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Lane: A need for NASA

BY JOE LANE | APRIL 17, 2015 5:00 AM

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Last week, according to CNN, NASA’s chief scientist Ellen Stofan made the claim that by 2025 we will have strong indications of extraterrestrial life and that in 20 to 30 years we will have definite evidence.

When I first heard this, my mind flashed to the image of the crazy-haired (and just all-around crazy) “Alien Guy” from the History Channel, Giorgio Tsoukalos. Tsoukalos has made a career of appearing in History Channel specials explaining his outlandish (and admittedly ridiculous) theories surrounding the existence of aliens.

Of course, I used my better scientific judgment — left over from my pre-med courses — to come to the realization that this extra-terrestrial life would likely not be flying to earth in a UFO anytime soon.

In fact, as Stofan explains, “We are not talking about little green men, we are talking about little microbes,” according to CNN.

But the thought of extraterrestrial life, in any form, is truly bewildering.

The existence of such microbial life would increase the probability that there are other habitable planets “nearby” (of course, “nearby” in the scope of our galaxy could still mean light-years away).

But more important, is that the existence of such life outside of Earth could, in theory, lead to the discovery of those little green men to which Stofan refers — more or less. More realistically, however, it is fathomable that intelligent alien life exists somewhere in the universe other than Earth.

Yet despite all of this incredible advancement and some increased proliferation of NASA in popular media, there is still a debate over funding of the U.S. space organization.

The 2015 funding for NASA, according to a Slate article from last year, was 0.45 percent of the national budget. Which, according to the article, would mean that if the national budget were looked at as a $1 bill, NASA’s budget would be a measly 0.7 mm (one-fortieth of an inch). In the image that accompanies the article, one can’t even tell the difference between the two differently sized dollar bill images provided.

Even with such a small budget, the 2015 national budget included a $186 million cut for NASA.
Many see NASA as an accessory program for the U.S. government — one that is not critical to the success of our country. But many things that are being pushed by other organizations prove the contrary. With an increased emphasis on STEM learning at the high-school level and beyond, there appears to be a conflicting front.

Much of the future success of the United States rests in the hands of science and engineering efforts, and many consider NASA the face of such programs.

Stofan’s comments may have only served to instigate a new wave of alien-chasers. But if they inspire even one more NASA scientist or inspire the Obama administration to stop cutting NASA’s budget, then they carry more weight than even she could have imagined.

Stofan’s remarks brought to mind a poster that my eighth-grade science teacher had on her wall. The poster was a vivid picture of the Solar System with the Arthur C. Clarke quote, “Either we are alone in the universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.”

Between Stofan’s comments and Clarke’s quote, I can’t help but wonder why we would ever cut spending for NASA.


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