A few of us were around to remember the mass hysteria caused when the very first human begins managed set foot on our lunar neighbour. Video was streamed, headlines were were written, madness ensued and, most importantly, minds were set to wonder. 4 days later a spacecraft, containing the brave trio, returned to earth and all aboard instantly (and understandably) became international superstars.
41 years have passed since that historic moment and, many could argue that we have yet to make another achievement (in space exploration) that has come anywhere near to inspiring the same level of elation as that original lunar landing. In more recent times, there have been talks of throwing caution to the wind to embark on the next, and somewhat inevitable, journey to our closest planetary neighbor (Mars). This, on the surface, sounds like a great idea but as a matter of practicality we really need to assess how much money we are funneling into projects such as these and truly determine the actual benefit of pursuing such a mission.
NASA’s Original Goal
NASA, when founded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1958, was originally created to promote the peaceful advancement of the space sciences. However, during the administration of President John F. Kennedy cold war tensions reached a fever pitch and, due to orders from up above, NASA was transformed into a technological measuring stick meant to compete with similar efforts from the Soviet Union. Ever since that day the largest portion of funding that NASA receives has gone into projects related to space exploration.
This leads me to wonder whether or not this is the best use of the immense funding (around 20 billion dollars) received annually by NASA from the U.S. Government. With all that is going on in the world today should space exploration really be at the forefront of the many great minds currently working at NASA? Or, instead, should they be putting their mental acuity to better use (at least for now)?
What Are Our Priorities?
Today, more than ever, we are at a point in human existence where the decisions we make now will have an immense impact on the future of our species. Matters such as climate change, overpopulation, dry oil reserves and abject poverty are now at the forefront of the issues we face. In the last 50 years alone the average global climate has risen by 0.8 degrees and is now somewhere between 13.8 and 14.6 degrees celsius.
What Should They Be Spending Money On?
Alternative Energy Research
Without question the work being done at NASA has been instrumental in aiding development of alternative energy research and, it is likely that they will continue to be major players (in this field) for the foreseeable future. In recent years however, their efforts have been vastly eclipsed by European based organizations such as ERIC (the European Renewable Energy Council) and the ECF (The European Climate Foundation). This new race to a cleaner, more efficient energy source is by far more important than once hyped, gorilla chest pounding, sprint to the red planet.
The issue of climate change has been a major subject of contention in recent years and is sure to be equally divisive in the years to come. Despite the misinformation that has been carelessly fed to masses by (certain) media outlets, the fact remains that within the scientific community a consensus has clearly been reached. A staggering 97% of climate scientists have accepted that global warming is indeed a legitimate issue that needs to be addressed. In addition, climate change has clearly been shown to have been caused by the tamperings of human beings in the last century.
It can be argued that no other organization (within the United States) is better positioned to tackle a problem like this. Currently NASA is allocating a few billion dollars per year towards research in this field but, with a little more focus, and less talent (and money) being filtered into space exploration (17 billion dollars), breakthroughs will almost certainly come at a more rapid pace.
As the world population rapidly approaches the 10 billion person mark (projected for 2050) it is crucial that we focus on creating technologies that will allow us to actually sustain a populace of such an immense size. NASA, for many years, has been one of the main players in the field of food technology.This is due to the simple fact that their astronauts still need to eat once they leave the cushy atmosphere of their home planet. Though developments in this field have come less from a genuine interest to tackle this ever growing issue, and more out of necessity, NASA has still been a major pioneer in this field.
Recently, unbeknownst to many people, NASA has had a revolutionary technology in the works that could, if applied intelligently, possibly end world hunger. In a collaboration with SMRC, a texas based research facility, NASA is attempting to create a food replicator, an item that many people once (and still) believed to be nothing more than the musings of an overactive (and particularly nerdy) imagination.
Hopefully NASA will continue down this path and put more of their funding to good use.
There is no doubt that NASA has played a crucial role in the development of many technologies that have ended up, whether intentionally or unintentionally, being crucial to the advancement of humanity. Though this is the case, we must not forget that the majority of the funding received by NASA does not go into any projects that are likely to have any tangible impact on humanity at large. This is not to say that those projects are, because of that aforementioned fact, unimportant by any means. What it is saying however is that at this crucial point in our history our, and NASA’s, focus should be placed on more immediately applicable endeavours.
What do you think? Tell us in the comment section below.