As a lifelong enthusiast of space travel, I visited a NASA site, the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, during the long weekend. I was saddened to find the facilities in such poor condition — there was not even a restroom in the main building, only one 45 minutes away. Not only is this inconsistent with the mission of the organization, but also makes me wonder where the $24 admission fee goes. While President Obama has made statements this week promoting investments in space travel to Mars, if the disheartening state of affairs at NASA is indicative of the industry as a whole, the planet will remain well out of reach for decades to come.
During the Cold War, NASA captured national pride while competing in the Space Race with the Soviet Union. It has inspired thousands of children to pursue scientific research and STEM careers, along with contributing countless advancements to the fields of medicine and technology. NASA reached its peak in the 1960s, but following the dissolution of Soviet Union, its sky-high budget plummeted back down to ground level.
My tourist experience might not accurately reflect the quality of NASA’s work, but it delivers a message that the once-great organization is definitely underfunded. The agency’s image among the general public has been damaged partly from high-profile failures and Hollywood productions, but ultimately, only ourselves are to blame for the decline in funding. The general public is too indifferent to paying taxes for space exploration, especially when so many other government services are suffering from budget cuts.
Though nowadays NASA does not carry the patriotic symbolism it once did, the condition of the facilities is a disgrace. People who visit its centers, either as children on school trips or space fans like me, will only be disappointed by what they find. They will carry this feeling throughout their lives, making it difficult to encourage students to pursue STEM fields or persuade them that plans like President Obama’s are worth the time and money.
NASA is more than a research institute. The work it does inspires people to promote aerospace research and reminds us of the seemingly impossible feats the nation is capable of. While it is important to promote private investment in space exploration, funding NASA is essential, and the benefits will be felt in all aspects of technology. The organization must do its part to improve facilities and continue to capture the interest of the nation, but it also the responsibility of the general public to prioritize research funding for NASA. There may be setbacks, when money seems like it was wasted, but there will always be incredible discoveries to make.
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Email Phoebe Kuo at [email protected]