to be gradually shifting south along with our nightly, newsworthy predicaments.

When things hit rock bottom, as they seem to be doing so often lately, we know the government focuses its funding to the places that need it most. While this only makes sense, this unfortunately siphons money away from the “luxury” programs, the ones that may not have a direct hand in alleviating, say, poverty or gun-violence. This does not, however, indicate these programs are useless.

Photo caption: SpaceX, founded in 2002 by Elon Musk, sees liftoff of its Falcon 9 launch vehicle at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The company hopes its aircraft will one day aid in the first human colonization of Mars.

Photo caption: SpaceX, founded in 2002 by Elon Musk, sees liftoff of its Falcon 9 launch vehicle at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The company hopes its aircraft will one day aid in the first human colonization of Mars.

NASA, our nation’s flagship aerospace program for over five decades, still receives funding from the government, but the specific amount of that funding has dropped significantly since the program’s inception in 1958. According to a Slate article, the figure that NASA conjured up the courage to request for 2015 is already $100 million lower than the amount they received for the whole of the 2014 fiscal year, an amount that tallied close to only one percent of the entire federal budget in the first place.

In his testimony to the U.S. Senate given in 2012 in petition of increased NASA funding, noted astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson stated, “The spending of the United States currently allocates fifty times as much money to social programs and education than it does to NASA. Right now, NASA’s annual budget is half a penny on your tax dollar.”

It’s this sort of statistic which has led many in recent years to ponder whether NASA is a political priority anymore. Granted, it’s incredibly tough for anyone, including the esteemed Neil deGrasse Tyson, to convince the government a program like NASA is even worth the money considering the much bigger fish we frequently have to fry.

But that doesn’t mean we should ax our scientific programs. Fortunately, I think there’s a workaround emerging.

Privatized companies like SpaceX, the entrepreneurial enterprise of Elon Musk whose long-term goal is to aid in the colonization of Mars, are about as close as any other program, privately funded or not, in successfully doing so. I support the ideals of this recent budding of corporations and their intentions for developing space exploration programs without the hindrance of a stingy budget.

What I am not advocating is for private sector programs to entirely replace the role of NASA; I believe the latter still serves an incredibly important purpose.

Rather, these two entities should take a cue from our Space Race days-the rocket-building tensions that boosted our technologies faster and further than we could have anticipated. The result: a healthy competition between the American private and public spaces, with one working to bolster the other onwards and upwards “to where no man has gone before.”

Programs like NASA and SpaceX, while perhaps not traditionally practical, are, like the arts, still crucial to the imaginative health of a community, because they promote exploration and curiosity.

Later in his Senate appeal, Tyson reinforced a similar thought when he said that through space programs, “we can transform the country from a sullen, dispirited nation, weary of economic struggle, to one where it has reclaimed its 20th-century birthright to dream of tomorrow.”

This birthright is exactly why space-exploration programs, both private and public, should not be cut, but encouraged. They cultivate a profound sense of wonder about the universe and, in doing so, keep us human.

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