Thursday, March 02, 2006

A Thought About Science and Inspiration

I read today about NASA putting on hold or cutting some of its smaller science missions to divert money to the ISS, Shuttle replacement, and the quest for Mars. I see this funding debate quite often among my peers, and think it is necessary. However, I am not sure of a answer. If we look back into history, the projects that inspired the next generation of scientists were visionary and pushed the boundaries of what man is capable of. One could not say the same for the ISS. And replacing the Shuttle is not very romantic either. Yes we need a cheaper, more reliable vehicle for transporting ourselves to space and back, but it will just be another rocket. In essence, nothing new. Its the same for the ISS. Yes, its bigger than MIR or Spacelab, yet its the same thing in my mind. And I am pretty confident that if my inner child is not enthralled, there are not many young men and women who are.

Humans, and especially Americans are searching for bold aggressive new explorations of our world, not more features on a old paradigm. Now, one of NASA's least expensive projects is benefiting mankind in amazing ways, but not very exciting. I refer to the joint project with the Europeans to measure globally the sea level. Very few people are jumping up and down about how exciting that is, yet it has pushed our knowledge of climate change from next to nothing fifteen years ago to hundreds of Global Climate models predicting changes on many scales today. It was, and is, the meat that continually fed a juvenile science through puberty.

Our ruminations on the topic of science as conservatives should be along these lines. Balancing the desire of the people, the passion for National advancement, against the need for primary science which does not relate to the general population on any simple cultural level, yet is fundamentally beneficial and cost effective. I believe that this benefit of science and technology is tremendous for our continued dominance as a Nation. We should be pouring buckets of money into all areas of hard science, but to do that, we need some projects that do capture everyones interest. Who didn't go to the Mars Rover website and view the incredible images there? We need a few more efforts like that. For all the hundreds of billions we spend on entitlement social programs, what do we get? Yet the annual budget of NASA is less than twenty billion. The people get what they ask for, so lets make then interested in getting more science instead of questioning the value of projects that inspire few. Government funding of this type is very consistent with my view of our country, as it encourages the cooperation of many businesses, spins off new markets for advanced products, and strengthens our national pool of talented citizens. As conservatives, we should recognize and encourage the use of our tax dollars in this way, at least that is my biased opinion as a scientist.

No comments: