NASA'S "Rendezvous' More Glitch than Glitz (PRO)

Two weeks ago, NASA conducted a test in automated spacecraft docking technology with the launch of the Demonstration of Automatic Rendezvous Technology rocket over the Pacific Ocean. Although the experiment ended in failure with a flaw in the craft's fuel tank, this minor misfortune from NASA should not draw out proposals for the space program's demise, much-less a reduction in its funds. NASA's presence today in the U.S. economy has benefited Americans (indeed the world over) in many ways ever since its birth on October 1st, 1958.

Among the most significant complaints critics have against NASA comes in the form of its annual budget - the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on programs and projects that, for the most part, do not seem to gain much interest by the general public. However, the truth of the matter is that out of America's $2.4 trillion dollar budget, less than 1 percent is spent on the entire space program. Although the fallen DART mission came at a cost of more than $100 million dollars, the price tag for testing this breakthrough technology in unmanned spacecraft pales in comparison to other government spending sprees, such as President George W. Bush's recent bill of $87 billion dollars to rebuild and restore freedom and democracy in the country of Iraq.

Major benefits of President Bush's multibillion dollar cost to help the Iraqi people have yet to show through in our country today, mind a number of Americans taking well paid jobs overseas to the Middle East. Money aside, benefits from the space program encompass a wide and expansive range of spin-off inventions used by society today, though pioneered by the aerospace industry. Such items include (but are not limited to) advanced keyboards, air quality monitors, database management system, microcomputers and design graphics.

Home-based goods range from enriched baby food (deriving from NASA funded research on food for long term space travel), portable coolers/warmers, athletic shoes (which contain material that came from astronaut's boots on the moon for shock absorption) and the medical field with technologies used in breast cancer detection, programmable pacemakers and ultrasound scanners. The list goes on and on of all the technologies and household goods Americans use today though rarely know of their origins.

The space program benefits mankind by raising more values beyond those of tangible, monetary natures. As astronauts first took to the stars in the late 1950's and early 60's, younger generations of that time were inspired to go out and pursue dreams related in one or another to the aerospace industry (such as former NASA Engineer and Author Homer Hickam Jr.). The children of that era who now hold careers as pilots, scientists, and engineers today have become the idols and role models of children in the 21st century, inspiring and encouraging them in the same manner past professionals in the aerospace industry have done in the decades before.

Without NASA having been created when it was, how it was with President Kennedy's vibrant declaration of lunar exploration, there may not be as many innovations in society today, much-less people motivated to create them as air travel would be among the only highlight's of man's presence in the skies of the 20th century.

The result of billions spent on the Apollo lunar landings have come in the form of a much more extensive knowledge of the moon and Earth's history behind it, as well as a small preview of just how many resources exists in the vastness of space.

Because of Nasa's efforts, scientists now know it is very possible to use the moon as a human outpost due to the frozen water molecules found on it, as well as the natural protection it offers due to its thick soil that shields radiation.

Because of the numerous million dollar satellite projects launched from the 60's on, it is now a very real possibility that humans will be inhabiting Mars and other planets within the next 100 years, as data from these robots have reported trace evidence of liquid water, oxygen and other elements found deep within the solar system.

The space program today, for all its costly practices, is literally man's gateway to the future. No major endeavor can be launched without major risk, this has been constantly proven in the past when the wealthy would bankroll expeditions of explorers to new grounds, putting their money on the line for a ship and crew that may not return.

One other chief issue critics have placed against NASA is that the money it uses could always be spent in other parts of the government (such as helping the poor, for example). Although this can seem like a sound judgment, history has proven otherwise when choices similar to the above were made. In the early 1400's, Chinese naval commander Cheng Ho set sail with a grand fleet of 318 ships and a crew of nearly 30,000 on a voyage of exploration, equivalent to that of Portugese explorer Vasco da Gama.

His adventures brought a wealth of trade to China, as well as priceless information about other countries throughout the world. However, years after the commander's death, China's new Ming emperor cancelled these expeditions, deeming them too expensive to support with the country's recent floods, famines and other epidemics.

The result of this decision left over 1,100 ships to rot in port. Ship builders eventually lost knowledge on how to construct these glorious vessels as well, Cheng Ho's adventures alive only in legacy and legend. Decades later, a Ming government official destroyed the archives describing the 'Treasure Ship' voyages that brought so much to China.

In the 1970's, a similar event occurred with the cancellation of the Apollo missions to the moon for similar reasons, though it should be evident now that to eliminate one project does not solve the problems of another.

Former Apollo astronaut (the second man to land on the moon, among other accomplishments) once said, "We can continue to try and clean up the gutters all over the world and spend all of our resources looking at just the dirty spots and trying to make them clean. Or we can lift our eyes up and look into the skies and move forward in an evolutionary way."

Society cannot be perfected, no matter how hard some may try, there will always be a rich and poor group of people, always some illness or discomfort with how things are. The stars harbor more fortunes, more wealth than any one person can imagine, and they lie there, scattered throughout the heavens waiting to be harnessed.

The squabbles and pains of today should not have the power to destroy the dreams of tomorrow, to do so would disrespect the legacy of our ancestors who pushed to explore and create the world we live in today, regardless of their country's economic state.