By Matt Zhang
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has been at the forefront of spaceflight innovation since its foundation in 1958. From the recent landing of Perseverance to countless other projects, NASA has advanced our understanding of science by leaps and bounds.
Throughout its decades of innovation, NASA has committed itself to rapid growth of space exploration and development as the Soviet Union attempted to match its pace. And so, the Space Race began. With a great number of milestones shared by both countries, the U.S. edged ahead by sending the first man to the moon, and returning them safely back to Earth in 1969. During this time, NASA’s budget peaked to around 4% of the federal government’s available funds. With the Soviet Union’s eventual collapse and the end of the Space Race, NASA became of lower priority, and their budget has slowly decreased over time to around 0.5% in 2020.
However, the average citizen remains grossly misinformed. According to a poll in 2018, the average estimate for NASA’s budget was around 6.4%, and the average preferred budget was around 7.5%, 13 times more than its current status. In reference to the current budget, 85% of respondents felt that NASA should get more funding than it currently has. When compared to the benefits, this argument may seem more compelling. Although NASA’s presence has decreased over time following the decades since the Space Race (albeit rekindled in recent years by companies such as SpaceX), its development has not stagnated. Space exploration has always been one of the few topics of immense interest for various governments around the world and will allow us to learn more about ourselves and our own planet.
From soil surveys to asteroid diversions, research and development into space programs and exploration remain as valuable commitments. Not to mention the many other benefits that come with space exploration such as foreign diplomacy. And yet, under today’s circumstances, NASA has reached a point where they are struggling to even supply their astronauts with enough spacesuits to conduct their fabled missions. With only 11 out of the original 18 suits of the Apollo mission still functional, and with 7 of those remaining reserved for testing purposes, only 4 remain for astronauts on board the International Space Station. Even worse, these suits are enormously out of date as they are already 40 years old. Yet, with a hefty price tag of around 150 million each, they will be difficult to replace. Even as new prototypes are underway, NASA has stated that these are still years away from being functional.
Although other companies such as SpaceX are also great contributors to the field, the main distinction still lies in the incentives. Corporations need profits to sustain themselves, giving them no incentive to create more research-based or humanitarian projects. On the other hand, NASA is free to explore many more avenues, allowing them to commit to socially beneficial projects such as SMAP (Soil Moisture Active Passive), a satellite mapping soil qualities from space, aiding developing countries in crop growth and sustainability.
Overall, the resurgence of interest in space exploration will be sure to generate a new wave of innovation and development in the aeronautic industry. However, with an already restrained budget and many emerging problems, the industry may fail to reach its full potential.