NASA’s Role In Space: Private vs. Public Space Exploration

NASA, or the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, costs taxpayers about half a penny annually. Allow reiteration of this statement to resonate: NASA costs you less than a penny every year in taxes. Evidence supports that Americans could easily be persuaded to dig deep and pay that extra half penny a year to aid in keeping such a visionary program operational. Alas, the branch of government that put man on the moon, paved the way for the proliferation of cell phones and wireless internet via satellites — not to mention the current land exploration of Mars — may have its budget cut. No more shuttle launches or Apollo missions or astronauts. Rather, what we are beginning to see is the private sector bid on the future returns that space can yield. This isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but it has the potential to turn catastrophic at the blink of an eye, or speed of light if you prefer puns.

With public sector financing and oversight there is regulation. While there have been some horrific events in the past under NASA’s watch, the checks and balances offered by government has allowed for this program to not just achieve the impossible, but to do it in such a way as to minimize almost all hazards. With private ventures there will be no such oversight. Without cooperating with NASA directly, companies will fail and fail in the worst ways while potentially ruining lives and careers in the process. Yet, the private sector doesn’t see it this way; they view NASA as an outdated boondoggle on the taxpayer which has done its work…and please step aside thank you very much.

Extremes are seldom the answer to anything, and this is another case to that point.  While there are discussions about exactly how NASA fits in with the future of space with regard to private enterprise, those in charge of the program agree that full eradication is irresponsible at best. Those discussions range from sensible alternatives such as allowing low-level orbit around Earth to be outsourced by private corporations to a more equal partnership between NASA and those companies interested in taking the next step towards exploration of space via alternative career paths for engineers or allowing NASA to go farther ahead with its vision; leaving behind the groundwork for venture capitalists to extrapolate upon, yielding financial return to themselves as well as NASA vis-a-vis equipment rental such as launch pads or rights purchasing of schematics, technology, etc.

In either case, the most brilliant minds of the field recognize the peril NASA is in, but more importantly espouse the truth of what this program has done for our country. The inspiration of children the nation over is known to be integral for where the United States education system is lacking; Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math or S.T.E.M.  NASA has the power to continually inspire which would do nothing but good for our students and education in general here in America.