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Should Our Taxes Support the Space Program?

Updated on October 2, 2013
NASA logo
NASA logo | Source

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.


Space Shuttle Discovery landing
Space Shuttle Discovery landing | Source

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.


The privately financed Spaceship One in flight
The privately financed Spaceship One in flight | Source

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    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 3 years ago from North America

      @billdo1603 -- We have a huge private space program and I recommend many job candidates to private aerospace companies for good reasons - NASA initiated partnerships with 63 private Aerospace and Defense companies before the final US shuttle Mission launched and today, has partnerships with many more such companies in 33 different US States (a lot of them in my county)- and is still recruiting companies. If govt. funding ends, they won't need it soon.

      If any US President/Federal Govt. disbands NASA, interviews and online bulletin board conversations suggest that NASA leaders and staff cab and will move completely to the private side, so no need for tax money then. In fact, one partner, Google-related Planetary Resources funded a huge space telescope project with multiple dozens of space telescopes in LESS that one day through crowd funding and we will all be able to have free time sharing on the telescopes.

      NASA has 13 astronauts training for Mission to Mars right now and is hiring asteroid explorers and miners, but so is their partner Planetary Resources and others - and these companies are training astronauts - so NASA can go either way: stay civilian and accept govt. funding or disband and join their partners completely and change their name.

      In fact, it's not American, but a project is set for 2018 to fly a married couple to Mars. As for USA, some of the lunar landers from Google LunarX contest were ready in 2013.

      I'm fine with private sector Aerospace, as long as it stays uncorrupted by politics or greed.

      My father's old employing company began with bicycles in the late 1880s - as did the Wright Brothers - changed to mining and defense machinery, added aircraft parts, closed and reopened with other firms to work in aerospace and etc. -- The problem is not taxes or no taxes, but medical - whether we will ever survive elsewhere - now we find that the human heart loses so much muscle in space, even with exercise, that it becomes a small sphere. Artificial gravity may not be the fix we thought it was.

      It will be interesting to watch all the advancement and arguments along the way to Mars.

    • profile image

      mbuggieh 3 years ago

      Some points:

      NASA's work is not purely research-oriented as you imply. A great deal of of its essential to national security and to national defense--neither of which can be (constitutionally or legally) OR should be done in the private sector.

      And, as even a glimpse at current news should make clear: The problems that contributed to the Cold War (and the Space Race) are not resolved. The problems persist. The threats persist.

    • billd01603 profile image
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      billd01603 3 years ago from Worcester

      Thanks for reading lions44 and commenting. I agree that the military should maintain a presence in space. But there are billions to be made. I believe Govt should step aside and let business profit. Besides in this economy the first thing that needs to go are unnecessary Govt expenses .

    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 3 years ago from Auburn, WA

      Love the topic. But I strongly believe that we should be funding space travel. It's always been a private/public partnership. We have a vested interest in promoting exploration that can't be done only through commercial ventures. How many kids were inspired by the Mercury/Gemini/Apollo projects? Space is important both militarily and commercially. The U.S. should be leading the way. I would triple the funding of NASA. It creates jobs as well. Soon the Chinese will be going to the Moon, and their kids will be inspired to do more. As a country we seem to be retreating on all fronts (not just militarily) and a malaise is creeping in again. I just think space exploration would be a shot in the arm. Voted up.