Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Up up and away

For those of you who don't know me, I love to learn. Love it. And one of the things that I absolutely love to learn about is Astronomy. Nothing fills me with more child like wonder than learning about the heavens. Quasars and magnetars, planetary dust clouds, nebulae, supernovae, and black holes are all just damn cool. I have literally sat at my desk reading Wikipedia entries on astronomical entities and phenomena for hours because its all so damned interesting. The History Channel has been running a series simply entitled "The Universe" and I swear, I could watch it all day long. I would also love to go up into space. You remember when Lance Bass (or some other celebrity who might be gay now, I'm not sure) paid the Russians $20 million to go up into space? Others mocked him but I was sitting here thinking "I wish I had $20 million... I'd do it too."

I tell you this because every time I learn that someone is against NASA I personally can't understand it for the life of me. How could you want to disband NASA when one day they will take us to the stars? The arguments I hear are always the same. What use is NASA? Lets use NASA's budget to help people here on Earth. I don't care about the hypothetical "greater good" that you will lay out. I hear these arguments from friends of mine and I think they are so short-sighted.

First off, money. It always comes back to money. So lets get that out of the way. NASA's budget for 2007 is approximately $17 billion. Don't believe? Google "NASA's Budget" and you'll find I'm right. $17 billion sure sounds like a lot of money doesn't it? Well it really isn't. President Bush most recently asked for an extra $50 billion for the war in Iraq. NASA's annual budget is about a third of the supplementary emergency budget for the war in Iraq. There are several multi-national corporations that are worth far more than NASA out there as well. Besides, lets say that we do disband NASA and give that money to something else. Where are we going to send that money? As aid to developing nations? Might as well piss it away. Giving aid to developing nations is bad because their governments are corrupt. Its why the extractives industry developed the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI), so people can tell how much money is going where. If oil companies don't trust these countries why should we? How about disease research then? The National Institutes of Health has a budget of at least $28 billion. So they also have more money than NASA. When we talk about NASA's budget, lets at least be honest about how much we're talking about. In the grand scheme of federal spending, it isn't that much, and quite honestly, should be more.

And these people who say that NASA doesn't benefit us? Hogwash. Technologies that are developed by NASA and the space program eventually find uses here on Earth. Don't believe me? Want some examples? How about enriched baby food? Enriched baby food was originally developed from NASA research into long duration space travel. Atheletic shoes, like running shoes and tennis shoes, are derived from moonboots. Solar energy is an obvious one. Forest management is made possible by sattelites put into orbit by NASA. Using NASA technology doctors were able to make breast cancer detection more efficient and less hazardous. After all, they are shooting radiation into your boobs. That can't be good for you. There are hundreds of other useful products and technologies that were originally developed by using NASA research and technology.

But how about space exploration? Totally useless right? Wrong again! I think most of us can agree that global climate change (which is the proper term for 'global warming') is going to be the big issue of our generation. Scientists have all sorts of models that tell us what is going to happen when more CO2 makes it into our atmosphere. But how do they know these figures are accurate? Can they be sure that more CO2 leads to higher heat? What do they use as proof? Give up? The planet Venus. NASA discovered that the atmosphere of Venus is comprised mostly of CO2 when they sent the various Mariner and Magellan probes to the planet. Venus offers Earth-based climatologists a sort of 'worst-case' scenario for the effects of global climate change. So there you go. NASA helped to support global climate change. Stick that in your Al Gore and smoke it.

Finally though, there's the potential. Space exploration gives mankind the ability to go places that it has only ever dreamed of. Moreover, it gives mankind the opportunity to do something that is greater than the species. It could unite mankind behind the idea that we are all so very small in this universe but that together we can grow and evolve and achieve. NASA and space travel in general could be mankind's next great accomplishment. It might not seem like much but just consider the International Space Station. Its like a more functional, more useful UN... in space! So you know what?

To infinity and beyond.


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