Why Space?

I sometimes wear my NASA t-shirt around Seattle and sooner or later I get the question, “Why are we spending money on space when we have so many problems on Earth?”

First of all, nobody seems to realize how much money NASA actually gets. NASA does so much with so little. If you were take the whole US Government’s Budget and represent it as a dollar bill, then NASA gets one half of a penny. For comparison, the US Defense Department gets twenty pennies or nearly 700 Billion (with a B) dollars. This means that non-NASA budget is 99.5 pennies in this comparison. Sounds like we have plenty of money but aren’t using it to address real problems.

So, in reality, NASA is begging for money and not getting much credit for all the science and technology they develop. Let’s examine the benefits we get for going into space.

Space Exploration = Making Earth a better place to live
What we do in space has direct benefit to people on the ground. NASA has number of satellites that watch the planet and solar system. Robotic missions to other planets that help us predict geology on the Earth and discover how the solar system was made. There is technology that is developed for space that becomes technology for Earth.. heat resistant space ship windows that become glassware for labs and our kitchens. The international space station is an orbiting laboratory for researching biology, material sciences, the planet and space in general.

One of the most impactful uses of space is satellites. You’ve probably heard of something called GPS or the Global Positioning System. With out GPS it would be hard for your Uber driver to find you or your Amazon package to find its way to you by the next day. An 800 million dollar Earth observing satellite helps farmers across the world produce more food in developing regions. If you gave those regions 800 million dollars, you’d feed them for about a day. The NASA satellite is a much better deal.

Planetary defense sounds like something out of a movie but its something that NASA thinks about every day. It’s not about protecting against aliens but against asteroids. The dinosaurs would probably be around if they had a space program 😎. We currently have dozens of observatories scanning the night sky for near earth asteroids. In the future, NASA (and other partners like ESA) will create small probes that will intercept large asteroids and give them a little nudge to avoid the planet. Sorry, no nuclear weapons needed.

People that are critical of the giving money to NASA seem to fail to realize that there are thousands of highly skilled NASA employees spread around the country. In their mind they must imagine NASA launching pallets of money into orbit. All of those employees and companies that work with NASA are spending money in their local communities. NASA has a big impact on local economies and those communities are glad to have them.

There is a lot of NASA technology that you use everyday without realizing it. Semiconductor electronics that are used in your smartphone wouldn’t exist if NASA didn’t need miniature electronics for space. There are over 2000 NASA technology spin-offs. Do you like cordless drills? Since there are no outlets in space, NASA needed to develop a drill that worked in the starry blackness. That technology became the cordless drill, your electric toothbrush, etc. Btw, NASA didn’t invent TANG nor do they fly it into space… that was just clever marketing around the Apollo moon missions.

Finally, the reason we go into space is the Spirit of Innovation and Exploration. Exploration is in our DNA and pushes us to make amazing discoveries about the universe. It inspires generations to think about space and those inspired minds go on to create innovations for Earth and beyond. I wouldn’t mind installing the first data center on Mars. We’ll have to see how the New Space Race plays out!

New Space Race

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