NASA: To Infinity and Beyond?

In an effort to write about something besides the structure of our government which seems to be 90% of all the news articles we read about, I decided to try and delve into an area I seem to have a strong opinion about, yet have absolutely no concrete knowledge of how it works. Hopefully someone more knowledgeable can steer me in the right direction.

What is NASA? And what do they do? NASA, which stands for National Aeronautics Space Administration,

Hubble Telescope

is an agency of the United States government, responsible for the nation’s public space program…
In addition to the space program, it is also responsible for long-term civilian and military aerospace research. Since February 2006 NASA’s self-described mission statement is to “pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery, and aeronautics research.

In my knowledge, NASA is a government-funded agency that researches and develops Space missions and aeronautic innovations. In 2009, the federal government has promised a 1.8% increase in NASA’s budget, which makes up approximately 6/10 of the budget. A large portion of this $17.6 B. The increases in the budget are promised to continue at 2.4% per year.

This increase demonstrates the president’s commitment to funding the balanced priorities he set forth for the agency in space exploration, Earth and space science, and aeronautics research. We are making steady progress in achieving these goals.

But where is this money going. Whenever I think of NASA, I think of technically useless pictures of space, a mission we send to Mars to look for one H2O molecule, or in most cases, the failure of a space mission (either through the destruction of an aircraft, or a malfunction that hinders the machine to do what it took millions of dollars to do). Maybe my intellect resembles too much of a peanut to understand the real benefits of knowing that a million years ago, there may have once been a drop of water on Mars. What benefits have we seen from space exploration? In my search for this answer, I was amused to find that in many cases, NASA’s benefits have been listed as “Spinoffs”. Some benefits of space research on human life are listed. Most of them fall into the technology category. Here is one that I thought was interesting.

RIBBED SWIMSUIT – NASA-developed riblets applied to competition swimsuits resulted in flume testing of 10 to 15 percent faster speeds than any other world class swim-suit due to the small, barely visible grooves that reduce friction and aerodynamic drag by modifying the turbulent airflow next to the skin.

How much do you think that cost? I would guess somewhere in the millions.
To switch over to the more positive side, let’s take at one of the most well-known space endeavors of our time. The Hubble Telescope was launched in 1990 and had many flaws, which were finally fixed in 1994. This telescope’s main function is to take high quality pictures of space that can reach up to 13 billion years into the past. Most of the pictures we see on earth of the colorful beyond are products of this telescope. This has created a large market for these photographs. My Mac computer has a large assortment of Nebula’s and exploding planets.

Clearly my knowledge of space exploration is limited and I invite others to expand my narrow mind.

7 Responses

  1. Haha! This is really good. I think about this kind of thing all the time. Is the saying a picture is worth a couple billion of dollars or is it a picture is worth a thousand words? If it is the fore mentioned than the government should continue its enormous funding for NASA.
    I really don’t know why I am commenting on this because I don’t have any real inclination what NASA does or how it affects me. I guess I am grateful for the swim suit technology. I also really liked the movie Zenon, and maybe if the government continues to fund NASA I could someday live in space like her!

  2. Some of the research being done perhaps does help on the military front and helps establish the US as the unchallenged space power.

    Another aspect of space exploration is to understand how the universe began, this helps understand a lot of the physical processes that in turn help us get further ahead in the scientific field. These advances will not pay off anytime soon, but they will eventually, probably some breakthrough at CERN or other nuclear research laboratories that try to re-create the big bang scenario.

  3. In general, report increases in funding relative to tow benchmarks- size of increase overall in fed budget, and some inflation measure. makes it much easier to compare apples to apples.

  4. NASA scientists speaks for himself and answers your question about taxpayer value.

  5. I think Dr. Stern gives a good perspective that the knowledge we gain from our space missions is definitely useful in expanding our knowledge base (i.e. info for students in textbooks, planetary properties etc.) I guess the reasons for my negative outlook on NASA is that I don’t see or realize the direct effects its research has had on people’s lives in comparison to the pressing needs of people, the environment, etc.

  6. The proposed NASA budget for FY 2010 is $18.7 billion .

    The total purposed federal budget is $3.6 trillion.

    That is 1/2 of 1%, yes -0.005- of the total.

  7. It blows my mind that our government spends so little on space travel. I can’t help but think that we’re too tangled up in our own affairs–tv shows, political races, sports–to bother exploring beyond our own planet and maybe expand our relevance in the grand scheme of things. Obviously space travel is extremely difficult, but it certainly doesn’t become any easier by spending only $18.7 billion on NASA. We haven’t visited the moon since 1972–why? Turns out it was mad expensive…. Still, time to move beyond our earthly confines.

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