Improving Nasa's Image Essay

1892 words - 8 pages

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy, in what became one of the most famous speeches of the twentieth century, proposed going to the moon by the end of the decade. At the time of his speech, the only American who had traveled into space was Alan Shepard, who flew on a fifteen minute suborbital flight (“Humans to Mars”, Outlook). Less than eight years after this speech, Neil Armstrong landed on the moon. Yet since the end of the moon landings in 1972, and the Viking landings of 1976, few Americans can name any of NASA’s achievements. The events that come to mind are not the Voyager and Galileo probes that have explored Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Instead, most people think of the disasters of the Space Shuttles Challenger and, more recently, Columbia. The scientific breakthroughs that NASA promised would come are still either unseen or unknown to the majority of the public, and thus too many promising programs are eliminated in the name of the budget before they have a chance to get off the ground. NASA currently has serious problems with implementation of its programs, but through reappropriation of funds and energy, it can improve its image in the eyes of both Congress and U.S. taxpayers.

NASA has proposed a 15.469 billion dollar budget for the fiscal year of 2004 (“House Science Committee Views”, Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics). Of this, approximately 6.6 billion dollars was requested for the Space Shuttle program and programs that rely on the Shuttle, specifically the International Space Station (ISS) and its affiliated research program. While this may seem like a lot of money, one must consider that the current cost of launching a Space Shuttle is 500 million dollars. Once the expense of the payload, maintenance crew, and after flight activities are added in, it costs almost one billion dollars to launch a shuttle with a standard payload and crew. As Dr. Robert Zubrin, founder of The Mars Society, observes in his book Entering Space, the high cost of the Space Shuttle is due to the fact that it is designed incorrectly. The part that not reused is positioned on the bottom of the stack, where it could easily be reused. The reusable portion leaves and reenters the atmosphere, which means it must be hardened to deal with a violent reentry. This increases the cost of both construction and maintenance (29-30). Safety is also paramount with the shuttle. Out of 113 flights, two shuttles and fourteen crew members have been lost. When comparing this safety record to that of commercial jet liners, even the most gung-ho space enthusiast can see that a safety problem exists within NASA’s Shuttle program.

I find it surprising that even after two years of continuous occupation, most people I talk to do not know that we have a space station in orbit today. Many Americans probably first learned of the ISS in the aftermath of the Columbia tragedy. What began as Space Station Freedom in the late 1980s, at a cost of less than eight...

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