1 Eljana Nikolli – NASA: Hovering in Space

Eljana Nikolli

English 102

NASA: Hovering in Space

On November 12th 2014, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced the first ever landing of a space probe on the surface of a comet. According to the ESA, “Rosetta was launched on 2 March 2004 and travelled 6.4 billion kilometers through the Solar System before arriving at the comet on 6 August 2014.” It then took months until a successful landing was accomplished. In addition, a mission to send the first humans on Mars is already on the works. According to Mars One, the non-profit organization behind the mission, the plan is to send the first humans to Mars in 2024. However, this mission is being based on current space exploration technology with the hopes that by the time the mission is ready to launch, more advanced technology will be available. Projects like these have been known to cost a lot of money, and many argue that the money NASA is given is going to waste and it should be used elsewhere, as in education and healthcare. However, we all know that many of the humankind’s achievements, regarding space or not, have been successful due to research, and research most often needs money to happen. Indeed, many of NASA’s biggest achievements, like the moon landing, have happened because NASA had the US government’s financial support. Therefore, the US government should continue and even increase NASA’s financial support since the National Aeronautics and Space Administration plays an integral role in the country’s financial, technological, cultural, and scientific development, and in humanity’s safety as well.

To begin with, the public does not have a clear vision of NASA’s financials. According to Mary Lynne Dittmar, Dittmar Associates, Inc. CEO and Senior Policy Advisor at Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), “the public perception of NASA’s budget is grossly inflated relative to actual dollars.” We have often heard about probes lost in space or equipment that cost millions of dollars being destroyed due to miscalculations or unexpected circumstances, and that angers people since that money could have been used for something else.  However, people do not have the right perception when it comes to large amounts of money. The majority of the population compares large sums to numbers they understand, and they cannot comprehend that in the much larger scale of the national fund seven and eight figure amounts are miniscule.

Subsequently, the public does not realize that NASA’s budget occupies an exceptionally small percentage of the national budget.  Also according Mary Dittmar, a study showed people believe that about 24% of the national budget is allotted to NASA. However, Columbia University Professor Howard S. Friedman, who is also a Statistician and Health Economist for the United Nations, says that aside from a rush of funding in the mid 1960’s, which reached about 4.5% of the total federal budget, NASA’s budget has been significantly dropping since then. According to Friedman, NASA’s budget for the 2015 fiscal year is estimated to be about 0.47% of the national budget. To put this into better perspective, for every dollar the US population pays in taxes, only about half a penny goes to NASA.

Furthermore, considering more cuts on NASA’s budget would lead to additional issues for the agency and its programs. In his book “Mysteries of Outer Space”, Thomas K. Grose says that since its creation, the International Space Station hasn’t achieved any of its goals of space exploration and micro gravitational research. On the other hand the station is costing more and more money each year. Grose says that, “A diminished floating laboratory doesn’t excite the public’s imagination, and that gives lawmakers plenty of maneuvering room to keep NASA’s budget tight, which leads to more downscaled projects” (66). In an effort to appeal to the public, politicians many times succumb to the public’s demands, and budget cuts for NASA are one of them. Consequently, the space agency has not reached its potential due to past budget cuts. These budget cuts have been causing and continue to cause problems for more of NASA’s ongoing projects which in turn could potentially lead to even more cuts, thus, entering a vicious circle that could lead to the agency’s demise.

Nevertheless, NASA’s technological achievements have changed our lives dramatically. According to the article “NASA Spinoff 2015 Features Space Technology Making Life Better on Earth,” “NASA technologies are being used to locate underground water in some of the driest places on the Earth, build quieter and more fuel-efficient airplanes, and create shock absorbers that brace buildings in earthquakes.”  In fact, these are only some of the NASA spinoffs that have changes our lives for the better. NASA has largely influenced many more areas of our lives such as weather forecasting, the medical field, and others.

To start with, NASA’s satellites have saved thousands of lives because of the detailed and timely weather forecasting they can provide. According to the National Research Council, NASA has powerfully contributed in the study of Earth’s atmosphere, oceans, and surface through use of its satellites. Also, nasa.org provides us with detailed tracking of dangerous storms. According to nasa.gov, when hurricane Sandy hit the east coast, “the satellite data provided detailed information such as the size and direction of the winds, observations of the cloud structures near the storm and the amount and location of storm’s rainfall.” Even though there was a lot of destruction and many died, and even more were injured during hurricane Sandy, the consequences would have probably been much worse if not for NASA’s contribution to weather forecasting and tracking.

