PUBLIC SUPPORT AND FUNDING OF NASA

Since its creation, NASA has been the driving force of innovation in the United States of America. It heralded a wave of scientific and technological advancement in the wake of the Cold War and the Space Race. Ever since the last Apollo missions, NASA has had a lasting impact on the things we take for granted. Our smart phones, computers, the Internet, sunglasses, etc. could all be traced to the innovations created by the world-renowned space agency. However, despite these contributions, recently NASA has been gradually overlooked and underfunded. Although most people support the notion that technology will ultimately benefit our lives in the future, the driving force of innovation is running out fuel. There is downward trend in NASA’s funding by the federal government throughout the years. This trend could be attributed to numerous things. Among other things, public opinion proves to be the main culprit. Public opinion has a significant and possibly adverse effect on the funding of the NASA space program due to concerns about wastefully spending money on the space program without any immediate returns to society.

NASA CRITICISM

In recent years, there has been growing criticism of the space agency for wasting tax money. People have called for the redirecting of funds from the space agency to supplement other domestic issues. According to DeGroot, “the time has come to pull the plug on meaningless gestures in space.” DeGroot contends that the NASA space program is essentially a waste of federal money. He also argues that the money being used on NASA could be better used on domestic issues such as starvation and disease. In addition to the claims that NASA is “wasteful spending,” Roff states that “America must first get its financial house in order.” Some people agree with this contention that the money spent on NASA could be better used in other domestic and “down to earth” issues. Although a valid contention, the annual budget of NASA consists of “roughly half of one-percent” of the total federal budget (Carreau). The annual budget of NASA consists of such a small percentage of the federal budget, that the money used on NASA could not possibly be used for other domestic issues. Compared to the annual military spending by the federal government, the money spent on NASA seems like pocket change. DeGroot also claims that NASA “endlessly spending money without ever producing anything.” DeGroot essentially states that NASA has provided nothing tangible to society. Although, DeGroot makes this claim, it is totally unfounded. This criticism seems to be brought about by a lack of knowledge to the contributions of NASA to society.

TECHNOLOGICAL CONTRIBUTIONS TO SOCIETY

On numerous occasions and instances, NASA has made a multitude of contributions to society. One such example of the contribution of NASA is advanced computer technology. Seldom do people wonder the humble origins of the smart phone they use every day. Although pitiful by today’s standards for computers, the computers used on the Apollo missions “formed the basis for modern computing” (Puiu). The development of advanced computer software that controlled critical safety and propulsion mechanism in the Apollo missions paved the way for more advanced computer software. This advancement in computer technology eventually lead to the invention of the smart phone. These smart phones would then become a common device throughout the world, whose computing power would make the computers on the Apollo missions pale in comparison. New and advanced computer software are not the only contributions NASA has provided to society. These contributions range from “life-saving medical devices to protective eyewear” (Spector). The advancements in both technology and science made by NASA has had lasting impacts to everyday society.

impact-of-technology
The chart above depicts a recent poll by the Pew’s Research Center in February 2014, asking people on whether they believe that technology would ultimately benefit or endanger peoples’ lives in the future (Greenwood). In this poll, over 68% of males and over 45% of females agreed that technology does impact the future in a positive manner. According to this poll, most people agree that technology will benefit the people’s lives in the future. This information portrays that generally people support the development of new technologies by “innovation centers” such as NASA. However, 24% of males and 42% of females disagreed. This information also gleans that there is also some disagreement on whether technology is indeed beneficial to the future of humanity. This disagreement on the impact of technology on the future has a direct correlation to the amount of public support for NASA. This disagreement could also be stemmed from a lack of knowledge of NASA contributions to society.

LACK OF KNOWLEDGE

Although people generally support the NASA space program and believe that it should continue to receive funding from the government there is a lack of knowledge regarding the space program. Carreau states that “on average, Americans believe NASA’s annual budget is about 2.4% of federal spending” when NASA’s annual budget consist of merely “half of one-percent” of the total government budget. This misconception between knowing how much is exactly spent on the space program shows that there is a lack of education and knowledge about NASA functions.  This lack of knowledge also contributes to the relative lack of focus by the space agency. NASA is essentially “rudderless” or without direction, despite the program achieving numerous scientific wonders (Levinger). The lack of direction by NASA stems from an inherent lack of education and interest in the space program. Although many support NASA, the public needs to be aware of how the space program functions.

In addition to the lack of knowledge about the NASA space program by the public, there is a seemingly lack of interest in space. In the article, Privatized Space Exploration Has Disadvantages and Benefits, the author claims that “if people understood the purpose of space exploration, then there would be more public interest and the funding from the federal government would more than likely increase.” This claim is based upon the notion that funding for the space agency drastically showed a downward trend since the Cold War ended. The article also states that despite the achievements made by NASA in sending robots to the far reaches of our solar system, the missions have “failed to stoke the public’s imagination the way Apollo’s astronaut once did.” Generally, public interest on the achievements of NASA have dwindled. Despite promises of sending man back to the moon and possibly manned missions to Mars, the space program could only achieve so much with the amount of funding they receive. Levinger states that “most projects end up behind schedule and lacked additional funding.” The inability of NASA to continue projects in a timely fashion stems from the lack of knowledge and education of the public about American space policy. Should interest and the public be properly educated about the numerous contributions made by NASA, there would be a tangible return to society.

