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NASA wherefore art thou? Or, “Who cares about the Space Race”.

NASA wherefore art thou? Or, “Who cares about the Space Race”.

As long as I can remember I would get a thrill watching a rocket or shuttle launch on TV.

As a school child I would devour books on rockets, satellites, the Space Shuttle and Lunar landings. When I began to understand chemistry one of my first thoughts was, “Okay so what can I use to launch my model rockets?”

The triumphs of the Space Race inspired, thrilled and stopped us in our tracks imagining what people named Aldrin, Gargarin, Glenn and others were like. The tragedies hit us just as hard thinking of names like Ramon, McCauliffe and Grissom.

NASA has always been a huge controversy. The programs often excessively costly in many people’s eyes without any real return on that budgetary investment. Many saw NASA as a relic of Cold War American pride and fear that the Communists first into space would win the Space Race. What if Space, the Moon and the surrounding planets became Communist property? Wouldn’t this give them the ultimate strategic high ground?

In addition NASA hid some secrets that America felt not entirely proud of. Much of the early successes of NASA in actual rocket science could be attributed to Operation Paperclip an OSS / CIA operation to ensure that valuable Nazi scientists like Werner Von Braun (father of the V2 Missile) be denied the Soviets and instead brought to the US where their war crimes were ignored in favor of using their knowledge in rocket science, metallurgy etc.

However, NASA all in all has been a source of many exciting world-changing events such as the first steps on the moon and many others:

 

According to an article in the UK newspaper, the Telegraph NASA has over 6300 inventions credited to them. Many of which we cannot imagine the modern world without (Cordless tools, Kidney Dialysis, Smoke Detectors and many others).

However, just how much money should the US budget invest in Space when their are so many problems here on the ground that could benefit from that money?

NASA and all these programs don’t exist without creating jobs in the aerospace industries but the figures involved seem literally, astronomical.

Some of this expenditure simply seems inexplicable; where did the money go? How is it that there is such limited oversight of these vast sums of money? Conspiracy junkies would have us believe that NASA with its strong ties to the US military could be involved in the militarisation of space and that NASA must be covering various black ops (programs so secret that they are unaccountable) within these vast budgets. Who really knows?

The conspiracy nonsense aside, last week NASA and the Israel Space Agency signed a joint statement of cooperation. NASA heads believe that Israeli hi-tech know-how is invaluable for their future operations. Ironically the article linked above refers strongly to Lunar science and exploration, one of the departments at NASA suffering budget cuts in the 2010 Budget.

The real shame is that the model presented is one where Israel a country able to supply technological innovation and solutions, (who benefit from US aid [ostensibly military aid] which in return they must spend on US produced goods) could be one of many countries involved in future space research and exploration. Perhaps an International Space Agency with investment from its member countries and shared returns is the model now required (akin to the International Space Station).

Of course, with a strong sense of deja vu there is a fear amongst those detracting from the decision to cut NASA funding that next year we may wake up to find a North Korean, Iranian or other hostile power settled on the Moon or militarising Space.

Another option that has seen resistance in the US whose time may have come is the frequent alternative to public spending.. the privatization of Space.

Either way I hope that in my lifetime we continue to push the boundaries in this field and I see if not experience myself more visits to the Moon. At least maybe I can fulfil one of my dreams and visit the NASA Space Center and see a launch for myself.

 
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