What I hope to accomplish by writing this policy paper is to not only increase the funding for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), but raise awareness for the solution to this problem so that NASA will be more productive in future years.
What is wrong today is that the funding for NASA is slowly declining as well as the fact that a lot of NASA’s missions are being delayed or shut down. The budget of NASA as a percentage of the federal budget has declined ten-fold since the 1960s. This has led to projects like the ExoMars Robotic Spaceflight program being cut, even though NASA was already collaborating with the European Space Agency (ESA) to share the cost of building Rovers for this program. There is need for a solution that enables NASA to carry out important missions such as the ExoMars Robotic Spaceflight program which had been planned to dispatch two missions to Mars in 2016 and 2018 to search for signs of life. With less funding NASA is accomplishing fewer goals and inspiring fewer people. Plans for astronauts to visit Mars or anywhere beyond low-earth orbit have been delayed until the 2030’s. This delay means that one of NASA’s most inspiring goals won’t even be considered for the next 18 years.
An organization called Penny 4 NASA (http://www.penny4nasa.org) is currently trying to help fix this issue. This organization aims to increase NASA’s budget from 0.5% to 1% of the U.S budget or, in other words, to increase NASA’s budget from half a penny to a penny of every US tax dollar. It has created a petition and has already collected 10,000 signatures. It aims to collect 100,000 signatures. One way to help the effort to increase funding now is to sign the petition.
Dr. Neil Degrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist and an activist for the cause of increasing NASA’s budget, states in a video posted on Penny 4 NASA's website, “The most powerful agency on the dreams of a nation is currently underfunded to do what it needs to be doing, and that's making dreams come true.” NASA not only makes science dreams come true, but back in the 1960’s it inspired many young people to become scientists and engineers. So NASA needs a bigger budget to explore and learn more about space for the human race and it also needs to inspire the children of America to take on challenging careers in science and math. More people in these careers could lead to innovations in technology that might improve the economy as well. The action I proposed is needed because, without it, NASA would remain underfunded and would accomplish significantly less.
The problem is that NASA has difficulty completing current missions and experiments and starting new missions because of government cutbacks. The government started cutting back on funding for a variety of reasons. The public began to lose confidence in NASA after several disasters such as the Challenger. According to 25 Years Later: How the Challenger Disaster Brought NASA Down to Earth by Traci Watson, the Challenger was a space shuttle that disintegrated 73 seconds after it launched, caused by a failure of O-rings and killing 7 people. This failure led some to believe that space travel is too dangerous and a waste of money.
Another reason that NASA could be losing public support for funding is that the current missions are not nearly as inspiring or groundbreaking as they were in the 1960s, when millions watched the first landing on the moon. Most people don't pay too much attention to what NASA is currently doing. Missions that NASA was planning that would require going back to the moon weren’t as interesting after they had already gone there the first time. Some people find watching rovers to be not as interesting as watching humans.
The lack of funding wasn’t always a problem. The competition between the United States and Russia during the Cold War motivated the public to support funding to launch flights to the moon. The space race lead to rapid scientific progress. However, the downside of competing with another country is that it leads to a duplication of effort as seen when the United States and Russia both built low-orbiting satellites. Now the United States is cooperating with Russia.
With the current economic crisis, people are extremely worried about how their taxes are being spent. Some people who are opposed to NASA being funded think that social issues such as animal cruelty deserve funding more than NASA. Yet the percent of the federal budget that goes to NASA has decreased by 10-fold since the 1960s. NASA’s current total budget is 18 billion US dollars. Although 18 billion seems like a lot of money, according to Jeff Brooks in Putting NASA’s Budget in Perspective, it only makes up about 0.5% of the current National Budget as opposed to the 1960s when NASA’s budget made up more than 5% of the federal budget. He also says “for every $1 spent on NASA, $98 is spent on social programs”. So cutting funding for NASA is not going to be a big help to social programs.
The best alternative to what is being done now would be to increase NASA’s budget by doubling it. This could be done by getting rid of the tax breaks given to big oil companies. Oil companies no longer need these tax breaks because they are making record profits and no longer require incentives to drill for oil. This would generate an additional 4 billion dollars a year, about 1% of the U.S. federal budget, that could be used to increase NASA’s budget. A major grassroots lobbying effort, for example creating a petition like Penny 4 NASA has done, could hopefully be effective in getting Congress to do away with these tax breaks. With these additional funds NASA could follow through on future missions.
If my plan were to be put into action, the result would be that NASA could work to its full potential because it would receive proper funding. This means that it could find out many answers to the questions people have about space. Science would expand and space travel would improve. Also, because NASA would be able to pursue more expensive and impressive missions, the next generation may be inspired to grow up to work in science- and math-related careers.
The government is asked to give NASA at least 1% of the federal budget. These funds could be obtained by getting rid of the tax breaks that are given to big oil companies. These companies don’t need the tax breaks because they are earning record profits. Doing this could also encourage the development of environmentally friendly energy. Obama has already tried to strip these tax breaks but the Senate rejected it. A major grassroots lobbying effort aimed at educating and enlisting the support of the public would encourage the senate to reconsider their decision.
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