Stercula: Time for another space race


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After NASA revealed plans for a $7 billion rocket, one that could potentially take humans to Mars in the near future, the Internet erupted with vicious comments complaining about the inappropriate allocation of the federal budget.

The most popular criticism is that our scientific research has little real-world applications and we should instead be putting more money into social programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

Despite these accusations, NASA is responsible for paving the way for numerous consumer-based technologies including computers, water filters, charge-coupled devices (solar technology), and insulin pumps, along with many more.

The thing is, these technologies all have ties to the height of the United States’ “space race” with Russia during the Cold War. NASA’s funding (percentage-wise) was the highest in 1966, when it received 4.41 percent of the U.S. budget. During this time, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields were held in high regard. Teachers felt responsible for facilitating generations that could lead the world in all fields. The more imaginative of the time, such as Arthur C. Clarke (author of 2001: A Space Odyssey) envisioned a future of flying cars and interplanetary travel — a belief not uncommon at the time. Our competition with Russia to land human beings on the Moon resulted in an era of dreaming and innovating.

Now, we live in a time of short-term gratification and disregard for the future. Now, the United States ranks 36th in the world in mathematics, 28th in science, and 24th in reading (PISA 2012 rankings). Now, NASA’s budget is roughly $17 billion a year. This accounts for less than a half of 1 percent of the federal budget. Where is the rest of our funding going?

The United States’ projected military budget for fiscal 2015 is more than $750 billion. This is more than 43 times NASA’s requested budget for the same year and is the second largest government expense. We spend more than three times more on our military than the second-leading country (China), which in turn spends more than twice the third country (Russia).

The space race turned into an arms race. We no longer have a competition that drives innovation and benefits society at large; instead, we have a competition that digs us deeper into stagnation. If a second space race started, whether it’s between the United States and China, China and Russia, the United States and India, or any combination of those, the entire population of Earth will benefit.

Now more than ever, we live in a globally-conscious society. Encouraging younger generations to try to improve today for a better tomorrow will do wonders for citizens of the world. Who knows what technologies could result from this? Perfectly renewable energy sources, artificial intelligence, large-scale environment-replenishing technology … the possibilities are endless.

Only one thing stands between us and the future: our own short-sightedness. If we stop focusing on amassing weapons and destructive forces and instead focus on revolutionizing the way we live, all aspects of society have the potential to improve. We choose to give meaning to certain parts of living. We can choose to once again find meaning in self-improvement, both as individuals and as a species.

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