"We went to the Moon as technicians; we returned as humanitarians." --Edgar Mitchell

"We came all this way to explore the moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the earth." --William Anders

Monday, July 11, 2011

Letter to Congressmen Regarding NASA Budget Cuts

     Photo Credit: Associated Press

I'm postponing working on my entry about my trip to see the last shuttle launch, because something much more pressing came up.

So Congress is trying to completely cut funding for the James Web Space Telescope, which has run billions over budget, in order to try to balance the budget, as well as effectively slashing funding for CCDev. The following is my letter that I will send to ALL my Congressmen. If you'd like to sign this petition, follow this little dongle or follow this link (which @neoteotihuacan helped me set up):

If you'd like to use it as an email or letter, or any part of it, please feel free to also write your representatives. And a phone call would make a huge difference, as well. I am calling tomorrow (Monday). By the way, that link which you probably just skipped over goes over to spacefrontier.org and their suggestion for calling your congressmen about this. These suggestions are very good.

The last time I wrote Congress, I received a response that left me unsatisfied, and not at all confident that they have the interests of those they represent at heart. I resolved that writing in order to express my views and desires was a waste of time, and my time is valuable. And yet here I am, composing another letter, which I will post to my blog, along with their eventual response. I tell you that to impress upon you how important I think this topic is. I hope that I was mistaken, and that they will listen to their constituents.

Dear Congress: 
The Hubble Space Telescope has been one of the best loved, and most influential scientific tools of our time. It has not only opened up our understanding of the universe and continues to give us glimpses of cosmic phenomena that we would otherwise never have seen, but it serves as a beacon of science and engineering prowess that inspires as much as it educates. In much the same way that the Voyagers, Mars rovers, Space Shuttle, and Apollo have done, it stands as a testament to the United States' mastery over space exploration and research. 
The Hubble Space Telescope will not last forever. As a matter of fact, it is only expected to function until 2014, at which point, we will lose our clearest eye in the sky. This loss will be felt most deeply years after we receive our last images from her: we will have a crisis in STEM fields, as interest wanes in space related technologies. We are already on the precipice of a crisis; math is nearly universally reviled, and science is virtually ignored. With the Space Shuttle program coming to a close, we are dangerously close to losing those high-profile missions that capture the imaginations of our young people, and inspire them to pursue rewarding careers investigating the secrets of the universe. These students will not only answer the questions that we have now, but they will also invent the tools of the future: cleaner energy, safer buildings, disaster warning systems, and many more. They will become doctors, teachers, engineers, artists, and scientists. As you can see, the reach of the space program is not limited to the vacuum of space.  
With this in mind, it is difficult to comprehend why the projects which will replace these achievements for the next generation are on the block to be cut from the budget. Specifically, we are referring to the James Webb Space Telescope, and the state of NASA's budget in general. The James Webb Space Telescope has been called the most significant space mission of this decade. Just as Hubble could see farther than any telescope before, so too will the James Webb Telescope lengthen our view. We will be able to peer into the early moments of the universe, before even the stars were formed. Regardless of the budget overruns of the development and construction of this telescope, the rewards of such a project are incalculable. Additionally, cutting funding for the James Webb Telescope will be terminating the significant investment that we have already made.  
Beyond the scope of a single program, however, NASA's budget has been reduced to less than half the level it was at during the Apollo era - after inflation, of course. How can Congress reasonably expect NASA to develop a powerful, heavy-lift rocket capable of propelling astronauts to Mars in a timely manner if we are not willing to maintain budget levels commensurate with the task at hand? Additionally, with the general unease in this nation about buying rides from the Russians to maintain human access to space, how does a lower budget encourage the timely replacement of the Space Shuttle by private companies? It will be less expensive to buy from SpaceX or one of the other CCDev companies than it will be to buy from the Russians, yet they will still need to be paid.  
With NASA's budget accounting for around half a percent of the total national budget, it is unclear how cutting any of these programs could contribute significantly to balancing the budget. More than that, the benefit from saving a few pennies does not outweigh the benefit to math and science education that would be gained from the very existence of the James Webb Space Telescope and increased human presence in space. To put some concrete numbers to this, and to give some comparison, NASA's budget in 2010 was about $18.7 billion, which was nearly matched by the amount that pet owners in the United States spent on pet food the same year, to the tune of $18.3 billion. How can we expect to maintain leadership in space if we are not willing to spend more on our scientists and engineers? 
Please vote to return funding to NASA and the James Webb Space Telescope. Our future does not look very bright without this. 
Thank you for your attention, 
Blair Schumacher, engineering undergraduate and linguist, Starkville, MS
and whoever else wants to sign with me
I'm not very influential, I don't have money, and I am very devoid of political contacts. All I have are my words. These are the only tools I have available to me to affect change. I know there aren't many of you who visit me here, but please, if this means anything near as much to you as it does to me, help me spread the word: we need to convince Congress to return funding to NASA. Maybe my words can make a difference.

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