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.
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?"
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.