NASA budget cuts hurt us all

Over forty years ago, American astronaut Neil Armstrong etched a permanent mark in the history books when he stepped off Apollo 11’s lunar module and created an indelible footprint on the moon. An estimated 600 million people were watching live on television as Armstrong narrated to the world the journey of humanity’s most extraordinary leap.

Many wide-eyed children sat with their parents, absorbing the events of that night on July 20, 1969. Undoubtedly, a large majority of them were inspired from that moment on to become a scientist, an astronaut or the next great explorer.

Sunset on Mars — Images sent back from Mars inspire the dreams of our youth. NASA Images

In a 2004 National Geographic article on the matter, renowned astronomer Jeffrey Bennett talked about how the event changed the way we look at the moon.

“There are many ways to show people the great possibilities of the future, but I’d argue that the visibility of the moon in the sky is more powerful than any other single source of inspiration,” Bennett said.

And now, we have reached another milestone. NASA’s Curiosity rover landed on Mars Aug. 6 after a 563 million mile journey. Recently, the rover has started transmitting stunning images of the surface of our red neighbor. From Martian rocks to a sunset that is literally out of this world, the images have motivated millions.

Sending a jeep-sized remote control car to another planet is tough to accomplish, but it is not the biggest problem facing NASA. Budget cuts from the current administration threaten to limit the program’s future, and the consequences could cost them—and us—a lot.

According to President Obama’s 2013 budget proposal, NASA’s budget would decrease from the $18.4 billion it was allotted in 2011 to $17.7 billion by 2017.

And though numbers of that size seem to make very little difference to the casual bystander, a cut of that magnitude has drastic effects. For perspective, consider this: according to the same budget proposal, the Air Force alone is allotted nearly $170 billion.

“The budget cuts are having an unfortunate impact on these contracting companies, and many contractors are losing their jobs. If the budget cuts continue, a lot of brilliant people may lose their jobs,” NASA employee Andrew Davis, who works with the launch control systems at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, said in an interview.

Davis pointed out that NASA hires contractors such as Boeing and the United States Alliance to work alongside their employees. These contractors are critical for success at NASA, but they are being hit hard.

In a July article for the Associated Press, journalist Mike Schneider reported that many of the 7,400 employees that have been let go since last July in 2011 have struggled to find jobs to suit their special set of skills.The Kennedy Space Center currently employs 8,500 workers, the smallest amount since 1977.

The economy of Florida is feeling it too. According to a 2008 NASA study, the Kennedy Space Center accounted for $4.1 billion of financial activity in the state, but the number is on a steady decline.

“It’s a one-two punch,” Marcia Gaedcke, president of the area’s Chamber of Commerce, told USA Today in reference to the loss of jobs at NASA. “Everyone’s going to feel it.”

But the biggest hit the budget cuts take on our country cannot be measured in dollars and coins. America, whose spot at the top of the scientific community among youths is falling, needs to invest in the future, not shy away from challenging the next generation to dream.

“I think it’s essential to do exciting things to get the younger generations involved,” Davis said.

Our country needs children to dream big and to carry the torch forward into history. NASA deserves the best opportunity to give children that spark.

Write your governors. Email members of Congress. Thank NASA for what they have done.
Four decades ago, Armstrong served as the representation of American progress and ingenuity. NASA as a whole helped us take that “giant leap” for mankind.

Forty years later, Obama cannot let us take a step back.


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