Space travel, programs underrated by many


    It’s tough to be grandiose sometimes.

    There doesn’t seem to be a lot of popular support for the trip back to the moon and on to Mars. I’m not surprised.

    The space program is usually seen as a giant black hole for taxpayer dollars, and why not? We aren’t using anything in orbit. The Apollo program did nothing for American pride. The space program never invented anything converted for consumer use.

    Wait a minute …

    The people against this pronouncement seem to believe in the Black Hole. That money is being paid to American companies to produce new technologies. I can’t even imagine what they’ll come up with, but after meeting a few NASA guys in my lifetime, I know it will be good and I’m sure we’ll be using some of it too.

    Going to Mars also puts us a step closer to the asteroids beyond it. Our planet does not have a limitless supply of raw metal ore. The value of one of these asteroids to the company who can mine it is estimated in the trillions. Still say there’s no value in space travel?

    Yes, this is a spending increase when the government is running a deficit. But in five years it’s an extra $1 billion dollars. To put that in perspective, that’s less than 0.1 percent of federal spending. Most of the money is coming from other parts of NASA’s budget.

    And that’s the chief reason to make the proclamation. NASA is lumbering, inefficient and indecisive. It’s trying to do a hundred things at once. This gives NASA a clearly defined goal and purpose for the first time in decades. The money already paid to NASA will be put to much better use with a singular purpose like this.

    A note on final cost: We don’t know how much the entire project will cost. I’ve seen figures from $20 billion for just Mars to $1 trillion for the whole experiment. Just remember that NASA may not do all that Bush suggested (the moon base as a launching pad for mars is an iffy concept) and it will be spread out over nearly two decades.

    The announcement also reasserts which country wears the pants in space. The international space station was doomed by too many cooks spoiling the broth and causing massive cost overruns (thanks, Russia). This will be a project dictated by the United States and, hopefully, not prone to disappointing partnerships.

    I’ll admit, I have a soft spot for the space program. I grew up not too far from the Kennedy Space Center. My dad worked for NASA (on the Mars project, actually). I grew up being able to step out onto my front lawn and see the shuttle launch. So I can understand why other people aren’t as entranced by space as I am.

    An organism grows, or it dies. Space is where humanity is growing towards. If we stop exploring and crossing new frontiers, we might as well put on helmets and wait for the sun to explode. Rarely does any group of people get a chance to achieve something truly monumental, and there’s not many more monumental things to be done scuttling about on earth.

    Patrick Jennings is a junior economics major from Melbourne, Fla.