As the campaign season pushes on and the political rhetoric continues to ramp up, I’ve found myself paying attention but not engaged enough to feel I can post something more constructive than “did y’all see this?” kind of posts. That feeling changed with news I read yesterday. It would seem in the new budget proposal from Obama that monies for NASA have been severely cut back. Astronomer Phil Plait starts his analysis this way:
The White House released its Presidential budget request for fiscal year 2013 on Monday, including the budget for NASA, and as usual there is some good news and some bad. But the good news is tepid, and the bad news is, well, pretty damn bad. I can lay some of this blame at NASA’s feet – a long history of being over budget and behind schedule looms large – but also at the President himself. Cutting NASA’s budget at all is, simply, dumb. I know we’re in an economic crisis (though there are indications it’s getting better), but there are hugely larger targets than NASA. If this budget goes through Congress as is, it will mean the end of a lot of NASA projects and future missions.
It is difficult for me to express my anger and frustration over this and remain calm. It is not just that the NASA budget is being cut it is how it is being cut. The first major cuts come in the area of education and outreach. Yes, take a climate in the country where it almost everyone agrees that things like math and science and space exploration–those things are for smart people over in China and Japan. We don’t send astronauts into space anymore–we no longer have a launch vehicle–let the Russians do that. I guess if Obama is going to push the idiocy of using NASA as a Muslim outreach program then by all means cut the budget (thankfully such comments have since been retracted after outrage).
The second area that has been hammered is planetary exploration:
However, planetary exploration has gotten creamed. Its budget overall drops from $1.5 billion to $1.2, a very deep cut that doesn’t just threaten but destroys near-future Mars exploration as well as future big grand missions to the outer planets in the tradition of Voyager, Cassini, and others.
There’s no easy way to say this: these cuts are devastating. The President’s request for just Mars exploration is $361 million, a crippling $226M drop in funding over the FY12 estimate, a 38.5% cut.
Space exploration is a clear marker of our progress as a species. One can argue the details of how much technology developed to make a manned trip (which would likely require at least short term colonization) to Mars would make it back to the general public. But as a source of inspiration? As an example to American children that you can accomplish anything if you dream it and work hard to achieve it? As a sign to the rest of the world that there is more to America than reality television? There is no greater example.
I don’t want the next words spoken on the moon to be Chinese. I don’t want the first words spoken on Mars to be French. People talk of the day of malaise during Jimmy Carter where the world had a laughable opinion of America and Americans echoed that view. That is not how it should be. It could be much different. America being a shining beacon of science and discovery is hope and change I can actually support.
I can say the following because I am not running for public office and I don’t have to worry about people taking my comments and turning them into a soundbite against me. Space exploration is more important than everyone having free health care. It is more important than who is funding Planned Parenthood. It is more important that worrying about terrorism to such a degree that 94-year-old great-grandmothers are being frisked by airport security. It is more important than shoving CFL light bulbs and EV cars down consumers collective throats, logic and economics be damned.
The only good news is that this budget has a slim chance, if any, of passing. The whole thing reeks of incompetence, written by people who have strong political agendas and weak knowledge of economics. It includes a $10,000 tax credit to anyone buying a plug-in car. Worse the WH staff admits that it doesn’t do anything to solve the current fiscal crisis.
I can only imagine the contorted logic that will be used as the media, Hollywood, and Democratic elites slobber over themselves in a frenzy to support the gutting of NASA as wisdom from the One. The time for sitting on the sidelines has passed. Four more years of Obama would be devastating to what is left of this great country. Going forward I will have little patience for people whining that Romney isn’t the ideal candidate or some other candidate won’t get their vote because of some ancient quote on some insignificant issue or what have you. The Republican nominee, be it Romney or Santorum or whoever, may not be perfect but sometimes the choice is perfectly clear.