Monday, February 22, 2010

Why we should keep the space program

I'm going to try to keep this succinct...but just be warned, I may fail horribly.

There are three main reasons I think we should keep investing in the space program: symbolic meaning, it's ability to inspire and the impact it has on technological advancement.

First, it's symbolic meaning. To be American is to explore. It is part of our cultural identity and heritage. It is who we are and what we've fought for from the very inception of our nation. I shutter to think of what Lewis and Clark would say to us if we just decided to quit expanding our knowledge of the world around us.

Second, the space program has the power to inspire people more than anything else...period. Just take a look at my comments on the previous post. No one who was alive to see the lunar landing wanted to cut the budget. I'm afraid our current generation takes for granted the fact that we sent a frail, weak human being to the MOON!

Also, everyone knows that our educational programs are failing our children. Scores are slipping, no one wants to teach kids for such a pittance and kids are seemingly less interested in math science engineering and technology. This, everyone would agree is a problem. How many kids are going to be motivated to pursue education in the above fields if we as a nation do not agree to support those fields? How will they be inspired to learn and work hard if there is no amazing science left to do? And believe me when I say that once we give up on the space program other fields will be left vulnerable. If we as a people don't care about advancing the sciences there is no point to work on our educational system where the maths and sciences are concerned.

And lastly, the research and development that has been dedicated to devising solutions for taking mankind into space has had some pretty amazing benefits to our entire race. I'm not saying that we wouldn't have come up with these ideas without the program, but it sure helped move the development forward. Here is just a small list of the benefits we see thanks to the federal dollars invested in the space program:

Semiconductor Cubing (making computer chips cube shaped that reduced the size and weight of memory-intensive systems like medical imaging devices), structural Analysis (the main technique that EVERYTHING is designed with now to predict when things will break. next time you walk over a bridge and it doesn't collapse thank space), air Quality Monitor (this is how we can monitor the dirty air that factories create and we can attempt to limit their environmental impact) Virtual Reality (Avatar was pretty cool, right?), CDs, enriched babyfood (a lot of food science has come out of the space program...a lot), water purification systems, scratch-resistant lenses, chemical-free pool purification (why don't we have more of these in residential pools?), ribbed swimsuit for speed swimmers, better golf balls and composite golf clubs, athletic shoes (almost all shoes not have shock absorption materials developed by the space program), dustbuster, shock absorbing helmets, home security systems, smoke detectors, flat panel TVs, sports bras, fogless ski goggles, transitions lenses, hang gliders, art preservation, microspheres (the first commercial products manufactured in orbit are tiny perfect microspheres. They are used when manufacturing requires really perfectly calibrated measurements and currently are used mainly for environmental control, medical research, and manufacturing), solar energy, weather forecasting via satellite, forest management via satellite, hydroponic plant research, fire resistant material, radiation insulation, digital imaging breast biopsy system (LORAD), and breast cancer detection, laser angioplasty, ultrasound skin damage assessment for serious burn victims, programmable pacemaker, voice-Controlled wheelchair, ultrasound scanners, automatic insulin pump, invisible braces, portable x-ray, MRI, engine lubricant, emergency rescue cutters (jaws of life), fireman's air tanks, self-righting air raft, Doppler radar, studless winter tires, improved car breaks, improved aircraft engines, emissions testing, electric car

There are many, many more but I'm attempting to keep this post to a readable length. If you thought the space program was expendable and that we have bigger fish to fry as a nation will you take a second to consider how many of the above you use on a daily basis. Would you rather go without them?


Unknown said...

Wow, I never knew so many things were invented due to the space program! You've convinced me.

Lady Susan said...

Interesting post. I agree that a lot of cool stuff has come out of funding for the space program--my lovely temperpedic bed for example if the ads are to be believed. However, I don't see all of that as positive (some of your food science, engine lubricant, and other "advances" that have the potential to affect negatively human health however good intentioned). I actually think the money would be better spent if channeled directly towards advancing green technology and finding eco-friendly answers to a number of our problems. This would still be inspiring and technically challenging scientific work--one that would be equal (if not more practical IMHO) to that of the space program.

Maggie said...

Lady Susan, why not kill two birds with one stone so to speak? We could develop these technologies AND keep the projects going.

Kari said...

I was a pro Space program person before --but I could never articulate why it was important...thanks for the great will help me in my discussion with others!

Most people assume I would be against it (as I am a socialist from North of the border and some would even call me a tree hugging hippie or a peace loving fool :)) but I am not against it...I see the immense possibilities it creates(guess the scientist in me is the voice of reason)!
Also I don't think the US would be the same with out it...

PS One of my friend's claim to fame (and we tease him about it all the time) is that he designed a screw (and an important one) for the C-arm -- which I think is soo cool...

Dan's mom said...

The space program was the driving force behind these projects. They were developed for the space program and then found civilian, everyday applications. Without the necessity of the technologies in the manned space program, no one would have pushed the research in many of these areas. Who knew we needed cellurlar communications? The single phone company was doing just fine (and the main changes to phones were generally cosmetic). Everybody was happy with their 1 or 2 phones attached to the wall or sitting in the desk.
The food comtamination problems last year present a case against outsourcing too many things - you sacrifice quality control & product development when that happens. Space has been very good to us. It's great to get a two-for.

dad said...

Better golf balls is reason enough to support the space program.

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Anonymous said...

So are you a democrat? I'm thinking there are plenty of other "programs" that the government needs to cut BEFORE the space program. You are right to point out the awesomeness that engineers have created for us. If they cut the programs that really bring innovation and technology, then we (as a country) are royally screwed. Instead, our least popular congress (ever) wants to increase welfare and social programs that by design, make people lazier and dependent upon the government. Go figure!

Melinda said...

We are pro-astro-physics at our house with one who wants to be a "thspaceth thscientisth" and one who wants to be a "thspace thscientist, but not the kind that goes to thspace". ;)

Thanks for letting us know about the awesome stuff we are getting from this research!!!

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