On @ The 90: The Problem With NASA – Actually the Problem With Us

The United States is not the same country it was when it launched men to the Moon - or even when the space shuttle program was first approved. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian

NASA has been on a slow descent downward since the end of the Apollo Program. What has caused this to happen? A number of issues, politically, economically, culturally as well as issues within the space agency itself have worked to chip away at NASA’s relevancy. 

Political 

No one political party can take full credit for NASA’s early successes – or full blame for its current state. The space agency is one of the most marketable, yet most neglected federal agencies. The agency receives about one-half of one cent of every tax dollar – yet it has been shown that the agency provides a return on investment of around 1 to 15. In short, for every dollar invested into NASA there is a return of 15 dollars. 

After the Columbia tragedy then-President George W. Bush promoted what was called ‘The Vision for Space Exploration.’ Its mantra was ‘Moon, Mars and Beyond.’ The program that was supposed to propel the United States out of low-Earth-orbit was dubbed Constellation. Sadly, while the president initiated the program, neither he, nor Congress adequately funded this effort. Nor were smaller space firms incorporated into the plan’s infrastructure. Subsequently deadlines slipped and costs soared. 

Enter the election of 2008 and after his initial comments about halting the U.S. manned space program left Florida out of his grasp Obama paid a visit to the Space Coast where he vowed that we would in deed go on to explore “…moon, Mars and beyond.” This left potential voters with the impression he would back Constellation. After his election however, Obama attempted repeatedly to scrap all elements of the Constellation Program. 

Media 

The media of today is a far cry from the media during the age of Apollo. Whereas the media of that era had the word “unbiased” ingrained into who they were and what they did. The 24 hour news cycle and highly polarized U.S. society of the 21st Century has erased most – if not all – of that. Each side highlights faults with the other while working to minimize the failings of their own. 

News is no longer comprised of what is important or historic – but rather what is most sensational. Rather than covering the impact of the end of U.S. manned space flight efforts (perhaps for many years) the news networks focused on Casey Anthony and the death of Amy Winehouse. Moreover, where space-related news will get a blurb, the death of a drug addicted singer will get hours of nearly uninterrupted media attention. Walter Cronkite – these journalists are not. 

Culture 

When the U.S. launched men to the Moon the U.S. was in the midst of a “cultural revolution.” The men that launched Apollo to the moon were firmly planted in the “Greatest Generation” and their minds revolved around the technical requirements that made the impossible – possible. The generations that followed have become enveloped in whatever fad has been foisted on them as relevant. They’ve shunned the philosophy of the past. Accomplishing feats as labor-intensive as sending astronauts to other worlds have been supplanted by being an underachiever, a hustler and a gangsta. Their role models are not John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, Sally Ride of Guy Bluford. They are Lady GaGa, Dr. Dre, Eminem, Snooki and 50 Cent. 

Given the current state of the American culture, one where the sentiment that each individual is entitled to something – rather than entitled to the right to work for something – it is doubtful that NASA will ever become the agency that once accomplished the impossible as a part of its normal daily business.

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3 comments to On @ The 90: The Problem With NASA – Actually the Problem With Us

  • Grand Lunar

    This is the best article I’ve seen on the current situation with the American public and NASA.

    The last paragraph especially captures the state of things perfectly.

    If only there was a way to fix this mess…..

  • Borecrawler

    Very well stated! I am generally optomistic. Every day, I see people who are passionate about what they do. I see dedicated individuals putting in the extra hours, day after day, to ensure that we maintain our leadership in space and that our company continues to be competetive (in spite of being maligned in the media). On the other hand, it is painful to watch the “brain drain” as many of our best engineers (some with years of vested interest in our company) walk away to find new opportunities. Essentially, what NASA has done is chop our wings off and they have robbed us of our ability to fly (both literally and figuratively). Also sad is watching the “Lady Gaga” generation shrug their shoulders with indifference as our space program dwindles away to nothing. NASA has utterly failed to give anyone a compelling vision for the future of space, and now we are suffering the consequences as a nation. NASA needs leadership that has the ability to capture the imaginations of our people and above all, they need a space exploration program that they (and us) can believe in and share.

    Proverbs 29:18
    Where there is no vision, the people perish

  • nasaman

    This PERSON we have as a president wants nothing to do with the space program. He put a YES MAN as administrator (Bolden) to go to the Middle East and China to do state department work! I use to work for a NASA contractor 28yrs. When Bolden became administrator he told us to go find other jobs because NASA wanted nothing to do with Low Earth Orbit, the space station.The price for the Russians to fly one astronaut started out at 52 million and now it’s somewhere around 63 or 64 million for one if they get their soyuz running right.