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Image taken from the Washington Post: photographer Adam Wells

Image taken from the Washington Post: photographer Adam Wells

A couple of weeks ago I was yoinked from my post-workout reverie by over-excited gym bunnies chattering “Did you see it? Did you see it?”
“See what?”
“The shuttle?”
“No! I can’t believe I missed it!”
I always miss the cool stuff. They were referring to the last journey of the Discovery shuttle, making its way to its final resting place at The Smithsonian’s Museum of National Air and Space via Dulles Airport. Its fly over D.C. represented the end of an era: the shut-down of the NASA shuttle program. At the time I thought “Oh yeah, that’s too bad. Space is cool. But I get it… the economy sucks, so why should we spend money on flying people to space?”

Here’s why. Early this week I had the pleasure of meeting an astrophysicist. She was previously working on a project with NASA that would place three satellites around the sun to study the patterns of gravitational pull and other mysteries of our native star. Her program was shut down, and she is now out of work. The shut-down of these space programs has left America with a flood of out-of-work scientists all vying for jobs in academia, their only real option. Sadly there are only a few such jobs to go around. After spending much of the evening lamenting my plight as a poor actor, I realized that right now it’s easier for an artist to get work than an astrophysicist. It seems backwards, and it is.
The space program has been called a frivolous expenditure in a time when our economy is bad, but what hope have we in maintaining long-term growth when we no longer fund innovation and our scientists are out of work? Over the years, the space program has been key in furthering some of our most important technologies, including CT scans, MRIs, artificial hearts, breast cancer scans, hazardous gas sensors, robots used for surgery, studies of ozone and climate change, solar and fusion technology, mapping and navigation systems, and advanced communications techniques, just to name a few. These are the types of innovation and technology that keep American competitive as a world power.

Instead of putting the needed $200 billion towards furthering new technology and innovation, Congress is choosing to put nearly $700 billion towards defense. Apparently we don’t need engineers and scientists, we just need more guns. I fail to see how that is going to help the economy. Soon I plan on taking the trip to the Air and Space Museum so I can see the Discovery for my own eyes, and lament yet another mark in the downfall of America.