Sadly, I must agree with The Washington Times editorial “America, we have a problem” (Wednesday). Americans indeed watched the arrival of the Space Shuttle Discovery with bittersweet emotions as one of humanity’s greatest technological accomplishments majestically arrived to become a museum exhibit and a tribute to our past greatness.
Both NASA and commercial ventures are, in fact, building the next generation of launch vehicles, including the Space Launch System, which is capable of taking us to the moon, asteroids and Mars. But without setting specific, bold goals and timetables, NASA and space advocates face great impediments in arguing for exciting new missions and, even more urgently, in sparing NASA from even more cuts.
Cuts in the space program and the sciences are tragic mistakes at a time when we most need to rebuild our competitiveness in high technology. An analogy would be that of a company faced with declining sales slashing new-product development. Both China and Russia have been outlining their ambitious plans for space exploration, and they will not hesitate to fill the vacuum we leave behind and then reap all the benefits.
How can we maintain the lead in space and help launch our nation back toward a proud future? Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson recently testified to the U.S. Senate on the need to double NASA’s budget, which is less than half of 1 percent of the U.S. budget. An increase to just one penny on the budget dollar would not break the budget, particularly as far greater sums are being saved as U.S. forces are reduced in Iraq and Afghanistan.
For this small investment, technology developed for exciting missions, investments and jobs created, and spinoffs that benefit humanity will all help assure U.S. technological competitiveness for another generation. Absent such a game-changer, our space program faces a grim future of unrelenting cuts and cancellation of missions until one day, Americans might only watch as other nations leave us far behind.
For just a penny on the dollar, we can return in this decade to the moon, visit asteroids and take the breathtaking journey to Mars. This is a critical decision point for America’s future and worthy of serious debate in the presidential campaign.
Director, Coalition to Save Manned Space Exploration