From its accidental formation to its political and social development, America has always been defined as a nation of frontiers. European settlers once traversed the “New World” in search of wealth and glory, thus discovering North America in the first place. Rugged individualists like Buffalo Bill Cody tamed the Wild, Wild, West on horseback. The pages of United States history attest to a cycle of barriers being broken, the unexplored being unearthed.
Few can forget the most significant frontier of all: the boundless creature that is outer space. Many of us have vivid memories of Neil Armstrong taking the first steps onto the elusive surface of the moon, amid the unified cheer of a million Americans down below. Space, despite (and because) of its ambiguity and mystique, has always captured the interest of the American public. Buzz Lightyear, Star Wars, Star Trek… the sheer limitlessness of this modern frontier has found its way into our imagination time and again.
But the logistics of space exploration tell a different story — both of the American mind and the American wallet. The collective effort that comes before the “3,2,1..blast off” bit is consistently undermined on a political level. In fact, Congress has never failed to cut funding for NASA and other space research programs when the American economy takes precedence. In fact, according to Jeff Froust from Space News, NASA’s 2020 science programs are expected to receive 600 million dollars lesser than last year due to the severity of budget cuts. These funds play a major role in NASA’s internal operations, as the money provides equipment for infrared survey telescopes, refractivity observatories, and much more.
As we are at the crossroads of critical scientific progress, we must consider the lives that are stake. While it is convenient to compartmentalize space exploration, or consider it an esoteric, “gee whiz” undertaking that benefits the 1%, it is also incredibly one-dimensional. Due to the space programs of the past, NASA has given the American public safer tires, sneakers (who doesn’t love their Nike Airs?), security blankets, wireless headsets, and even baby formula. In addition, NASA research provides the government with updates about the imminent global warming crisis, as well as incoming natural disasters. Don’t like paying taxes for space? Well, perhaps losing your house to a hurricane or your automobile during a highway accident sounds cheaper.
The advantages of government funding for NASA are intrinsic, and that’s the main reason why outer space programs are losing money. Because we view our contributions to these agencies as a “dollar for dollar” transaction, we lack vision for the future — and that’s one kind of vision that can’t be fixed with a telescope.