Funding NASA: An Investment for our Future
At the dawn of a new space age, plans are being formed to create a human base on the moon by 2022 and humans will be sent to Mars within 5 years, according to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. While there are some similarities to the Space Race in the 1960s against the Soviet Union, there are striking differences, the biggest difference of which is the Cold War aspect. The purpose of sending Americans to the moon during that time period was to beat the Soviets, and now the purpose is for humans to explore the final frontier: outer space. In the 1960s, there was no public opposition to the government funded National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) leading America to space since it was part of the plan to beat the Soviets.
However, in today’s society, many questions are arising about the government’s involvement in space exploration since there is no national motive pushing Americans to space and the vast benefits of it are not blatantly noticeable to the average American. Further, the ethics of taxpayers’ money going towards space exploration are being called into question because it seems like these funds are going to an unnecessary cause. While these questions are all valid to ask, the price of space exploration is decreasing with the involvement of private companies and the benefits of it apply to every person in the nation, even if they are not direct.
Currently, NASA receives 0.4% of the federal for 2019, which equates to $19.5 billion. This tiny part of the federal budget is responsible for extensive scientific research which leads to immense benefits for society. Since 1976, NASA has made over 1,400 inventions that became products or services including kidney dialysis machines, CAT scanners, prosthetic limbs, heart pumps and much more. Products like these are vital for society today and without them life would inevitably be harder because it would be more difficult for doctors to save their patients.
The benefits go further than just the medical field with weather monitoring greatly improving through the government funding of NASA because the satellites that allow for the observation of weather patterns were created and sent into orbit by NASA. Further, GPS would not be possible if it were not for NASA, which created the technology for the Air Force and decided it would be beneficial for the everyday American if this technology was accessible to all.
The agricultural industry is likewise being and has been revolutionized by the technologies that NASA is producing. For example, many farms in America use the GPS that NASA has developed and increased accuracy to inches, not just feet, in their tractors, which are now self-driving thanks to this system. Further, NASA developed technology that allows farmers to predict dry-spells and droughts that are detrimental to the food supply when they occur. This technology allows for planning that can limit the effects of these natural occurrences and NASA has partnered with the California Department of Water Resources to do exactly this. Along with this, NASA has developed technology that monitors the water levels in plants, which allows astronauts to directly measure their plants’ water levels. These leaf sensors can also used to notify farmers, or even everyday people, when they need to water their plants. Lastly, one of the most essential components of space exploration is the ability to grow plants on other planets. In order to do this, NASA created an LED light system that allows for maximum light absorbance and can be adjusted for different plants and stages of the growth stage. This technology is being used in agricultural greenhouses and consumer aquariums today.
However, technology made by NASA is not only in medicine and agriculture, but also every home and city in the US contains innovations created by the administration. For example, NASA helped to create ultra-strong alloys known as “liquid metals” which are used in sports equipment, electronics, smartphone cases, watches, coatings for industrial machinery and equipment, and more. Another example is NASA creating technology that can detect and compensate for the smallest flaw in a telescope image. This technology was then used to create 3D imaging that is now used in grocery stores in “scan tunnels” that make self checkout an efficient way to buy items. The list of these revolutionary technologies made by NASA that affect every day of our lives goes on and on. To demonstrate some of these contributions, NASA itself created an interactive website where users can explore how the administration is involved in their lives. To explore this website, click this link. The research and development occurring at NASA right now could possibly change society and be involved in everyone’s lives, just as these technologies are doing currently.
These are just some of the many inventions that were contributions to society and if NASA was completely replaced by private companies, none of these technologies would be open to the public. If anyone would want to use them they would have to pay staggering amounts because these companies would have a monopoly over this technology and would maximize their profits since that is the main motivation of businesses. Instead, these products are public information because they come from a government funded agency and, therefore, everyone can reap the benefits of these applied sciences.
Similarly, the addition of these new technologies allows for a boost in the economy through more jobs, both working for NASA and for companies that use the technologies to make products. According to the Stanford Daily, every dollar that goes into NASA adds $7–14 into the economy through a huge boost in industry that would not be there if it were not for government funding. This benefits every American since there are more jobs and a greater circulation of money in the economy which reaches both the poor and rich sectors of society. However, not all of NASA’s funds go directly to research and development in the administration, some go to private companies that are involved in the commercial space sector.
