Mar 02

What’s Up In The Sky?

Do We Spend Too Much on NASA?

Mark Rober is probably not a name familiar to many people. That’s too bad because he has a very interesting YouTube channel which you can easily find by typing his name into the search window. His latest post is the inspiration for this month’s column.

Its title is “Is NASA a waste of money?” I would hope that most readers would answer “no” to that question, but can you come up with five good reasons why we don’t? I hope the following provides you with some solid arguments to use the next time you get into a discussion with a skeptic.

Mark is a former NASA engineer who worked on the Curiosity rover and a project called SMAP. One might argue that he is therefore biased in his opinion, but I would counter by saying that makes him an expert on the various projects on which NASA spends money.

First consider this: what percent of the US budget do you think goes to NASA? Most Americans think it’s about 20 percent, which helps explain why one in four think its budget should be reduced. The truth is it’s about one half of one percent, or about nine dollars a year for most of us.

So what are we getting for our one-half penny of every dollar? First, about half of the missions currently operating are studying the earth, helping us understand such things as how to improve agriculture and preserve our natural resources. The SMAP satellite monitors the moisture content of the soil and its data is shared for free with anyone in the world, helping them increase their food production. Second are the instruments on Earth used to find and track asteroids, like the one that hit our planet 65 million years ago. The dinosaurs probably wished they had seen that coming. We not only track such objects, but also are working on ways to prevent a similar catastrophe.

Third is what Mark calls “offshoot technology”. Digital cameras, GPS, live TV beamed from satellites (think Olympics) and accurately tracking hurricanes are just a few of the two thousand technology spinoffs from NASA. And expecting NASA to justify its funding by predicting what will be discovered is like Queen Isabella expecting Columbus to predict Netflix.

Fourth, is the economy. The majority of NASA’s budget goes toward the salaries of the scientists and skilled technicians who work there. Much of that money goes back into the overall economy. The same is true for all the companies that exist because of number three, above.

Fifth and foremost, is “exploration and imagination”. Humans have always yearned to find answers to fundamental mysteries of our world. The knowledge gained through research and exploration not only makes us better equipped to deal with many problems but also gives us hope for a better future.

We should be grateful to NASA for helping us understand what’s up in the sky.