Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Obama has a 'Sputnik Moment,' yet Fails to Address Space Exploration in State of the Union Address

President Obama addresses a joint session of Congress, and the American people, in the State of the Union Address.

Last night marked the annual State of the Union Address, during which the president, acting as the face of the country, opines on the current state of America and proposes new ideas to take the country into the future. Facing a divided Congress and a highly skeptical nation, President Obama called for unity and self-betterment to maker America a global leader in technology again.

In doing do, he harkened back top the space race.

Speaking on the need to step up efforts to become globally competitive, Obama stated that “half a century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik, we had no idea how we'd beat them to the moon."The science wasn't there yet. NASA didn't even exist. But after investing in better research and education, we didn't just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs.”

Fast forwarding to the present, Obama called the present time “our generation's Sputnik moment."
Unfortunately, rather than calling for advances in space exploration as America's future in space flounders amid the imminent retirement of the space shuttle fleet and a lack of a long-term vision, the President called for investments in biomedical research, information and clean energy technology, a major let-down to the millions of space exploration enthusiasts, myself among them, who were hoping for a renewed effort on expanding into the Final Frontier.

However, NASA does fit into one area of the President's speech: jobs.

Right now, NASA operates nearly two dozen facilities all across the nation, all of which provide a lot of jobs to the local communities in which they reside and the closing of any NASA center as a way to cut budget would be bad news to the economy of any given city.

Of course, the NASA employees, the rocket scientists if you will, get all the limelight. However, there are undoubtedly a large number of non-science jobs at the NASA centers across the nation. First off, if you operate a building, maintenance workers will be needed, the bigger the building, the more people will be needed to keep the facilities in top running order. Next, with any endeavor involving high technology, there is a need for technicians to keep the computers working. With any workplace, there is always a need for record keepers, accountants, and secretaries to ensure that the flow of information goes smoothly and that the person-to-person meetings can be organized. Of course, a NASA center being a government building housing expensive equipment, a security force is an absolute must. As a last note, there are always the outside consultants who, while it need not be their principal job, nonetheless work for NASA on an as-needed basis for think-tank purposes. Now, to cover myself, there are probably even more occupations at any given NASA site that I didn't mention but that are still vital to the center's daily functioning.

Now, as you can see, there is a lot more to a NASA center than rocket scientists. In the past, NASA centers have been targeted for layoffs. If a NASA center were to close, it could take hundreds of American jobs with it, an especially devastating loss given the economy's current, precarious state, not to mention putting another blow to America's teetering, once grand space agency.

However, it will remain up to the new House of Representatives to decide NASA's future as it is the House alone that crafts the budget-related legislation. In the end, only time will tell what will come to pass, but it is the hope of space exploration advocates that Congress can spare some cash and invest in the future of America in space as, in time, the survival of our species will depend on our ability to journey to the stars.
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