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Space: the financial frontier

Space exploration is as controversial an issue as they come. Due to space exploration’s very money-hungry yet technology-advancing nature, some people fully support it and attest to its greatness, while others ponder: “How many people could have been helped with that money?” Either way one looks at it, the issue is a heated one, in a multitude of ways.

As everyone should know, money fuels everything in a capitalistic nation. In the U.S., space exploration is by no means an exception to this rule. NASA goes through money by the billions every year in order to fund its programs and conduct research.

Proof of this spending can be found on NASA’s own Web site, www.nasa.gov. By the end of this 2007 fiscal year, NASA estimates that it will receive almost $17 billion from the federal government, in compliance with President Bush’s five-year budget plan. A great deal of money it is, no doubt.

Furthermore, the agency is currently scheduled to be funded with even more money throughout the following years. For the 2008 fiscal year, NASA’s federal funding is planned to rise above $17 billion, and its funding could break $18 billion in 2010. If the current spending plan continues on, NASA’s annual funding could be up to twenty-three billion dollars by the year 2020.

As previously mentioned, this is quite a large sum of money. Needless to say, an almost infinite number of other ideas or programs could be implemented with such an amount.

However, in order to make a valid judgment on the issue, one must have an idea of just how much money is consumed by all other agencies and departments under the federal government, not just one single program. Some Americans do not have an accurate idea of how astronomically high such numbers can go, especially when debt is involved.

NASA’s allotment of funds is minuscule in scale when compared to other monetary measurements. Let’s use an example: according to the government Web site www.treasurydirect.gov and www.federalbudget.com, the current total U.S. budget deficit ranks in the trillions range: Approximately $9 trillion (as of Sept. 22).

When compared to the absolutely phenomenal quantity of money which constitutes our national debt, the money relegated to NASA’s federal funding seems inconsequential. In a certain sense, war might seem a much bigger waste of money than the space program (but I’m not commenting on the wars right now; no hate mail!).

Regardless of this, many people fully support space travel, and argue that NASA has many redeeming qualities which are well worth the money spent.

This is true. Back in the 1960’s during the space race, NASA provided an excellent source of good morale for the U.S. in the Cold War era. In an age of vicious, cutthroat competition with the Soviet Union and its own space program, the eventual triumph of NASA over the Soviets marked a definitive chapter in U.S. history where the States reigned supreme over the Russkies.

Not only did this show the United States’ superiority in space over the Soviets, but it also pushed aviation and rocketry technology forward at a rapid pace.

This, it can be assumed, is space exploration’s primary benefit: advances in technology. Just as war pushes medicinal science forward and competition between rivals produces better end results, space exploration, aeronautics and aviation studies from NASA regularly show new advances in rocketry (ion engines, scramjets), airplanes (delta wings, composite building materials), and satellite technology (GPS, communications satellites).

Without a sturdy space program, we would not have the capability of putting communications satellites into orbit, we would never have the simply incredible photos of deep space from orbital telescopes (nor the orbital telescopes themselves), or many of the other technologies which have sprouted from space program-related endeavors and experiments. For all the money poured into the federal space program, much good has come of it.

All in all, many good technologies have been invented and implemented by our space program. Although it is indeed expensive, a great number of helpful and innovative technologies have come from NASA, and as space exploration becomes privatized in the future, we may see even more unique advancements in technology. Although I am sometimes a bit skeptical of space exploration, NASA has its own merits and technological breakthroughs validating its existence.

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