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Lars Perkins

Cutting NASA's Education and Public Outreach Efforts Now Is Short-sighted and Counterproductive

Posted by Lars Perkins

26-04-2013 16:45 CDT

Topics: Space Policy

This is an expanded version of remarks that Mr. Perkins gave during a meeting of the Education and Public Outreach committee of the NASA Advisory Council on April 25th, 2013, which he chaired, and is reprinted here with permission. --Casey Dreier

The administration's proposed FY '14 budget contains drastic and unprecedented cuts to NASA's education funding. NASA has been uniquely effective in engaging the public in science and exploration, and to cut these important programs at a time when the nation is facing an unprecedented crisis in in its ability to satisfy the nation's need for engineers and scientists. The entire NASA budget, at approximately $17 billion, constitutes only $0.005 per tax dollar, and the education budget prior to the proposed cuts represents only about 1% of that, or one two-hundredth of a penny per tax dollar. To cut these programs now is short-sighted and counterproductive.

We are part of a culture of explorers who can touch a little bit of immortality by leaving to our children, and their children's children, the very important legacy of our discoveries. Why do this? We are human.

Why has NASA been able to so compellingly engage the public's imagination? We are part of a species that looks the sky and wonders, "where did we come from?", "Where are we going?", "what's out there?" A species that - so far - we know only to exist on our blue marble. And we are part of a country that cares enough to ask questions, the answers to which have unknown value. And still we ask, and because we do, because the country, NASA does, everyone who toils day-to-day, driving a cab, flipping a burger, teaching a child, are all explorers. All part of a community, a society, a country that dares to ask questions in the same spirit that a child asks "why is the sky blue?"

Watching Curiosity Land on Mars

Navid Baraty

Watching Curiosity Land on Mars
A couple in the midst of the crowd in Times Square, listens intently to the news reports as NASA's Curiosity rover attempts to land on Mars.

We are part of a culture of explorers who can touch a little bit of immortality by leaving to our children, and their children's children, the very important legacy of our discoveries. Why do this? We are human. We are curious. Our Mars rover, named Curiosity by a Chinese American girl, built by the finest engineering organization on the planet in concert with our international partners, commanded by a team including an Iranian-American with a mohawk (who became a celebrity - imagine that! a celebrity engineer!) This was a true example of the American melting pot at work. And oh how we celebrated its success! In the streets, in a way we haven't celebrated a national achievement in decades. Not divided by city, love of a sports team, or political affiliation. Not drawn together by shared tragedy but by shared success. What other government entity, what other country, can do that? No one asks these questions better than NASA. No one answers them better. No other arm of government has been more passionately connected to the American people and to the American spirit.

Could we do better? of course. And we are on the way. To interrupt our progress at this point is, in my opinion, a mistake that could be very difficult from which to recover. Let's find a way to continue the extraordinary work that NASA does, even in this challenging fiscal environment. We owe it to our children, our curiosity, our humanity - as well as to the economic future of our country.

 
See other posts from April 2013

 

Or read more blog entries about: Space Policy

Comments:

Bob Ware: 04/27/2013 03:15 CDT

Well said!

Zorbonian: 04/29/2013 11:08 CDT

I agree with pretty much all of this except “not divided by political affiliation.” I’m not a big fan of either of the 2 major U.S. political parties, and if there were an ideal party (never was, never will be) that had a chance of winning, I would vote with them in an instant. Someone said in a post – Casey, I think – that there are a few pro-NASA Republicans, and that’s great. But we have to go with the odds, here, and truly understand what each party stands for – because a well-funded NASA is NOT on the Republican party’s agenda. So, getting to the root of the problem, if we really want to see NASA get the funding it needs for education and much more, the public needs to understand how their vote affects things like this. As long as this political “compromising” continues, NASA will continue to be pared down until there’s nothing left, and it will be left up to private enterprise which is notorious for cutting corners (space science is NOT where you want to cut corners).

Doug Griffin: 04/29/2013 11:09 CDT

So it pretty much boils down to one question: Which party are you going to vote for in the mid-term elections?

RSVarner: 05/01/2013 11:55 CDT

I have long used this quote, "Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine. It may make you feel like you're flying high at first, but it won't take long before you feel the impact." Barack Obama It seems that the ground is quickly getting closer where STEM Education is concerned for the 13 agencies engaged in this endeavor.

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