Ad Astra
Volume 15, Number 1 January/February 2003

The Scientific Value of Space Exploration
By Kirby Ikin

Whether it be studies of lunar samples returned by the Apollo crews, or long-term studies of the effects of weightlessness aboard the International Space Station, no one should doubt the value derived from space exploration. As we see in this edition of Ad Astra, space activities play many different roles in expanding our technology base. Now, more than ever, the members of the National Space Society should spread this message across the world.

For increasingly, our political leaders seem to be losing sight of this important fact. As various programs compete for what appears to be shrinking US federal dollars, it may prove too tempting for politicians to start slicing into the NASA, DARPA, or Defense space programs. We must resist any such trend.
The amount of the US federal budget devoted to pure Research and Development is at a 40-year low. And the government’s spending on research is significantly higher than that which is spent by private industry. If we are ever to develop a new, reusable spacecraft to eventually replace the space shuttle, research into reusable technologies must rise, not fall.

The same applies to scientific probes. Missions to both Pluto and Mercury have been imperiled by budget cuts, or delayed for other reasons when priorities have shifted. Scientific satellites have actually been built and then placed into storage because NASA lacked the budget dollars to send them on their science-filled journeys!

The old saying remains true today: ‘No Bucks-No Buck Rogers!”. So NSS should be highlighting the value of space activities, and why the world’s populations simply can’t do without a strong and vibrant space effort, followed by the widest dissemination of space technology as practical. There are likely to be new vaccines, medicines, materials and treatments for Earthly disease from the toil of the crews aboard the ISS. Which means we must support efforts at developing the station to a full-size crew.

By spring, we will know what’s in store for NASA during the fiscal year that begins October 1st. Let’s hope it is enough to expand space research in all of its vital fields.

Ad Astra!

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