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A Culture of Complacency
We live in the future. This phrase can carry many different interpretations. Although one could take it as saying that we literally inhabit a time after the present, I would decide on a much different interpretation. When did people truly begin envisioning the future? Though people have always dreamed, their visions of the future became much more ambitious after the Scientific Revolution. Discoveries in the fields of astronomy and physics became a medium for change, and people began imagining new technologies that would propel mankind to these futures. A common theme in fictional stories became human spaceflight, or man developing a craft and leaving the confines of the Earth. By the late 1950’s, the visions of H.G Wells and Jules Verne were slowly becoming a reality as travel to the Moon was in the realm of actual possibility. President John F. Kennedy publicly challenged the nation in 1961 to land a man on the moon by the end of the decade, setting the wheels of human spaceflight in motion.
Nevertheless, the initial ambiguity has not yet been explained. Why do we now live in the future? To answer, in the year 2012 we live in the future imagined by the scientists and science fiction writers of the 20th century. Jules Verne wrote about air and underwater travel in a time when such technologies did not exist, yet they now do. Werner Von Braun, the rocket scientist regarded as the father of human spaceflight, designed the booster rockets that propelled the first men on the Moon. He must have thought that by the year 2012 we would have far exceeded these technologies. For him, 2012 was the future. If we were on the Moon in 1969, then by the 21st century we must have already traveled far beyond. 2001: A Space Odyssey is a film notorious for its accurate depictions of the future. It imagined videophones, voice recognition, and space stations. However, it also predicted that by the year 2001, we would have permanent outposts on the Moon and the capability for human interplanetary travel. The author of the 1968 book the film was based on, Arthur C. Clarke, must have taken into consideration the state of spaceflight at the time the book was written when making his predictions. We live in the future.
Perhaps that is why it is so difficult to see the current dilapidated state of spaceflight, the failure of humankind to expand upon the successes of the Apollo Program. Of all the technologies that became real in 2001: A Space Odyssey, the space odyssey part did not. By 1972, humanity had walked on the surface of the Moon six different times. America had won the “space race” and the public began to lose interest in the Moon. Congress cut funding to NASA and no serious attempts has been made to land humans on another body since. No humans are currently traveling throughout space on a voyage to another planet. That is not to say we are not traveling at all; there are probes such as the Voyager 2 currently on the way to the edges of the solar system. We have rovers on the surface of Mars, and astronauts orbiting the Earth in the International Space Station. It is here that I would like to define true exploration as human space travel to the Moon and beyond because only human travel can truly inspire humanity to innovate and dream. Although space travel is not traditionally seen as an arguable issue, people can agree that humankind should explore space, the public is erroneously satisfied with the current state of human space travel. Simply put, NASA’s budget should be increased and new projects with goals for human space travel should be implemented in the near future.
I imagine an American family seated in front of a television on July 20th, 1969. The parents watch the ensuing moments on the screen and take into realization the monumental importance of this moment in history. They also take into consideration the political implications of the event, the victory of democracy and capitalism over communism. Meanwhile, their children watch the television in utter awe. “I want to walk on the Moon”, they repeat to themselves. “How can I be like that man on the television?” And so this moment inspires a new generation of astronauts, scientists, and engineers. How many children are truly inspired to innovate when the Opportunity rover analyzes soil samples of Mars? Or when the Cassini orbiter sends back new pictures of Saturn? While these rovers and probes undoubtedly contribute to science and have the capacity to go much further out into space than people, they should not serve as a substitute for human spaceflight.
What will happen if NASA’s budget is increased and new space programs are introduced? Scientists and engineers will innovate and create new technologies to reach the objectives of the new programs. This will directly lead to the development of new technologies that allow for the travel, yet also lead to economic growth. Consider the example of building a permanent colony on the Moon, or Mars. An advanced water filtration device would have to be invented to sustain long-term inhabitance. This would subsequently create a new market for the device here on Earth, where the technology would be highly valued in villages where contaminated water leads to a plethora of deadly diseases. Yet in our time of economic trouble, how can we afford to increase NASA’s budget? In an article for Space.com, senior writer Mike Wall states that “the White House's proposed allocation for NASA in fiscal 2013 represents less than 0.5 percent of the overall federal budget request, which is $3.8 trillion.” (Wall) The fact remains that we have the money. The payoff from increasing NASA’s funds, which are currently miniscule compared to the total budget, could be invaluable to America’s future. To put this into perspective, in an article for the Business Insider, Robert Johnson writes that “For the cost of one month in Iraq and Afghanistan, NASA could have launched the space shuttle five more times.” (Johnson)
Although we live in the future, we are passing the responsibilities that should be ours in the present to the next generation. Rather than setting a goal of going to the Moon or Mars in the short-term, we’re saying we’ll get there by 2030, or 2040. Why? Because the public is not asking for it, we’re being content with what we have while the dreams of Werner Von Braun and John F. Kennedy are thrown in the trash along with the other scrapped NASA projects. I hope that the passion of discovery will once again be ignited in the hearts of the American people. As Neil DeGrasse Tyson said, “We went to the Moon and discovered Earth.” (Deam)
Deam, Jenny. "Tyson: We Need New Arguments To Win Public Support for Space." Space News.
Imaginova,17 Apr. 2012. Web. 23 Apr. 2012.
Johnson, Robert. "What the Money Spent in Iraq and Afghanistan Could Have Bought At Home In
America ." Business Insider. Business Insider, 16 Aug. 2011. Web. 23 Apr. 2012.
Wall, Mike. "Obama's 2013 NASA Budget Request Shifts Funds from Mars to Space Tech." Space.
TechMediaNetwork, 13 Feb. 2012. Web. 23 Apr. 2012.