For 30 years, the NASA space shuttle program has been a part of the American psyche. The shuttles have launched countless satellites, facilitated scientific discoveries and inspired young children to pursue math and science. Even the disasters of Challenger and Colombia gripped the public and unified the country in tragic mourning.
Now, the shuttle Atlantis sits on a launch pad in Cape Canaveral and awaits its July 8 launch – the final shuttle launch in history. As the program winds down, it’s important to realize all that the U.S. space program and the shuttles have given the country, and how vital it is that the tradition is continued.
NASA has long endeavored to do things that mankind has never done before and has developed a multitude of technologies. Cordless power tools, smoke detectors, medical imaging machines, light emitting diodes (LEDs), firefighter breathing apparatuses and Jaws of Life rescue equipment all rely on technologies pioneered by the space programs, according to the agency. And don’t forget the GPS – satellites that wouldn’t have been launched if not for NASA.
One would be hard pressed to imagine a world without such technologies. Having demonstrated an immense capacity for innovation, NASA should be supported – new technologies from future space programs could help power the world economy and further human advancement.
Unfortunately, the future and direction of NASA has never been more in doubt. Because of the tremendous economic downturn and shrinking budgets of the past few years, NASA has taken a hit. Then-President George W. Bush announced the Constellation program in 2005 with a goal to return astronauts to the moon and eventually to Mars. The program was cut as a part of the 2011 congressional budget.
So, 50 years after President John F. Kennedy’s challenge to land a man on the moon, the space program lies in anguish. It’s underfunded and has no clear goal to work toward. NASA can claim the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and now space shuttle programs as milestones in history, yet it cannot claim to be working toward anything in particular.
NASA’s progress is a point not only of national pride, but also of economic power. President Obama and Congress were wrong to cut the Constellation program and cut so much funding from the agency. NASA supports innovation – not to mention countless jobs in Florida and across the country. Its funding should not just be restored to former levels, but boosted above them.