Human space exploration is exciting. Robotic explorers can venture great distances from Earth without concerns for safety. Robotic space exploration is much less expensive. Should space explorers be human, robotic, or both? As a start, discuss your views including whether one is more appropriate now and another at a later time when technological improvements and innovations have been realized.
Read NASA articles concerning robotic vs. human space exploration and some of the benefits of the space program by browsing through the NASA websites http://www.nasa.gov/ and https://www.nasa.gov/topics/benefits/index.html.
Keep in mind, however, on January 14, 2004, President Bush gave a speech in which he announced the cancellation of the Space Shuttle program. One issue that John McCain (R-Ariz.) joined by Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and David Vitter (R-La.), raised was that “Once the space shuttle is retired, Russia stands to possess the only means of transporting astronauts to and from the space station.” Currently that is the case – the United States is no longer able to launch its own astronauts to space. So now what?
According to space agency representatives, some astronauts will simply stay on the ground to help with the planning and design of future missions and vehicles. Others will accept rides aboard Russia’s Soyuz space capsules to and from the International Space Station (ISS ), where they’ll work.
According to Chris Buckley, ISS Flight Controller since 2006, “On March 14, 2011 NASA made a deal with the Russian Space Agency (RSA) for 12 trips to ISS at $753 million ($63 million/seat). Russian Soyuz spacecraft now ferry astronauts to and from orbit and apparently will do so until private U.S. spaceships become available or NASA has the funds to develop future missions and space vehicles. These efforts cost money, though.
“NASA’s budget has generally been approximately 1% of the federal budget from the early 1970s on, but briefly peaked to approximately 3.3% in 1966 during the Apollo Moon program. Recent public perception of the NASA budget has been shown to be significantly different from reality; a 1997 poll indicated that Americans who responded thought on average that 20% of the federal budget went to NASA.
The actual percentage of federal budget that NASA has been allocated has been steadily dropping since the Apollo program and as of 2012 the NASA budget was estimated to be 0.48% of the federal budget. In a March 2012meeting of the United States Senate Science Committee, Neil deGrasse Tyson testified that “NASA’s annual budget is half a penny on your tax dollar.” NASA’s 2015 budget was less than half a percent of the federal budget (0.45% to be more accurate) per professional astronomer and writer Phil Plait.
Since NASA is paid for by tax dollars, its budget is made public as are all of the space photographs and information/data gained through its missions and exploration of space. This may not necessarily be the case for a privately held space agency! For example, all Hubble photographs are free for public use, including you. However, this would not be the case if the Hubble Space Telescope was privately owned and controlled.
Testimony indicates NASA lacks the financial resources and technology to do the mission, (by Eric Berger.) “NASA is perennially underfunded. People say it has 20 pounds of missions in a 10-pound bag. The nation asks it to do all its stuff and then gives it half the money that it needs.” Because of budget cuts, no new planetary-science missions will fly from the end of 2016 to the beginning of 2020. This will be “the longest gap in planetary science in at least 20 years.” At the end of that period, as well, the one-year Juno mission at Jupiter and the 11-year-old Cassini-Huygens mission at Saturn will draw to a close. “For the first time since the early 1970s, the U.S. will not have a robotic presence in the giant planets of the outer solar system.” For the agency’s exploration programs, the total funding available comes to about $180 billion over the next 20 years. Spending only that amount would require abandoning the International Space Station, which NASA has no intention of doing.
For a current budget update, readhttps://www.theverge.com/2017/3/17/14947444/trump-budget-plan-cuts-nasa-asteroid-mission-europa. However, “Truthfully, we know little about how Trump might approach space policy. His public statements have mostly been space-positive (except for that time he told a 10-year-old that fixing potholes was a more pressing problem than anything NASA-related).”
Discussion – What should be the future of the US Space Program? Should the US Space Program become privatized or be supported by tax dollars? Should it be discontinued completely and the money spent for programs here on Earth? (Check out the technological advances that are a direct result of human space flight such as cordless tools, invisible braces, water filters, … from the article by Townsend and sites such as http://www.problem-solving-techniques.com/US-Space-Program.html or http://dsc.discovery.com/tv-shows/curiosity/topics/ten-nasa-inventions.htm) and include these in your discussion of the future of the US Space Program.
If you think the US Space Program should be continued, consider the suggested articles explaining the technological advances we utilize in everyday life that came about as a direct result of human space flight (you might be surprised). Discuss whether the US Space Program should be continued as is. Would an international Space Program (much like the European Space Agency) with the USA simply one of the member be a solution to this issue?
If you think the US Space Program should continue, how can it be funded? As one former class member suggested, perhaps mining (think metallic asteroids) could be a source of funding.
Be creative in your thinking. Discuss the technological advances that have come through the Space Program, especially medical advances – are they worth the investment? Should the US Space Program be discontinued? If not, should there be human exploration or just robotic exploration of the Solar System?
Second post should be made by June 20. Remember, you should cite only reliably published, high-quality mainstream sources.