Smith’s column ignored benefits of space program
To the Daily:
In his article NASA, we have a problem (02/06/03), Luke Smith’s judgment of NASA’s manned spaceflight program was incorrect. He asserted that there have been no returns or development from the manned spaceflight program. He continued to say that manned spaceflight serves only to fulfill fantasies and that money spent on the program is wasted.
On the contrary, manned spaceflight has produced many tangible benefits, particularly in the medical field. For example, special lighting technology used in shuttle experiments has been adapted with amazing success to treat cancerous brain tumors in children. Shuttle technology has also been used to develop a new rescue extrication tool used in car crashes that is easier to use and 70 percent cheaper than previous tools. Other developments include miniaturized heart pumps, improved cell culture devices, stronger and lighter prosthesis material and faster breast cancer detection devices. These are just a few of the many developments produced using technology from the space shuttle program.
Smith also presents the fact that we have not yet sent humans to Mars as if it is a reason to abandon the program entirely. There are two main reasons why we have not yet sent people to Mars: a lack of understanding about the effects of long-duration spaceflight on humans and insufficient propulsion technology. NASA and others are working on both of these issues, but we must realize that they will take time. Research in any area does not produce instant gratification and we would be mistaken to abandon projects that did not produce immediate results. Furthermore, the only way to understand the effects of long-duration spaceflight on humans is through experience, which we are gaining with the space station program. Smith is also mistaken in saying that robots could perform all the duties of humans in space. Robots, though valuable and often appropriate tools, do not have the same ability to react and adapt to situations in real time, nor can they serve as medical research subjects as the astronauts do.
Finally, Smith points out that manned spaceflight is expensive and suggests NASA’s budget be redirected to schools. To clarify, NASA’s overall budget accounts for less than 1 percent of the projected 2004 federal budget. Of the overall NASA budget, 40 percent goes toward spaceflight and $170 million is designated solely for education. All of NASA’s budget goes right back into the economy, funding science, research, technology development and education.
In the future, we suggest that Smith act more responsibly as a journalist and research his subject prior to passing judgment. Readers of the Daily deserve at least that much. We would be more than happy to assist in finding the answers to questions about NASA or spaceflight. For readers who are interested in learning more about NASA and how their tax dollars are used, check out www.nasa.gov for all of the above information and more.
Adam van Staveren
Skepticism like Smith’s ‘contributes to society with no vision’
To the Daily:
Luke Smith’s column, NASA, we have a problem, (02/06/03) displays just the attitude and skepticism that contributes to a society with no vision. Smith perpetuates the ignorance that keeps humans from taking one of the most exciting adventures of our time. To discuss the selfishness of certain “astrophysicists wanting desperately to capitalize on childhood dreams” only four days after seven astronauts died in the pursuit of scientific knowledge is more than ironic.
Manned spaceflight has brought incredible development to the NASA program. The benefits to our society are countless. Cancer research, improved computer technology, optics for deep space research, safer and quicker manufacturing techniques, faster and expansive commercial air travel, aerodynamic automobiles, DNA protein crystal growth, improved material strength, increased food production, Velcro, plastics, cell phones, sunglasses, ergonomics and (of course) Tang; these are only a few of the many improvements effected by technology directly resulting from humans in space.
American tax dollars do not serve NASA fantasies. In fact, President Bush recently cut funding to all next-generation reusable launch vehicle programs, the International Space Station and all future Mars missions. NASA hasn’t put people on Mars largely because of politics and a lack of funding, not a lack of technology or capability. NASA’s total human spaceflight budget is less than 0.3 percent of the $1.7 trillion dollar federal budget. That’s approximately five cents out of your pocket every year to send humans to space.
Smith sarcastically remarks that NASA perpetuates a myth that it is looking for “countless sentient beings,” “Wookies,” and “Hutts” – that this search for something larger than us is simply a self-diluted trip to the other side of the galaxy at warp speed. This is ridiculous. Human spaceflight is not motivated by a small group of engineers and scientists trying to get themselves into space. To look at the Columbia tragedy as a reason to cut funding to NASA or discontinue human space travel is to truly make a mistake in ideology. Every astronaut on STS-107 must have believed the adventure they were on was worthwhile, worthy of the loss of human life, as they paid for it with their own. I certainly don’t believe that these astronauts risked their lives simply for the chance to see the Earth from space. They believed it’s much more important than that, not something to be reduced to “tax dollars serving fantasies.”
Rahim’s column shows events reached target audience
To the Daily:
As a member of Campus Crusade for Christ, one of the organizations that helped to organize the God on Trial events earlier in the week, I was glad to see Hussain Rahim’s column (My deity can defeat your deity, 02/07/03) because it tells me that we reached our target audience – people who want to believe but, as Anthony Burgess said, “find their intellect getting in the way.” And many of Rahim’s questions are common ones that people (including the most devout Christians) have been struggling with for centuries.
Without getting into a deep theological debate, I wanted to answer some of the objections that Rahim had so that people who may have been unable to attend the lectures will know that Christians do have a response to these arguments. First, as C.S Lewis argued, it is important to not think of God as being able to predict the future, because for God there is no future. For him, it is always 1920, 2003 and 2060, or any other time you could want. Therefore, although God may know the things we will do in our future, he cannot stop us from doing anything without removing our free will (which raises all sorts of theological uh-oh’s). It is impossible to see the world as God sees it, and so as much as we would like concrete answers to some of our questions (myself at least as much as anyone else, believe me) we have to accept that our finite minds cannot grasp these answers.
If Rahim or anyone else has questions that may have gone unanswered, or even appeared as a result of something William Lane Craig or Ravi Zacharias said this week, I would encourage them to come to one of the discussions advertised on the white flyers that were handed out at each session.