The involvement of private companies in space exploration is something relatively new to the space industry, since projects such as Apollo and the Space Shuttle were mainly done by NASA itself. Since NASA is a government agency, funding and the projects that it focuses on are determined by politicians which greatly vary with the election of a new president. For example, when Trump was elected into office he decided to focus on partnerships with private companies, while cutting funding for the research of climate change. Cutting this funding sets back the years of scientific research that could be vital to the planet, all due to the president attempting to push his political agenda. Policy changes like these are nothing new and happen under every president, making some of the projects at NASA go to waste and then they get revamped several years later. During these several years, important research could have been done, however, was not due to politics.
This makes it more difficult for NASA to work efficiently and sometimes makes funds go to waste. However, this is not an obstacle that private companies face since their plans are not determined by politicians and their leaders do not change as much as NASA’s do. Without these obstacles, private companies can have laser focused projects and, overall, work more efficiently.
Even though they work more efficiently, the biggest obstacle that these companies face is the lack of large funds since the owners of these companies do not have the large budget that the US government has and, therefore, their innovation is held back. This is where NASA’s involvement benefits the space industry because it provides these companies with funds that they would not be able to get, leading to more research and development of new technologies that go on to benefit society.
These funds also return to NASA since the private companies they fund develop methods for cheaper space travel. For instance, the cost of NASA sending satellites into space is about $4 billion because they must design and build the rocket the satellite travels on, whereas, the cost for NASA of sending the same satellites using a commercial launch is only $50 million. These massive savings allow NASA to focus their funds on projects that may have not been able to happen without them.
NASA understands these large cost savings it receives through public-private partnerships and funded $4.2 billion to Boeing and $2.6 billion to SpaceX under its Commercial Crew Program, which was designed to help private US companies build spacecrafts that can fly astronauts to the International Space Station.
Since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011, astronauts have had to depart from Kazakhstan on the Russian Soyuz capsule because there was no other option. However, now, because of NASA’s funding of private companies, astronauts will fly into orbit on American spacecrafts from American soil. This is also very cost efficient for NASA because instead of developing its own rocket and spacecraft, it provides some funds to private companies that are able to do this much more efficiently. This brings the already low budget of NASA down even further and this is why NASA should treat these private companies more as delivery companies to space than anything else because it would be much more cost efficient for the administration to do research and development of things like satellites, rovers, potential moon/Mars bases, etc. and use the private companies to send them to space.
Further, the funds of NASA going to private companies greatly benefit the economy. According to a 2002 study by Professor H.R. Hertzfeld of George Washington University, NASA provided $64 million as a research and development investment to 15 different private who then turned that initial investment into $1.5 billion in profit by developing new products and marketing them. While the continuing relationships between NASA and private companies can be seen as NASA helping companies that do not necessarily need its help, without these funds the companies would not be able to further develop their products.
Some may say that the funding for NASA should go towards humanitarian efforts instead, however, the funds for NASA are a miniscule amount of the federal budget, greatly benefit the economy, and develop products that are vital in today’s society. The creation of new jobs, which happens from the use of public-private partnerships allows for more people to be employed by well-paying jobs, something that can be considered a humanitarian effort. Further, the technology that stems from research and development by NASA and other space related companies benefit everyone in society. Lastly, being 0.4% of the federal budget, NASA’s funds are very small compared to other government administrations and definitely produce societal benefits to deserve these small funds.
At the dawn of this new space age, amazing research and development will be done to advance the human race to be an interplanetary species. This can be vital in the future because it is unknown for how much longer we will be able to call Earth home. With this significant impact, Americans should understand the benefits they receive from funding NASA and how government funds going to private companies helps everyone. In the future every home could be equipped with new technologies that are just byproducts of the fascinating research and development done by NASA in order to allow for human colonies to thrive in space. This would be all thanks to the less than 1% of the federal budget that is given to this administration.