Secondly, NASA has made many contributions in the development and/ or advancement of many technologies used by the medical field, like telemedicine.  In the article “A Brief History of NASA’s Contributions to Telemedicine”,

The dominant medical question prior to Yuri Gagarin’s successful spaceflight in April 1961 was whether the human body could function in space. […] To determine if this would indeed be a problem, both the U.S. and the Soviets performed a number of test flights using animals attached to medical monitoring systems, which sent the animal’s biometric data to scientists on Earth via a telemetric link. [..] The focus on possible limitations of the human body forced the agency to take a technologically focused approach to telemedicine.

It took years for telemedicine to function the way it does today. Now, the lives of many people that live in remote areas of the country and of the rest of the world have been saved due to this technology.

And in addition to telemedicine, NASA has contributed in the invention of other very important medical devices. According to Linda C. Brinson, the VAD (Left Ventricular Assist Device), which keeps patients alive while they await for a heart transplant, light technology that lessens the painful side effects of chemotherapy, and ear thermometers are a few of the many more technologies that NASA has contributed to medicine. A lot of people are alive today because the VAD was able to buy them some time until the right donor was found. Also, cancer patients can now suffer a little bit less during their chemotherapy sessions. Technologies as these simply make the hardships in life a little bit more bearable.

In addition, NASA has added to our quality of life with the invention of things like highway safety grooving. According to nasa.gov, safer highways were a spinoff of a program developed to reduce accidents on wet airways. Due to this technology, grooving highway concrete has probably prevented more accidents and saved more lives than we can imagine.

Another NASA invention contributing to a higher quality of life is the memory foam. According to nasa.gov, “[memory foam was] the result of a program designed to develop a padding concept to improve crash protection for airplane passengers.” Not everyone knows about the origins of the memory foam, but everyone appreciates the comfort temper mattresses pillows, memory foam insoles, etc. provide.

Additionally, our everyday lives are becoming more and more futuristic with every passing moment. According to nasa.gov, a program that was initially designed to enable astronauts to control devices on spaceships and stations remotely, resulted in the invention of internet connected wall ovens. People can now not only cook meals from a distance but they can also lock and unlock doors, turn on the shower so it’s ready when they arrive, check their home when on vacation to ensure it doesn’t get broken into, and many more. Who doesn’t appreciate being able to control almost anything inside your home while at the office or on the road? And all this because of inventions like internet remote technology. Life in the 21st century makes science fiction movies about the future not so much science fiction anymore.

Of course, the most important reason to increase NASA’s budget is because planet Earth, and along with it humanity, is in danger. For instance, forces like asteroids are threatening the safety of all living beings on Earth. According to Brain Marshall,

[Asteroid 1997XF11] has the energy that’s 10 million times greater than the bomb that fell on Hiroshima. It’s able to flatten everything for 100 to 200 miles out from ground zero. In other words, if a mile-wide asteroid were to directly hit New York City, the force of the impact probably would completely flatten every single thing from Washington D.C. to Boston, and would cause extensive damage perhaps 1,000 miles out — that’s as far away as Chicago. The amount of dust and debris thrown up into the atmosphere would block out the sun and cause most living things on the planet to perish. If an asteroid that big were to land in the ocean, it would cause massive tidal waves hundreds of feet high that would completely scrub the coastlines in the vicinity.

For reasons as this, we need a powerful space agency. NASA needs to be prepared to eliminate these kinds of dangers. The only way this can be achieved is through research, and the development of technology that could destroy an asteroid, or the option of continuing human life in space.

However, external forces are not the only threat towards humanity. In an article for The Telegraph, Michael Hanlon writes that “our solar system is home to a swarm of comets, rocks, boulders and flying mountains, tens of thousands of which are big enough to wipe out anything from a small city to the entire biosphere.” In addition to that, in his article for reuters.com, Alister Doyle says that according to a scientific report regarding the impact humankind has had on our planet, “Climate change and high rates of extinctions of animals and plants are pushing the Earth into a danger zone for humanity.” As we can see, our planet is being hit on both sides, by us the humans, and by forces in outer space as well. As a result, we need technology that can either prevent or overcome problems like these, and NASA has the potential to do so on both fronts. With the right technology, the agency can eliminate problems deriving from space, while at the same time use its resources to help with global warming and the reinstatement of our planet’s health.

But more than just prevent destruction, NASA has the potential to discover new energy sources that could put a stop to global warming. According to Brian Dunbar of NASA, “Our renewable energy focus is on advancing biofuels, solar, and wind technologies that also help reduce our nation’s dependence on petroleum-based fuels. By advancing clean energy technologies, NASA […] hopes to help our nation reduce its generation of greenhouse gases and create a sustainable future here on Earth.” Obviously, the discovery of a new and clean energy source would have a large impact on global warming and its solution. However, this cannot be done without enough funding.

