Hopefully, the explosion of the Columbia space shuttle on Feb. 2 will force America’s hand into a re-examination of NASA’s importance. More importantly, under the guise of tragedy, the government must take this opportunity to scrutinize the distribution of its civilians’ tax dollars, billions of which have financed NASA’s endeavors.

Zac Peskowitz

We should question the allocation of our tax dollars to an organization whose manned space flights have brought little development to the program.

NASA was the bastardized byproduct of the Cold War, an escalation of the arms race of the 1960s. In competition to reach the moon and therefore assert national dominance over the new frontier (the final frontier), a space race spawned between us and them (USSR). The program was a financial powerplay for the States, we had the USSR spending billions on the development of nuclear weapons; now we had them throwing their money away on a space program.

Placing aside the quizzical origins that brought us NASA, it has been a vital part of expanding technology simultaneously shrinking the globe. We reap the rewards of satellite television, wireless Internet and major developments in the understanding of physics – all due to NASA.

Where we have been left out in the cold is on the importance of manned space missions. Sure, we claimed the moon, but after that? This is a program that hasn’t gotten human beings to Mars yet. Instead, NASA’s manned space flights serve more as a Make-A-Wish foundation for astrophysicists wanting desperately to capitalize on childhood dreams of space travel.

Scientists and space-case romantics alike would have us believe there are countless sentient beings in outer space, receiving our radio transmissions. These beings beam back responses and we’re just waiting for their message. Separated by galaxies and light years, the dialog between us and them is forthcoming. Their ships have sub-light engines and are hyperspace ready. They are all Wookies and Hutts and a boy on Tatooine who will save the galaxy, it’s all out there, far, far away.

Or so we are told.

Scientists at NASA would have us believe that eventually we will be able to cull the galaxy of its life, travel the stars in vehicles George Lucas could only dream of, but realistically, NASA’s manned space flights are expensive and frivolous.

The tax dollars of the American people should not serve these fantasies.

As long as NASA invents reasons for manned space flights shuttles will continue to fly into space under inconsequential circumstance. Manned space flights are irrelevant; there’s nothing we can do up there that machines can’t handle. The only thing for man to do, besides moderate repair work, better suited for mechanics is look down at the Earth and be taken away by the space’s spectacle.

NASA can’t be entirely faulted for its desire to tote the flag to the galactic reaches, let alone Mars. After all the pioneer aesthetic of American culture has existed as long as America has. The frontier was the West, but now, the cowboys of Congress utilize NASA for space exploration. NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe, speaking at Syracuse University last April said, “… our mandate is to pioneer the future.” NASA is inherently interested in furthering the future, it believes that future is in space. A vast ocean of sky where people have found little to no use thusly.

Isn’t the future of America in its schools right now? The excessive spending of NASA isn’t producing a return. How long can we overlook a program bent on fulfilling individuals’ dreams, when we should be focused on improving the nation as a whole.

This isn’t about the space station that has taken billions of dollars to erect or about the billions of dollars spent on NASA as much as it concerns the billions of dollars wasted when it could’ve been spent elsewhere.

Imagine for a moment the billions of dollars devoted to the space program were redirected through the public schools. Space-age education? How novel. Primary and secondary schools in impoverished areas finally receiving the funding their taxpayers can’t support. I think far more dreams would be fulfilled were this the case, rather than a few engineers, astrophysicists and pop stars desire to enter a galaxy not too far from here.

Smith can be reached at lukems@umich.edu.

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