Space exploration is our future
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy set the ambitious goal of placing American astronauts on the moon before the end of that decade. Through the concerted effort of scientists, engineers and fearless explorers, NASA succeeded with the Apollo 11 mission and 5 subsequent lunar landings. The last of these occurred in 1972, but despite such auspicious beginnings, no person has set foot on the moon since.
Drastic budget cuts rendered additional landings untenable, and a disheartening loss of ambition seemed to settle over the US space program.
Now, several Congressmen are attempting to reignite the country’s exploratory aspirations — a proposed bill would have Americans back on the moon by 2022 and working on a sustained human presence.
Entitled the Reasserting American Leadership (REAL) in Space Act, the bill’s stated purpose is to “promote exploration, commerce, science and United States preeminence in space as a stepping stone for the future exploration of Mars and other destinations.”
Given the current financial situation, many are questioning the timing of such a seemingly superfluous program. Admittedly, cost estimates run well into the hundreds of billions of dollars. However, the upfront expenditures amount to a relatively small portion of the US economy and mask the important gains to be had.
The country should be willing to pay for such lofty endeavors — the US cannot afford to delay our return to the forefront of lunar exploration.
At its peak, the Apollo program directly and indirectly provided jobs for over 375,000 Americans. This was accomplished using less than 4% of the federal budget.
Given the scientific advancements and specialization that has occurred since then, a similar program today would likely employ many more workers, with job openings ranging from construction to physics. This would go a long way in making a dent in the nation’s current unemployment rate, and the open ended nature of the current proposal ensures that it will have a sustained positive impact on the economy.
In addition, a program of this size and scale will invariably produce technological innovations that have the potential to transform everyday life. Previous NASA developments have included the invention of the integrated circuit and fuel cells.
Equally significant advances can rightfully be imagined as a result of reaching the goal of procuring and maintaining lunar colonies. Here again, the benefits will be long term and far-reaching.
Economics aside, a lunar space program will assist in reforming America’s reputation as a fading intellectual powerhouse. As science and math form the cornerstone of space exploration, there will be a greater demand for workers who are proficient in both.
By prioritizing these subjects in schools, students will be more likely to succeed in learning the material and pursue related careers later in life.
Eventually, other fields outside of the space industry stand to gain from this influx of competent professionals. The intangible value of national pride should also not be understated.
A return to the moon will serve as a common cause for all Americans and will reinvigorate the pioneering spirit that helped build this nation.
Finally, and somewhat sullenly, the long term survival of the human race will depend on us eventually leaving the Earth and its finite resources and timeline.
Both the Moon and Mars are ideal testing grounds of our ability to colonize other worlds, thereby preparing us early for what will become an eventuality. It is not all that much of an exaggeration to state that the fate of mankind may in fact rest on our continued exploration of the Moon.
The REAL Space Act faces strong opposition from both fiscal conservatives and welfare-oriented liberals. The objections from either group are shortsighted and misplaced.
Far from being a drain, the proposal to return to the Moon offers enormous economic and societal gains. Congress should see to it that the nation’s interests are served by once again placing American footprints on the lunar surface.