The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has recently announced that it has spotted what they believe to be plumes of water erupting from Jupiter’s moon Europa. This has potential to be a very significant discovery, as it may indicate conditions able to support life as we know it. Scientists of Nasa have expressed hope that one day they will be able to send a craft to Europa in order to explore these potential plumes to find out more.
This is all very exciting, but it has also caused alarm for some people. Sending a craft to Europa would not be cheap. A lot of money goes into Nasa every year, money that could very well be used in other fields; health, education, environmental issues, etc. So there has always been this question of whether or not Nasa should be funded as heavily by the taxpayer as it is. This debate is also particularly relevant in recent news as 1 October, 2015 marks the start of Nasa’s new budget, as set out by President Barack Obama earlier this year.
The government decided to allocate $18.5 billion to Nasa this year, half a billion more than the previous year. That sounds like a lot, and many people believe it would be better spent on solving problems here on Earth. Advocates for environmental and humanitarian issues talk about this the most, saying time and time again that so many of our global issues are solvable and should be prioritised.
These arguments fail to acknowledge several important factors however. First, the 18.5 billion U.S. dollars, while it sounds like a lot, is actually a relatively small proportion of America’s budget. The total budget the United States has to work with is 3 trillion. Nasa receives less than 1 per cent of this total. Compare that to defence, which gets roughly 21% of the annual budget, and it is hard to say that Nasa is by any means over funded.
Also, Nasa’s budget does not solely go into the making or maintenance of their equipment; it is used to create jobs in one of the most unknown and complex fields. For that reason, the type of research and creativity needed for Nasa not only uncovers fascinating information about the universe in which we are apart of, but has also led to the most innovative and ground breaking discoveries and inventions. As just one of many examples, Nasa has helped with the collection of critical data on problems such as ozone layer and global warming. Seems a little ironic that some of the very problems people would choose to fund over Nasa would not be understood or monitored as well without them.
We cannot forget about all of the inventions Nasa has provided over the years either. Electrical equipment such as cordless hardware evolved from technology developed for the Apollo lunar landing program. Tires have increased exponentially in durability due to the research used for Mars rovers. Shock absorbing insoles in your running shoes, Google Earth imagery, high capacity batteries, scratch-resistant glasses, even invisible braces all trace back to inventions Nasa was able to come up with.
Finally, and in my opinion most importantly, Nasa’s drive and inspiring curiosity for what lies beyond our Earth’s atmosphere has had a major impact on ideas in theoretical physics, concepts of time and space, and other ‘big’ questions philosophers have been struggling with throughout history, such as the origins of life and humanity’s place in the universe. Evidently, Nasa has truly been the source of so much valuable information and sparked a tremendous amount of creativity and inspiration. For that reason it has benefited humanity and life on Earth in many exceptional ways. So does Nasa deserve the 18.5 billion dollars to continue on? Yes, every penny.
Image: Billy Brown