Esdras Lopez/ Contributing Writer
When President Kennedy issued a challenge to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade in the 1960’s, many thought this was an impossible dream.
But the deadline was issued and a well funded NASA went to work, enthralling millions of Americans and the entire world when in 1969, Neil Armstrong first stepped on the moon and uttered the now famous words, “That’s one small step for man, and one giant leap for mankind.”
Now it is 2017, and we have yet to fulfill the next great interstellar challenge: put a man on Mars. On one hand, we still need to develop ideas for how our astronauts will survive such a long journey — a round trip of 400-450 days — and we have yet to truly understand how an astronaut’s physiology could be affected by space on such an arduous journey.
But while NASA has been hard at work breaking barriers and making discoveries, I wonder if our space programs’ reduced resources and budget were partly to blame. Our last shuttle expedition was launched in 2011, and since then, NASA has played the sidekick to Russia’s space program.
But with the new NASA authorization bill of 2017 signed by President Trump, that may change. This bill is an understandably bipartisan success that aims at a new welcomed change with an increased space budget and a reaffirmed and accelerated mission of sending humans to Mars in the late 2020’s-2030’s.
Another key player is SpaceX, an aerospace manufacturer and space transport services company that specializes in new tech for space exploration. SpaceX has already revolutionized the playing field with innovations such as reusable rockets that can re-land after takeoff. The company also has ambitions such as space tourism in the future. By working with SpaceX, NASA can find ways to journey quickly to Mars and beyond.
Now, with a seemingly supportive government, this may hopefully occur sooner than we think.
It’s incredibly exciting to think about all the discovery and innovation that will result from a Mars mission. Olivia Loguercio, a sophomore majoring in mechanical engineering, agrees.
“I find anything regarding space exploration to be a positive thing because of the technological advances that can eventually branch out into other fields,” she said.
Despite excitement of a possible future Mars mission, Dr. James Webb, a professor of astronomy and physics, gave a somber warning.
“Right now, we are living in the most anti-science generation I have ever witnessed,” Webb said.
It’s a pretty grave statement and easily corroborated. Scientific literacy is at an all time low. The University of Michigan Institute for Social Research has found that 51 percent of Americans are interested in science, but only 28 percent have good levels of current scientific knowledge and understanding. These numbers could improve with a reinvigorated space program.
“With the Apollo missions, everyone was interested in science and the universe,” said Dr. Webb.
But as we look to the stars, we must also look to the ground —and around us — to remember our home planet. Trump’s NASA authorization bill of 2017 not only gives more funding for space exploration, but also cuts NASA’s earth science division funding by 5 percent. The care and continuing discovery of our planet are just as important as going to space, yet we know more about space than we do about our own oceans.
NASA oceanographer, Gene Feldman, stated in 2009 that “We have better maps of the surface of Mars or the moon than we do the bottom of the ocean.”
Thankfully, satellite imaging has made the difficult task of learning about our deep seas easier, according to Feldman, which is an example of how inextricably linked earth and space sciences really are.
Lauren Padron, a junior majoring in environmental sciences and philosophy said: “[Our space programs] are essential for our progress as a nation and as humans. Still, we seem to have neglected the oceans and our soils. We don’t know a good chunk of what’s on our earth. I say we do [fund] both, without neglecting either one.”
Indeed, we must make an effort to prioritize both.
The opinions presented within this page do not represent the views of Panther Press Editorial Board. These views are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community.
Photo taken from Flickr.