Space Plan’s Deep Impact

On Thursday, April 15, President Obama expressed his firm belief that he would see men on Mars within his lifetime. He outlined a plan for a new direction in space exploration: landing on an asteroid and then on Mars.

As NASA’s current manned space shuttle program nears its end, there has been much discussion about which direction the space program will take. Recently, Obama has come under fire for his controversial decision to cancel President George W. Bush’s plans to return to the moon. “We’ve been there before. There’s a lot more of space to explore.”

Concern has also arisen due to Obama’s plans to privatize parts of the aerospace industry. The plan calls for private companies to fly to the space station and a $6 billion contribution toward funding the construction of rockets and ships. The Obama Administration’s plans will also extend the space station’s life by five years and put billions into research to eventually develop new rocket ships for future missions. Those stops would be stepping-stones on an eventual mission to Mars itself by “the mid-2030s.”

Essentially, the Obama Administration is seeking to create a new space transportation industry by opening doors to private industry through financial incentives. By offering these incentives, the risk for investors decreases, so companies are more inclined to pursue aerospace endeavors in line with the U.S. government’s vision for a more advanced space program.

Addressing concerns of job losses to space program workers, Obama said that “despite some reports to the contrary,” his plan would add over 2,500 more jobs to the Cape Canaveral region than his predecessor’s plan.

Even if the size of projected job creation for Florida is exaggerated, and complaints that spending on space exploration are frivolous, the benefits of a national space program with explicit support from the government are many. There are a multitude of examples of “technology transfer” from NASA research that has made life easier for many Americans.

One case of technology transfer is in the industry of cosmetics. NASA used unmanned satellites orbiting the moon to take photographs of potential landing sites on the moon during the Apollo program. It was difficult to determine the details of the photos, so NASA scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory developed technology to translate shadow patterns to provide more accurate depictions of the moon’s geographical terrain. Just like the moon, even those with the smoothest of skin have furrows, folds, hills and valleys that form the surface skin of their face, albeit more microscopic and undetectable to the human eye. Since the settings are similar, the benefits of the two may be applied to both situations.

Today, cosmetics firms like Estée Lauder are using image-processing software originally developed by NASA to determine how well their skin products work. Numerous other innovations developed by NASA such as Teflon, monitoring of ozone depletion and energy management have been made possible through America’s space program.

In the end, Obama’s decision is a good one, because it forces us to do something we have never done before. Rather than try to do what we have done, albeit better, why not reach for the stars? Obama’s announcement for a new direction of NASA, as well as reaffirmation of government support for a program some denounce as superfluous, eerily echoes the words of another great American president: John F. Kennedy.

“There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as of yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation may never come again. But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask, why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

Let’s challenge ourselves to be great, America.

Andrew Charles Wong is a fourth-year business economics major. He can be reached at andrewcw@uci.edu.