NASA's new mission: Making Other Nations Feel Good
Today's news cycle includes NASA's new mission, direct from President Obama. It's a three-point plan:
I admit to having a certain amount of ambivalence about NASA funding. I believe very strongly that exploration of space is necessary and vital. Yet, I also believe strongly that for that to happen, it must be both possible and profitable for private industry to go into space. Governments may be the only institutions capable of mustering the initial investment in technology and capital to get us into space, but only private industry can make it self-sustaining. So, when Obama announced that he was changing NASA's mission to deemphasize things like keeping the shuttle flying and sending expeditions to Mars, I was hopeful that private industry would be able to figure out how to turn a profit keeping the International Space Station in food, water, air, and tourists.
But now that NASA's administrator has revealed the goals that Obama set for him, I can say emphatically that it is wrong. NASA is supposed to be about space exploration, not making other countries feel good or improving international relations. The best way to inspire children is to give them something inspiring to be a part of. Rocket scientists and astronauts join NASA to boldly go where no man has gone before, not to "inspire children." Inspiring children is a side effect.
We have lots of other agencies that are dedicated to inspiring children and improving international relations. If Obama thinks those other agencies are more important than NASA, he should be honest about his belief and submit a budget to Congress that reflects those priorities. Instead, he's playing a dishonest shell game with our money.
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