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I've read several articles over the past few days that indicate President Obama's desire to gut funding for NASA's Constellation program. As noted in the article, this is the initiative to create launch vehicles (based on existing technology) that will facilitate further exploration of the Moon, Mars and other projects. Cutting this funding is an enormous mistake on many different levels.
Who we are as a people is at least in part defined by our ability to dream big dreams and act on them. Having a NASA budget that is focused on "Earth-science projects" is as about as inspirational as studying bacteria cultures on dish-rags. Of all the science we, as a species perform, the exploration of space has the potential to be the most inspirational and the most insightful. When we refuse to dream big...and act on those big dreams...we make ourselves small as a people.
In addition to being inspirational, space exploration drives technological innovation. Here is just a partial list of innovation developed from the work on NASA and space exploration.
Space exploration is uniquely suited to America's best-self. While as a people we make plenty of mistakes, we often make those mistakes as leaders. Yes, when you are out in front, it's often easy to point out flaws, but we never the less lead. If we don't lead in the exploration of space, who will?
Finally, while Americans are notorious for being short-term thinkers, there is a simply (but Geeky) fact to consider: Our future is out there. This place we live on, planet Earth, has a finite existence. Now we are talking hundreds of millions of years of habitable planet available to us, it is never the less finite. The technologies that are dreamed of today may play a role in saving our species in the distant future. I know, this is a difficult concept to grasp for a people that is mostly focused on how long the line will be for coffee in the morning, but our failure to think about it doesn't make it go away.
It's my hope that truly smarter heads will prevail and that the manned exploration of space will be funded to appropriate levels.