01.31.2010 0

Obama: Defunding NASAs Moon Missions

  • On: 02/11/2010 09:24:13
  • In: Fiscal Responsibility
  • By Victor Morawski

    Surprisingly, it was not the first moon landing, itself, that initially captivated my teenage attention during NASA’s early Apollo flights. It was when American astronauts circled the moon a mission or two before the actual landing.

    I distinctly remember looking up at the moon in a cold Christmas sky shortly after I had heard the news of that mission, utterly astonished as this experience brought home to me the reality of what had just happened: human beings had actually flown that far out into space, around the very moon I was now looking at and returned to earth safely. And this was not science fiction!

    Philosophy at its best is born in wonder—just as the Ancients believed. And as the line between science and philosophy has only been drawn in modern times, the same can be said for the sciences.

    A medieval assumption underlying the modern university is what Robert Nisbet has called “The Academic Dogma”. It is simply the belief that knowledge itself is an unqualified good, to be valued for its own sake and not just because it leads to economic development. Something within us as human beings—and, yes, something especially within the American spirit—wants to see new frontiers opened, wants to see the envelope pushed in new and exciting directions.

    And it is interesting that the very phrase “push the envelope” comes, I believe, from the early days of the space program. From the very beginning, that is what this program has been about. So I was not happy to hear last week that the Obama Administration, in its new budget, has decided to defund NASA’s efforts to return to the moon and has, at the same time, ordered the space agency to focus more resources and effort toward finding supporting evidence for the scientifically questionable thesis of man-caused global warming.

    NASA’s entire budget for the current year is just shy of 19 billion dollars. Not an insignificant amount. But, in the larger picture, what is it compared to the nearly trillion dollar TARP and stimulus bills? Although, to be fair, I guess we can say that some of the monies in these bills was space related— at least in a metaphorical sense— since so much stimulus money seems to have fallen down a black hole.

    At least with NASA, we know where the money is going and there is something to be said for the fact that the government has a legitimate interest in funding basic research for reasons stated above.

    I suspect that a reason for the Administration’s defunding of NASA’s moon efforts can be seen in a line from a song that came out shortly after the first moon missions. The artist, Larry Norman, whose music and Christian message I liked, at times dipped his lyrical pen too deeply into the ink-well of liberal politics. And so he wrote: “You say we beat the Russians to the moon. But I say you starved your children to do it.”

    His meaning was clear, money that could have gone for social programs had instead gone to NASA to fund the moon missions. As the Obama Administration has the same socialist, redistributionist goals, should we wonder now at its contemporary attempts to partially defund similar programs?

    One wonders what our Founding Fathers would have thought of Obama’s NASA decision. And perhaps the writing of one of the greatest of them all holds a clue.

    Even before his ascension to the Presidency, Thomas Jefferson had long dreamed of sending expeditions to explore the western parts of the continent. While in a secret letter to Congress intended to obtain the funds necessary for the Lewis and Clark expedition, he emphasized “the interests of commerce” with native peoples as a principal reason for the funding, and officially downplayed “advancing the geographical knowledge of our continent,” the Monticello website makes it clear that the latter was of prime interest to him. “Jefferson,” the website explains, “ also was fascinated by the prospect of what could be learned about the geography of the West, the lives and languages of the Native Americans, the plants and animals, the soil, the rocks, the weather, and how they differed from those in the East”

    So, would Barack Obama in an earlier era have defunded Lewis and Clark? Perhaps not – especially if this President thought that they could bring back any evidence, real or contrived, supporting man-made climate change. But he has grounded the program that made our spirits soar for nearly five decades. And I have to feel sorry for today’s teenagers who will no longer be able to look with pride to the distant stars as Americans astronauts “slip the surly bonds of earth … and touch the face of God.”

    Victor Morawski, professor at Coppin State University, is a Liberty Features Syndicated writer for Americans for Limited Government.

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