Some number of years ago, over twenty as I remember, the late (and IMHO great) Paul Harvey said that for every dollar spent at NASA, the return was seven dollars. So with that quote in my mind, the final Space Shuttle launch a few days ago, and Obama refocusing the NASA budget, I want to examine Obama’s NASA policy, as well as identify/review some of the daily benefits that we all derive from the NASA budget and space exploration.
Obama’s NASA Budget Proposal
Let’s look at what the Obama budget proposes. It ends our manned moon and space exploration, but it proposes a total NASA spending increase by $1 billion. So NASA won’t be totally out of business. His FY2011 budget proposed $19 billion, with emphasis on science, not on manned space flight. He wants to end NASA’s manned space flight program and rent space on Russian spacecraft. He wants to turn space transportation over to private, commercial companies, such as Space X, United Launch Alliance, Boeing, Sierra Nevada, Bigelow Aerospace and others. There is only one problem with privatization with space flight – it does not work. Space X is where NASA was in 1960 with Project Mercury. The ability to put humans into orbit exists only on paper.
Here is what Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon, said: “Mr. Obama risks blasting American space superiority on a “long downhill slide to mediocrity”. The decision to cancel Constellation, the project to send astronauts to the Moon again by 2020 and Mars by 2030, was “devastating.”
Obama’s decision places us totally at the mercy of the Russians. Armstrong continued, “America’s only path to low Earth orbit and the International Space Station will now be subject to an agreement with Russia to purchase space on their Soyuz – at a price of over $50 million per seat with significant increases expected in the near future – until we have the capacity to provide transportation for ourselves,” he said in his open letter to Obama , which was also signed by Gene Cernan, the last man on the Moon, and Jim Lovell, commander of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission.
Obama’s plans for NASA include muslim outreach and making them feed good, and global warming. On the “making muslims feel good” front, here is what (then) NASA director Charles Bolden, a retired United States Marines Corps major-general and former astronaut, said that Obama told him. “… and perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math, and engineering.”
On the “global warming hoax” front, this article by Larry Bell “kills two birds with one stone.” First, it shows that global warming (now referred to as climate change) is, indeed, a hoax. Second, it implicates NASA’s part in starting this hoax.
Says Larry Bell: S. Fred Singer, former director of the U.S. Weather Satellite Service and University of Virginia professor emeritus commented about these sorry circumstances in the foreword of my book, stating in part: “Many would place the beginning of the global warming hoax on the Senate testimony delivered by James Hansen of NASA [director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies] during the summer of 1988. More than anything else, this exhibition of hyped alarm triggered my active skepticism about the man-made global warming scare.”
So now we see that Obama wants to “privatize” low-orbit delivery, while focusing on other areas. Most Americans cannot remember a time when the United States wasn’t the world leader in space exploration. But now Obama wants NASA’s budget to be refocused on global warming and other politically charged projects instead of manned space flight.
Benefits Derived From NASA Budget
For more than 40 years, NASA has facilitated the transfer of its technology to the private sector, benefiting global competition and the economy. Since 1976, Spinoff, NASA’s publication featuring successfully commercialized NASA technology, has featured between 40 and 50 of these commercial products annually. Spinoff has detailed 1,723 such inventions to date.
“We get better airplanes, or we get better weather forecasting from space stuff, sure,” said Daniel Lockney, program executive in technology transfer and spinoff partnerships at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C. “But we also get better-fed children. That kind of stuff, people don’t necessarily associate.”
Here is a long list of commercial benefits derived directly from NASA. Below are some selected specifics that I found interesting.
- Military Benefits: Here is what the Official US Air Force web site has to say about NASA. NASA began operations on Oct. 1, 1958, just before the one-year anniversary of the Soviet Union’s successful Sputnik I launch. Concerned about the race for technological superiority in space, U.S. officials debated long and hard over whether the space program should be placed under military or civilian control. NASA was established as a new civilian agency that borrowed heavily from the Defense Department and other government organizations as it built its own capabilities. One doesn’t have to look hard to see the deep connection between NASA and DOD. Meanwhile, officials at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), another organization Eisenhower created in response to the Sputnik launch, have provided critical expertise that has benefited NASA throughout its 50-year history. Defense Department officials stood up DARPA to find and quickly develop advanced technology for the military so the United States would never again suffer a technological surprise by another nation. DARPA scientists and engineers concentrated on the first surveillance satellites that ensured U.S. presidents had accurate intelligence information on Russian missile program activities, historical records show. But DARPA experts advanced other space projects as well, developing the Saturn V rocket that ultimately enabled the United States to launch the Apollo missions to the moon. DARPA, BTW, developed the first computer network that was eventually to become the Internet. That development has proven to be commercially successful.
- Medical field: it helped enable body-imaging techniques such as CATScans and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). NASA research investigating the nutritional value of algae led to the discovery of a nutrient that had previously only been found in human breast milk. The compound, which is thought to be important to eye and brain development, has since found its way into 95 percent of the infant formula sold in the United States. And thermometers that are inserted in your ear and take your temperature in seconds? The technology was initiated by scientists at NASA.
- Computers: The first integrated circuit was built by Texas Instruments, funded by the Apollo program and the Air Force’s Minuteman Missile Project. TI developed it, but NASA was the customer.
- Television viewing: NASA scientists developed those panoramic views of football plays from all angles, based on robotic gigapan camera technology software used to create images of the Mars landscape from digital photos taken by space probes.
- NASA scientists developed lightweight, portable water filters that are deployed to disaster areas and remote regions of the world where water is scarce.
The list of benefits from NASA’s budget have a real and immediate impact on our daily lives is endless. You probably know about “the space-age technology” used to develop scratch-proof lenses, composite golf clubs, high-density batteries, blue-blocking ultraviolet sunglasses, the computer mouse and freeze-dried food. NASA is constantly collaborating with private companies to share its resources. For example, the space agency builds a wind tunnel, but then allows NASCAR to use it for testing, or loans a zero-gravity aircraft to filmmakers.
Where Does Obama’s NASA Budget Refocus Leave Us?
I think J. Christian Adams at Pajamas Media says it best: “Opponents of NASA’s manned space program crow about the benefits of privatized spaceflight. Of all the other federal functions ripe for privatization – the dinosaur postal service for example – Obama targets the one function that provides both national security benefits and requires massive accumulation of capital to conduct. Too bad Obama’s zeal to wipe out manned space flight through privatization doesn’t extend to other parts of the federal government.”