The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is one of the most controversial agencies of the American government. Although in the past American officials prioritized space exploration and innovation, policymakers today often question the need for an organization dedicated to investigating non-Earth matters. The scope of NASA’s endeavors, however, extend beyond examining other planets, and the agency’s projects have helped the United States become the technologically advanced society it is today. It is thus necessary that the United States government continues to support NASA in order to protect current, and promote future, technological and societal progress.
NASA was initially created to reaffirm American international power. Established during the Cold War, the organization was developed in response to Russia’s 1957 launch of Sputnik (“NASA is established”). In other words, Russian space advancement augmented American fears of Russian worldwide dominance, and the tenuous balance of power between the two nations drove the United States to hasten its own space efforts and counteract the possibility of increased Russian influence. NASA certainly helped the United States enhance its international standing: NASA was crucial to the United States’ participation in the frenetic “Space Race” and is best known for its July 1969 moon landing. In fact, many Americans still associate NASA with, and sometimes commend the organization for, its mid-twentieth-century success.
While NASA is still involved in space-centered programs, its focus has broadened substantially since 1969. In 1977, a combination of budget cuts and new realizations about changing climate patterns drove the organization to shift its attention to examining the Earth and its intricacies (instead of other planets) (“Taking a global perspective”). Today, NASA plays an integral role in researching climate change and developing technology meant to counteract environmental problems. For instance, NASA operates programs designed to “obtain and convert data from Defense Department and NOAA satellites…and sponsors field experiments to provide ‘ground truth’ data to check space instrument performance and to develop new measurement techniques” (“Taking a global perspective”). Although these endeavors have not put another man on the moon, they are critical to protecting American environmental hegemony and safeguarding our leading role in scientific innovation.
In addition, Americans are often unaware of the extent to which NASA has been (and continues to be) involved in the development of non-space technology. In fact, NASA has contributed heavily to the advancement of American aviation technology. In the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, the organization helped create computational fluid dynamics (“sophisticated computer codes that could accurately predict the flow of a fluid using complex [aircraft] simulations”), researched and developed lighting-protection standards, and produced a “glass cockpit” designed to help the flight crew understand how the plane is operating (“NASA Technology”). Furthermore, NASA is involved in researching ways to augment breast cancer detection systems (“Combating Breast Cancer”), and the organization’s developments have contributed to the creation of non-space-related products such as scratch-resistant eyeglass lenses, Memory Foam, adjustable smoke detectors, and enhanced water filtration systems (“10 NASA Inventions”). Unfortunately, these inventions sometimes go unnoticed by policymakers; lobbyists and researchers therefore ought to educate politicians on the positive implications of NASA’s non-space related efforts in order to protect the agency’s programs.
NASA, however, is often depicted in a negative light. Media frequently choose to associate NASA with its failures instead of its successes, and this somewhat inaccurate portrayal both colors policymakers’ opinions and influences their decisions about the organization’s future. The effect of this unfavorable depiction can be seen through the proposed FY2015 budget cuts: $56 million will be cut from Earth Science, $61 million from astrophysics, $65 million from planetary science, and $28 million from education (“Another Year”). While budget alterations are necessary to boost the economy as a whole, these cuts will likely decrease NASA’s ability to fund climate-change and technological projects, lessen the time and energy invested in such endeavors, and therefore diminish the quantity and quality of NASA-associated innovations in the future. On the other hand, budget deficits and economic problems may make extensive governmental investment unfeasible; consequently, NASA ought to continue creating public-private partnerships (similar to its successful partnership with SpaceX) in order to ensure that necessary projects are both properly funded and adequately regulated. These partnerships should allow the United States to simultaneously bolster its economic progress and maintain its preeminent position within the international technological community.
“NASA is established, July 29, 1958:”
“Taking a Global Perspective on Earth’s Climate:” http://climate.nasa.gov/nasa_role
“Combating Breast Cancer – Research & Diagnosing Technology:” http://www.nasa.gov/vision/earth/technologies/combat_cancer.html
“10 NASA Inventions You Might Use Every Day:” http://www.discovery.com/tv-shows/curiosity/topics/ten-nasa-inventions.htm
“Another Year, Another Set of Bizarre Cuts to NASA’s Budget:” http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy/2014/03/05/nasa_budget_2015_more_cuts_more_politics.html