Historically, NASA’s total budget peaked at 4.41 percent of the total federal budget in the year 1966, at the height of the Cold War. Three years later, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong would land on the surface of the moon. They would return as national heroes in the eyes of the American public. In his article, Space Policy Responsiveness: The Relationship Between Public Opinion And NASA Funding, Alan Steinberg contends that there is a historical trend between government responsiveness and public opinion. He also states that the massive for the space program was a direct result of an international competition between the USA and Russia. There is a direct correlation between the funding for NASA and public support. Simply put, the more the public supports a certain aspect, such as space policy, the more the government will respond. During the Cold War, the idea that the Russians would beat the America in the space race became a national issue thus the public supported the massive funding for the space program and the government responded. However, since the end of the of the Cold War, space exploration become more of an after-thought. The moment the Americans realized that Russia could no longer compete with the SA in a space race, a downward trend emerged in the funding of the space program.

nasa-budget
The chart above depicts the downward trend in NASA’s budget every five years (Rogers). The graph also depicts NASA’s budget as a percentage of the federal budget. The graph clearly shows that as the Cold War ended, the support and funding for the space program decreased. However, this downward trend should not continue. The annual NASA budget should increase. Erin Wallace claims that the NASA budget should increase citing “scientific discovery, economic benefit, and national security” as some of the reasons for the necessity to reinvigorate the space exploration program. She also claims that it is imperative that the annual budget of NASA should increase from half of one-percent to a full one percent for the space program to “leave a legacy behind.” To increase budget for NASA, there needs to be a bridge that closes the gap between the lack of education and interest in the space program. A renewed spark of interest and support will once again rekindle the driving force of innovation in America.

CONCLUSION

NASA is currently underfunded and is unable to achieve the level of innovation and greatness as years previous. Every year, the space agency receives less than one percent of the federal budget. Movements like Penny4NASA are striving to change the situation, in hopes of one day reinvigorating NASA to be one of the forefront engines of innovation. Neil Degrasse Tyson, an American Astrophysicst and Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space in New York City, has appeared before Congress on numerous occasions to try and convince Congress of allocating more funds to NASA. It is our duty as people of America to ensure that NASA returns to its former glory and instill a new wave of technological advancement and innovation.

WORKS CITED

Carreau, Mark. “Public Display Of Affection.” Aviation Week & Space Technology 175.8 (2013): 19. Academic Search Complete. Web. 26 Oct. 2016.

DeGroot, Jerry. “The US Government Should Cut NASA Funding.” Space Exploration, edited by David Haugen and Zack Lewis, Greenhaven Press, 2012. At Issue. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. 16 Nov. 2016.

Greenwood, Shannon. “Views of Science and the Future.” Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech. N.p., 04 Nov. 2015. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.

Levinger, Josh. “The US Government Should Not Cut NASA Funding.” Space Exploration. Ed. David Haugen and Zack Lewis. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2012. At Issue. Rpt. from “Opinion: Should We Cut NASA Funding?: Counterpoint: Funding a New Mission for NASA Is Funding Our Future.” The Tech. Vol. 130. 2010. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 29 Sept. 2016.

“Privatized Space Exploration Has Disadvantages and Benefits.” Space Exploration. Ed. Michael Ruth. Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven Press, 2016. Opposing Viewpoints. Rpt. from “Neil Armstrong Had Little Confidence in Privatized Space Travel.” 2012. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 29 Sept. 2016.

Puiu, Tibi. “Your Smartphone Is Millions of times More Powerful That All of NASA’s Combined Computing in 1969.” ZME Science. N.p., 01 Sept. 2016. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.

Roff, Peter. “To Infinity and Beyond?: More Wasteful Spending at NASA.” US News. U.S.News & World Report, 10 Apr. 2013. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.

Rogers, Simon. “Nasa Budgets: US Spending on Space Travel since 1958 UPDATED.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 01 Feb. 2010. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.

Spector, Dina. “20 Everyday Things We Have Because Of NASA.” Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 07 Aug. 2012. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.

Steinberg, Alan. “Space Policy Responsiveness: The Relationship Between Public Opinion And NASA Funding.” Space Policy 27.4 (2011): 240-246. Academic Search Complete. Web. 29 Sept. 2016.

Wallace, Erin. “The United States Should Reignite the Space Race.” Space Exploration. Ed. Michael Ruth. Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven Press, 2016. Opposing Viewpoints. Rpt. from “Opinion—Wallace: US Must Reinvigorate Space Exploration.” Dailytoreador.com (11 Nov. 2014). Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 26 Oct. 2016.

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