Should Our Taxes Support the Space Program?
On July 20, 1969, I got to stay up past midnight. I was eight years old. My regular bedtime was 8:00 and my parents were strict about holding me to it. The only time an exception was made was a real special occasion. This date was a real special occasion. This was one of the most significant dates in human history. On this night two members of the crew of Apollo 11, Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin stepped out of the spider-like Lunar Module and set foot on the Moon. I remember watching a grainy black and white broadcast from the lunar surface and being happy that we had finally made it to the Moon. I had been a fan of the manned space program for a couple of years previously. I knew the names of all the astronauts like I knew the names of all the Red Sox and I had voraciously read books about space exploration. But being only eight years old at the time, there was no way I understood the significance of this event. For the first time in human history, man had broken the bonds of earth and set foot on another world.
I, like many other people, believed that the manned space program would continue. The moon was only the start. Mars would be next and then the stars.
I was wrong. We would go to the moon several more times over the next couple of years. Occasionally, we would send unmanned probes to the planets and stars. But these did garner any of the excitement that the manned Apollo flights to the moon did. Then with the advent of the Space Shuttle in the mid 1980s, we would concentrate on Earth orbit. As time went by, people began to lose interest in the space program. And after the Challenger and Columbia disasters, we began to wonder if it all was worth it. In July 2011, NASA,(National Aeronautics and Space Administration) retired the Space Shuttle and with nothing planned for several years to take it’s place, the future of American manned space flight is in doubt. There are plans to go back to the moon and finally Mars by 2035. But these plans are dependent on Congress appropriating the funds, and in the current political and financial climate, programs like these will and should be the first to be cut.
Despite my interest in space flight, I don’t believe that the American tax payer should fund any future manned space flight, either back to the moon or beyond. The manned space flights of the Sixties that culminated in the Apollo Moon landings were a product of the Cold War. In the early 1960s, President Kennedy, committed the USA to landing a man on the moon by the end of that decade and doing so before the Soviets. It was a matter of national pride. Today no such enemy exists to make manned space flight necessary for us. As for the cost, The Apollo project in the 1960s cost approximately $170 billion. The cost of a similar project today has been estimated at $1 to $2 trillion! With today’s deficit we should not even be thinking about doing something this expensive, especially something this impractical. This is too much to pay for something that would be purely for research.
I. am not for ending the space program totally. In the past 50-60 years, satellites in earth orbit have become as important to our infrastructure as the Interstate Highway system. They are responsible for a large portion of our communications, defense, TV, phone calls, weather predictions GPS and God knows what else. We need to have the technology, materials and talent to develop and launch newer and better satellites and effectively service, monitor and maintain the ones we have.
While I am against the government spending my tax money for future manned spaceflight, I would be in favor of it if it was being financed by private individuals or corporations. Private companies might be able to do it a bit cheaper. They would not have to deal with waste that is inherent in most government projects. Billionaire Richard Branson and several other companies are currently developing private manned spaceflight. While no definite plans for going to the planets are in the works, like the early days of the manned space program, they are starting with sub orbital and orbital flights. It will take a few years, but future plans may involve passenger service, research and mining of the Moon, Mars or asteroids. If a significant profit can be made, entrepreneurs will rush to develop the technology.
I would love to see men go back to the moon, planets and beyond. As long as it wasn’t on the tax payers dime, I would applaud the effort.