A colleague of mine, David Mantey (editor of Product Design and Development), wrote a column a while ago titled, “We Landed On The Moon, Big Deal.” There’s no mincing words here; it’s easy enough to tell what his stance on NASA is.
One of David’s main contentions is that NASA does not, and cannot, invoke the same soaring heroics and national pride it used to back in the moon-landing era, which is a fair assumption. We “young’uns” haven’t been exposed to any singular achievement that rallied our belief in the agency. And he’s right: only the constant threat of explosions gets people riled up and interested.
Admittedly, the angle I was originally going to take when battling David’s anti-NASA sentiment was an examination of how the agency’s innovations affect our daily lives. There’s too many to count, but I’ll throw in satellite dishes (so we can sit around not thinking about how awesome NASA is), fire-retardant suits for firefighters (so we can bash on NASA even after our house burns down), smoke detectors (see previous quip), and invisible braces (so we aren’t embarrassed when talking about how NASA is a waste of taxpayer money).
But NASA was not founded with the hope of designing new technology for American consumers, and that’s certainly not its purpose now. It’s only our luck that we can benefit from NASA’s brilliance.
The problem is that NASA’s mission isn’t particularly tangible. But it is simple: curiosity. In a material- and results-driven society, it’s hard for people to understand why we would spend money on something that might produce a positive benefit. It’s like we need to land on Mars to order to justify spending the money to get to Mars. I’m not sure what happened to our affinity for curiosity and exploration. Ever wondered what’s on the other side of that hill? Well, you go walk and see. On the other side of that big ocean? You build a boat and sail a straight course. What’s the difference?
In his column, David wrote, “We didn’t have media outlets scrutinizing the bottom line 40 years ago. Landing on the moon didn’t have a price tag.” That’s true. But all the potential that stands to be discovered outside of our atmosphere shouldn’t have a price tag, either. Who knows, maybe Mars is covered with groves of delicious Martian apples—we just haven’t found them yet.
But if we’ve fallen so by the wayside that curiosity and exploration are the first victim to the fiscal chopping block, then we’ve got more pressing issues than a generational gap and a youth that’s disinterested in our country’s space program—issues that even extend to those generations who did witness the big deal of man landing on the moon.
Manufacturing has been at America’s base for a long time now, but now I feel as though this base, in addition to the “youth” David and I both represent, have lost their sense of connection to NASA’s purpose. How is NASA any different that one of the countless manufacturers in this country, other than their source of funding? All manufacturers undergo the same processes that our space program does, from R&D to prototyping to a final product. Every company is searching for that holy grail of their industry—NASA is no different.
So why all the NASA hate? Where does the misunderstanding of NASA’s purpose come from? Is it a problem with the youth, or has our space program really become irrelevant to the modern American? Is this, perhaps, the same reason manufacturing as a whole is struggling to recruit a new generation of workers and stay in the public spotlight?
If you ask me, one cannot espouse the importance of American manufacturing while denying NASA a piece of the pie. Especially when that pie might some day be filled with delicious Martian apples.
Think NASA is a waste of money? Or are you like me, patiently waiting for your slice of that Martian apple pie? Send me your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.