Half a percent
John Rangel: US deems point of national pride, icon of scientific milestones unimportant
Published: Tuesday, October 9, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, October 9, 2012 01:10
Fireman! President! Astronaut! Travel to any American classroom and ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and the responses will almost always be the same.
A fascination with space has gripped the imaginations of Americans both young and old ever since the glory days of Apollo and Gemini. Space exploration serves to inspire new generations of engineers and scientists, all of whom grew up responding with the same answer. But for how long?
Beneath the rhetoric of this year’s continued policy gridlock and presidential race lies an often overlooked fact: NASA and the nation’s space endeavors continue to be neglected.
In its proposed 2013 federal budget the White House apportioned $17.7 billion to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. At face value this may seem like a large sum, but to understand why such a value is actually extremely low one must first consult several other spending figures.
According to The New York Times, NASA’s portion makes up only 0.5 percent of the proposed federal budget for fiscal year 2013. In the federal budget, NASA does not merit even a full percent of the nation’s spending abilities. A quick look through the proposed 2013 budget shows some interesting comparisons between NASA’s portion and arguably comparable science and technology related departments: The Department of Energy: $27.2 billion; The Department of Education: $69.8 billion.
The list could go on, but the point is easily made. Somewhere along the line, NASA’s title as a leader in scientific advancement was shelved and its meaning to so many aspiring scientists and engineers seemingly forgotten. Never mind that NASA might be the only current federal program a taxpayer can actually boast about. When was the last time anyone bragged about America’s health care system, tax code or social security?
Despite deep budgetary cuts, a vague mission statement and after retiring the shuttle program, NASA was still able to achieve the seemingly impossible: successfully land the most advanced scientific rover ever created
The total cost? A mere $2.5 billion.
Divide that by the eight years it took to develop the program and the total cost per year to the federal government is the infinitesimally small sum of $312 million dollars. For perspective: the Obama campaign alone has spent about $400 million during this presidential race (depending on which source you consult), and the Federal government loaned $528 million to the now-infamous green tech start up Solyndra, before it went bankrupt.
Fiscal arguments aside, NASA as a national symbol is long overdue to receive the federal backing it deserves. History has proven that great things start with humble inspiration, and NASA’s greatest achievement is perhaps the unique position it holds in American culture; an icon, a challenge and a reason for children to dream of becoming “astronauts.” Inspiration cannot be bought with money, but it certainly can’t be continued with half a percent of our attention.