VIEWPOINT: Sparking Innovation with NASA Funding

President Barack Obama recently unveiled his vision for the future of spaceflight missions, setting the standard for decades of research and establishing a goal of putting humans on Mars by 2030. Yet many continue to wonder why NASA should receive funding to put a flag on Mars. The goal of this mission is not solely to decorate another plot of land with the symbol of our nation. It is also to fund innovation that will boost the economy, technology, quality of life and scientific achievement, while inspiring the next generation.

The specific technologies that will be discovered through this project cannot be predicted. In order for past missions to succeed, entirely new technologies had to be invented. Such advancements have cascaded down to affect our lives in a myriad of ways, which may not be obvious. There is no profit for private enterprises to research many of the discoveries that NASA has made, and there is no way to invent the solution to something that has not yet been identified as a problem. Thus, NASA’s advancements and innovations have led to the introduction of new technologies into society we often take for granted.

NASA pioneered laser research, and that field that has grown exponentially. One of many applications of technology that NASA has created is LASIK eye surgery, a byproduct of technology originally created to align and dock space vehicles with a high degree of accuracy. Lasers permeate innumerable aspects of modern technology such as fiber optics, which are the most advanced way of communicating and sending signals. The internet, computers, telephones and televisions all rely on such technology in some capacity.

The space shuttle program also resulted in the invention of something as commonplace as grooved highways – roadways that have ridges meant to protect your car from skidding. The shuttles needed to land without skidding, so NASA solved that problem and significantly reduced the number of deadly car accidents in the process. This demonstrates the imperceptible influences of NASA’s research. NASA’s need for lightweight, complex technologies also laid the groundwork for microchips, now essential to all electronics. Such discoveries and many more have had a profound impact on the modern economy.

Yet NASA funding does not simply go toward the building of spaceships. To achieve the astounding reliability that NASA has earned, research is carried out across a variety of fields concerning each seemingly insignificant component of a large mission, and their role in material science and engineering sets the industry standard.
The engineers employed at NASA impact technological capabilities by studying electronics’ reliability and holding industries to a higher standard to improve the quality of spaceflight and consumer products. Through its freedom to research projects which no private organization would actively pursue or fund without incentive, NASA benefits our nation and improves our lives through innovations that we take for granted.

The exact monetary benefit of NASA cannot be calculated because most of the benefits are unquantifiable. Despite having a budget that amounts to less than one percent of federal spending, NASA has an expansive impact on the nation. Those who claim NASA funding is excessive when so many on Earth are in need of its work do not understand the scope of NASA’s contribution to our society. What the dedication to a Mars mission will do, as well as a dedication to future space exploration and research, is spark a culture that values innovation and creative problem-solving with a far-reaching impact on future generations.

I hope that President Obama and many others will be able to inspire our descendants with memories of a generation that dared to step beyond the boundaries of certainty. I hope we will become a generation that is not hindered by the nagging risk of the unknown and puts faith and effort into a mission that has already brought us into the modern age. This will foster a culture that will no longer place the burden of proof on NASA. Rather, it will place its trust in an organization that paves our future with its technology and innovation.

Grace Maglieri is a sophomore in the College. She is the co-president of the GU Astronomical Society

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