Author: Peter Johnson
Traditionally, Republicans have opposed ‘big government’ and increasing federal spending. As recently as June 2015, statements from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) denounced GOP-backed efforts to cut the budget. Yet lately many GOP politicians have taken the opposite stance in their push for a larger budget for NASA.
Impassioned calls for a greater budget came from representatives from Texas, home to NASA’s headquarters for human spaceflight. The Republican proposal, $200 million more than the president’s proposal of $1.36 billion, while ostensibly for the goal of continued exploration and research, really aims to stimulate the representatives’ home economies.
But the intention does not matter, so long as it results in a beneficial cause — a larger NASA budget.
Ironically enough, Republicans’ ties to the program have been strained for decades. President Nixon ended the Apollo program earlier than was planned in 1972, primarily for budget concerns, and curtailed the space shuttle program. Funding for NASA has been on the decline ever since.
Funding cuts are part of the reason NASA has been relying on sending astronauts off of Earth with Russian missions. For this to continue is simply untenable. The U.S.’s relationship with Russia is worsening day by day due to entirely unrelated issues, and it may prove to be a serious problem if they refuse to bring along American astronauts to the International Space Station.
But despite the political turmoil over their livelihood, NASA recently announced major breakthroughs including the discoveries of water, ice and blue skies on Pluto and flowing water on Mars. These findings point to the necessity for a larger budget. Without it, major projects would be delayed and the advancement of new frontiers of scientific discovery will grind to a halt. For this reason, the Republicans’ efforts to increase the budget is vital.
Indeed, this increase is more important now than ever, as the recent discoveries raise even more questions as to the possibility of life-sustaining conditions beyond Earth. One such mission is the Europa Mission, which would investigate Jupiter’s moon Europa — perhaps the greatest possible chance to find Earth-like conditions in our Solar system. This mission relies on the level of funding received and could be hamstringed without it.
Perhaps the most widely-known program currently operated by NASA is the Mars Opportunity rover. Magazine covers and news segments highlighted this little wheeled robot for months. In the current proposal from the Obama administration, funding for the Opportunity program is cut entirely, but the House Appropriations Bill restores funding for the program. This funding divide follows a political trend where planetary science programs are cut entirely by the administration only to be restored by Congress.
The US still maintains a predominant position in space exploration and research but is facing competition worldwide with expanding space programs offering alternatives to what has been the clear top dog in space exploration. NASA currently plans to launch another rover mission to Mars in 2020 and continues to push for the necessary funding to do so. Any support is welcomed for the NASA budget, and the fact that concerns are still being raised about underfunding is a sign that NASA is not falling by the wayside.
What looks like a shift in the way House members view NASA is a welcoming indication that amid recent large discoveries, the U.S. may be entering a new renaissance of the space program.
Peter Johnson is an undeclared first year. He can be reached at [email protected]
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