It seems that the amount of buzz around NASA shuttle and space programs correlates with the wave of protests against the money the flows to NASA’s budget. I understand that especially in the current economic crisis everyone is ready to point fingers and try to squeeze just a little bit more from every possible source. I must admit, however, that I was very surprised that both Bill Maher, the host of Real Time on HBO, and his guest on the March 6th show, Peter Singer, Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, said that sending man to the Moon was a huge waste of money.
For one, despite his relentless fight to decriminalization of marijuana (whicht be of some help in the current crisis just and abandoning prohibition helped in the 30’s), judging by his articulateness, the propensity to skepticism and fight against superstitious belief, I consider Bill Maher to be a well educated person. I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt … Perhaps, people who are not enthusiastic about natural sciences and the space (exploration) in particular, are not familiar with everything a “simple” mission to the Moon entails, and the benefits it brings.
First of all, NASA’s current FY 2008 budget of $17.318 billion represents about 0.6% of the $2.9 trillion United States federal budget. Americans spend over $45 billion per year just on soft drinks. For less than half of that amount, NASA is not only pushing the boundaries of our knowledge of cosmos, but also creating commerce, assisting with education, enhancing health care, monitoring climate change and improving weather forecasting.
Furthermore, money given to NASA does not disappear in a black hole (like they tend to on earmarks). It has been conservatively estimated by U.S. space experts, that for every dollar the U.S. spends on research and development in the space program, it receives $7 back in the form of corporate and personal income taxes. This value is even higher for the Apollo Program; some estimates put it at around $20. Besides the obvious jobs created in the aerospace industry, thousands more are created by contractors utilizing NASA technology in non-space related parts of economy. Every dollar invested in the space program is returned exponentially in the form of new products, technologies, and businesses. Applications of technology needed for space flight have produced thousands of spin-offs that improve our everyday lives.
Just to name some, without NASA their would be no virtual reality, pool cleaning, golf balls, quality athletics shoes, accurate weather forecast, breast cancer detection, digital cameras, pacemakers, no F1 and Nascar heat protections for drivers; the list goes on and on for miles.
Unfortunately, some do not stop at NASA. They take their fight against science even further. Last week on Monday, March 9, President Obama reversed the embryonic stem cell research ban (the ban was actually on federal funding of such research). Yet, on the same day, the legislative committee of the state of Georgia passed a bill (which was approved by the state senate on Thursday) restricting stem cell research in the state by defining a living human embryo to be a person. Stem cell research is related to so many others scientific advances. The US used to be at the cutting edge of scientific advances, now the world see it more as a country held back by primitive superstitious beliefs where (un)Inteligent Design can pass for science in schools.
The only way to fight against lies about science is to keep repeating the same old truth. Science is no way waste of money, brains or time. It is the exact opposite. Without science, you wouldn’t even have the means to read this article (nor would I to create this blog). The Internet began as a network that linked computer networks at several universities and research laboratories. The World Wide Web was developed in 1989 for the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN); you know, the place where the The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) might create a black hole which will destroy the Earth.
I believe that people who don’t see the benefits science offer suffer from a severe case of myopia – the kind of shortsightedness that caused the current economic problems. If you’re still not sure that science why is important, I suggest you watch this video from Alom Shaha.