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Tuesday, May 28, 2024
Space takes a backseat to planet earth

Jamie Stark

Space takes a backseat to planet earth

President Obama promised to stand up for what is right, not what is popular. So he can't be very surprised by the chilly reception some are giving his plan to cut a NASA moon-landing program.

Last Monday, one of the last men to walk on the moon, Harrison Schmitt, spoke at Engineering Hall, railing against Obama's recent cancellation of NASA's Constellation program. The program intended to send astronauts to the lunar surface again in the near future, but was, according to Obama, over budget, ""behind schedule, and lacking in innovation.""

But the president is not slashing and burning NASA funding. That would have made his April 15 announcement of NASA changes at the Kennedy Space Center quite awkward. In fact, Obama's NASA overhaul would add $6 billion in funding over five years while cutting costlier programs like Constellation. Five-hundred million would be used annually to incentivize private companies to develop new technologies.

Undoubtedly, Obama is committed to the scientific research benefits that can be made in space. His decisions show he cares much less about cheap political points that can be scored by gleaning American pride from the space organization. For a president embroiled in several national scuffles, Obama has taken a particularly involved role in NASA. But he is keeping in mind that the country is in recession when approaching this problem.

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NASA is a source of national pride, but that does not allow it free reign and no oversight. Obama's shake up, highlighted by the cancellation of Constellation, is a clear signal that although the space agency doesn't have competition, it still has to spend our tax dollars efficiently.

The opposition to Obama's plan has been uncharacteristic of Republicans like Sen. Richard Shelby, who vehemently oppose this cutting of a non-vital government program. Why does Shelby disagree? Because much of the recently axed Constellation program was based out of Alabama, Shelby's home state. What senator would want millions of funding dollars to leave his state?

Of those Tea Baggers who quieted down enough to hear the news, I await their reaction to Obama's plans. Do they oppose Obama because he's tarnishing America's pride like they said he would? Or do they stay quiet because he's incentivizing the private sector and cutting non-essential government spending, principles they commit their Fox News face time to?

But the Obama administration was not about to cut a sizeable number of jobs in this economy. According to the White House, the changes could add over 2,500 American jobs. A recent study by the commercial space industry stated that 11,800 jobs could be created by the overhaul. As in other areas of the budget, Obama is focusing federal dollars on job-creation initiatives. Even after the weakening recession, we must remain committed to job creation. A successful economy and stable job market are more necessary for a strong country than a human presence in space. It's unlikely any of us will ever fly higher than Delta or cannabis can take us. It is more likely that we will need a job.

Contrary to the jingoistic drummings from some, nixing one program does not signal the end of American space exploration. Rather, it should be the beginning of a new era in international cooperation in the discovery of our universe.

I agree that ceasing all plans to explore space with humans, not just robots, is short-sighted. Yet widespread poverty on our own planet does make it seem selfish to pursue a desire to discover in the most expensive frontier imaginable. But space exploration can benefit humanity greatly, even before liftoff. Cooperation benefits humanity just as much as observing what happens to spiders in zero gravity.

This turning point in American space exploration offers the opportunity to forge a strong, meaningful coalition of international space

exploration. Some, like Shelby, argue that future generations will never forgive us for allowing other countries to make further strides in space exploration. Such sentiment smacks of a generation still bitter over the now defunct Soviets and their Sputnik. But our generation does not chide past generations for allowing Norway to reach Antarctica first. We realize issues bigger than this world may require global cooperation.

We should seize this opportunity to work with other preexisting foreign space agencies and build up new ones. Space is far too big a territory for one flag to cover. Any extensive, manned exploration would require enormous amounts of funding, supplies, talent and research. Such an endeavor lends itself to international cooperation. Which country wants to go bankrupt over a failed expedition or foot the bill of an enormously costly undertaking like Constellation? Which country thinks they can't learn from scientists and engineers from other parts of the globe? The spirit of cooperation fostered by shared risk investment could be a godsend for our globe. The Space Race was exhilarating and led to unbelievable advances. But it's not the only way we can discover our universe.

Such an undertaking won't be much easier than launching an actual rocket to the moon. But Europe has shown the potential of such plans with the 18-member European Space Agency. The reduced financial burden and increased collaboration would be worth the political problems.

Like the many liberals who failed to realize Obama's administration couldn't be as perfect as his dazzling smile, it's my turn to suggest Obama push for more change and new ideas in this proposal. This re-budgeting could be a positive step, but more steps need to be taken. Perhaps all it will take is one giant leap. Yeah, I went there. 

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