Furthermore, NASA has the technology to monitor the ozone issue, and would most likely be the one to solve the problems with it. According to James C. Wilson, professor of engineering at the University of Denver, many who worry about the future of planet Earth, and along with it the future of humans, think that NASA is an essential contributor in the answer of the ozone issue. Professor Wilson says that “NASA aircraft were the first to fly into the ozone hole and return with scientific data confirming the causes of stratospheric ozone loss.” Finding a way to reinstate the ozone layer would solve many problems associated with global warming. NASA has already taken many steps in the study of such scientific fields, and the access it has to the atmosphere from the outside, enables the agency to discover technologies that may not be possible to be discovered in earth.

Lastly, if humanity fails to save the planet Earth, space travel could be the only thing to save the human species. According to a BBC article, renowned cosmologist Stephen Hawking said that, “The long-term future of the human race must be space and [space travel] represents an important life insurance for our future survival […] It could prevent the disappearance of humanity by the colonization of other planets.” Indeed, the only way to save the human race in case of a big disaster or in the case that Earth becomes uninhabitable, would be space travel. However, space travel of large amounts of people right now is not available. NASA is amongst the few organizations on Earth that could achieve something like that, but none of this can happen without the government’s financial support.

Research has made us who we are today as humans, and space offers so much for us to discover. The US is amongst the few countries in the world that have a space agency, and the best one at that. However, unless the government realizes the agency’s importance, a lot could be at stake. The US could miss out on important technological advances that could permanently affect not just the nation, but the whole world as well.  An investment in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is an investment in humanity. With the right support and the right resources, NASA has the potential and the ability to permanently change a lot of aspects of human life, whether that is scientifically, technologically, financially, culturally, or other.

Works Cited

“A Brief History of NASA’s Contributions to Telemedicine.” NASA. NASA, 16 Aug. 2013. Web. 21 Apr. 2015. <http://www.nasa.gov/content/a-brief-history-of-nasa-s-contributions-to-telemedicine/#.VTixpCFViko>.

Brain, Marshall. “What If an Asteroid Hit the Earth?” HowStuffWorks. HowStuffWorks.com. Web. 2 Apr. 2015. <http://science.howstuffworks.com/nature/natural-disasters/asteroid-hits-earth.htm>.

Brinson, Linda C.  “What breakthroughs in medicine came from NASA?”  03 March 2011.  HowStuffWorks.com. Web. 22 Apr. 2015

Dittmar, Mary Lynne. “Sustaining Exploration: Communications, Relevance, and Value.” The Space Review. 12 Nov. 2007. Web. 23 Apr. 2015.

Doyle, Alister. “Climate Change, Extinctions Signal Earth in Danger Zone: Study.” Www.reuters.com. 15 Jan. 2015. Web. 20 Apr. 2015.

Dunbar, Brian. NASA. NASA, 5 Aug. 2009. Web. 21 Mar. 2015. <http://www.nasa.gov/centers/ames/greenspace/clean-energy_prt.htm>.

Friedman, Howard. “NASA Simply Stopped Being a Priority.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com. Web. 25 Mar. 2015.

Grose, Thomas K. “Nasa Scales Back.” Mysteries of Outer Space (2004): 66. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 28 Mar. 2015.

Hanlon, Michael. “Why We Face Grave Danger from Space.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 13 Aug. 2013. Web. 23 Apr. 2015.

James C. Wilson Guest Commentary, Denver. “NASA Cutting Earth Science Short: Final Edition.” Denver Post: B.07. 2005.

“Mars One.” Mars One. Web. 13 Mar. 2015. <http://www.mars-one.com/>.

“NASA Spinoff 2015 Features Space Technology Making Life Better on Earth.” NASA. NASA, 20 Jan. 2015. Web. 22 Apr. 2015. <http://www.nasa.gov/press/2015/january/nasa-spinoff-2015-features-space-technology-making-life-better-on-earth>.

“NASA Technologies Benefit Our Lives.” NASA Technologies Benefit Our Lives. Web. 22 Apr. 2015. <https://spinoff.nasa.gov/Spinoff2008/tech_benefits.html>.

National Research Council, (U.S.), States United, and (U.S.) National Academy of Sciences. Space Science in the Twenty-First Century: Imperatives for the Decades 1995 To 2015. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1991. eBook Academic Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 29 Mar. 2015.

“Stephen Hawking: Live on Other Planets or We’ll Die out.” BBC News. BBC, 20 Feb. 2015. Web. 23 Apr. 2015.

“Touchdown! Rosetta’s Philae Probe Lands on Comet.” European Space Agency. Web. 13 Mar. 2015.


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