NASA: To fund or to not, that is the question.
Should NASA’s budget be increased, for the sake of scientific advancements, or decreased, to increase the budget for more important governmental duties, or perhaps the budget is even fine where it is now?
by Maanas Shah
NASA is one of the most famous organizations in the world, especially in the United States. Growing up, everyone was taught to view it as one of the pillars of the scientific community, and a true beacon of discovery for humanity. However, as of late, NASA’s popularity and fame has been steadily declining, which can be attributed to its lack of major projects since the moon landings in the 70s.
This is not their fault, however, as NASA’s budget has been significantly reduced to a mere fraction of what it once was since their peak long ago. Many argue how this is unjust and that the advancement of astronomical research and operations should have a higher priority in the US government’s eye, over branches such as the military, for example. In contrast, others claim the uselessness of astronomy as reasoning for the budget cuts and urge the government to divert funds to something that could actively help the people, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Taking into account the arguments of two opposing actions, there lies the possibility that maybe the best action in response to this question is none at all. This is the trilemma that has been surrounding NASA for over half a century now: should there be a budget increase, cut, or no change at all?
For increasing the budget:
While some may not see the value in buying “big telescopes” and paying people to “stargaze,” there is much more than simple observation that NASA’s budget provides for. NASA has the ability to do amazing things, and has already accomplished many with the manned moon missions, space telescopes, mars rovers, and other extraordinary crafts that have flown across our solar system. However, almost all of these projects were completed long ago, and currently NASA does not have the necessary funds to complete future projects like manned missions and others anymore. NASA used to be over 1.5% of the budget, but now has fallen to less than 0.5%. Since then, we haven’t seen any major projects from NASA, but now they have started planning new manned missions to the moon, which will of course require much more funding. Hopefully, with an increased budget, NASA will be able to show its capabilities to the world with amazing missions once again.
Though these projects are certainly fascinating, are they really worth it? Many people say it's pointless and just a waste of taxpayer money, but in reality these projects are part of something much bigger. Astronomy is a pivotal branch of science that has been used for thousands of years, and has always found new ways to help our civilization advance. Numerous technologies have been unlocked from this science from ancient Mayan solar calendars to track time and modern communication satellites, and there is no doubt that there will be many more. Fantasy ideas such as space travel or planetary colonies may seem far off, but with an increased budget these ideas might be able to happen sooner than you think.
NASA does more for all of humanity than merely look at the stars. They invent and discover, but they can only do so if they have enough funding. To restore NASA to its former glory and to further our civilization on Earth and into the stars, it is imperative that we increase NASA’s budget. There are many branches of the government that have excessive amounts of money (such as the military’s budget of 15%) which can be used for NASA’s funds, and thus there is no question of how.
For decreasing the budget:
While there are certainly benefits that would come from astronomical studies in the long run, are they necessary at the moment? Right now, especially during this pandemic, should the government really be allocating funds towards advancements that might not succeed and would only show benefits decades from now? The world is riddled with social issues such as poverty, and instead of the space program, funds could be used to help combat and bring change to those issues.
In addition, NASA is no longer the sole pioneer in the space industry. Other organizations such as SpaceX have been using their own research and funding to accomplish many of the goals of NASA. So, it may not even be necessary to have a government funded space organization. Spending resources on NASA when the same topics could be privately researched at SpaceX is a waste, and spending the money on more social services would be more beneficial to the general public. SpaceX is also already heavily invested into manned missions, which are the most expensive part of NASA’s needs, and thus since SpaceX is already capable, there is no need to fund NASA for these such missions asweell. This would heavily decrease the need by NASA, while still allowing them enough funding to complete other unmanned missions, and research goals.
Currently, there is no reason to increase the budget for NASA, when it’s benefits will arrive so far off into the future, and it is no longer the master of its craft. SpaceX has the ability to handle what NASA would need more funding for, and as the times change into a new age, we should allow it to. As a result, funds can be redirected from NASA to more beneficial projects and organisations, such as social services, that can immediately benefit the general public, especially during our current COVID-19 pandemic.
For keeping the budget the same:
Upon reading about these two sides, you might agree with the ideas, thoughts of both, which begs the question, is there some sort of neutral stance? Well, knowing that it is important for NASA to have funding for their projects, but recognizing that these projects are long-term and funds could be used elsewhere, there comes the option to simply leave the budget as it is. When the circumstances change (i.e. the pandemic is over) perhaps a slight increase, or even a slight decrease, to the budget would also fall under this “neutral” stance. Under this view, there is a constant acknowledgement of the arguments made by both sides, and the resulting stance may call for slight adjustments, but never as drastic of a change as either side proposes.
The trilemma around NASA’s budget has always existed, and is sure to always exist throughout the course of history. We’ve seen NASA with very high and very low budgets over the course of its history, and with the announcement of their recent projects, but also the arrival of Covid-19, it will be interesting to see where this debate will lead and where the decision will take NASA next.