President Obama yesterday submitted his budget proposal for 2011 to Congress. Included in the package was the effective cancellation of any plans for a return to the Moon or a mission to Mars in the foreseeable future.
It would be an understatement to describe this as short sighted.
One of the valuable functions of government is to cover the costs of critical activities that are unlikely to yield profits in the time frame which, of necessity, governs for-profit corporations. Basic research and development, as well as exploration are the two of the most important activities that are deserving of substantial taxpayer funding. Both have proven themselves, over the long term, to be of enormous benefit to our nation and the world.
Thomas Jefferson, while President, funded the Lewis and Clark expedition that was the first step to opening the American West. Much later, the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations, following the embarrassment caused by the Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik in 1957, began to fund space programs that drove the state of the art in, among many other things, the miniaturization of electronics, in computing, and in the understanding of our planet's climate and weather.
There can be little doubt that knowledge of science, technology, electronics and mathematics (STEM) is critical to the long term health and growth of any economy. Where better to provide good jobs in those fields than in a space program?
A generation of scientists and engineers, assisted by funding from the 1958 National Defense Education Act, were inspired by the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs. Lamenting the current lack of interest in STEM is not helpful but inspiration will encourage young men and women to enter these fields rather than becoming lawyers and financial traders whose contribution to the greater good is now marginal - if not negative.
Then there is the question of the continued existence of the human race. Sooner or later, there will be another natural disaster, similar to the asteroid strike that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, that will render the Earth uninhabitable before that occurs. The needed skills are not easy to acquire but we must start now because Arks are not built overnight.
The time is long past for thoughtful citizens to force our government to reset its priorities: much less in the way of transfer payments and much more true investment. If our elected politicians will not act, then Oliver Cromwell's order, addressing the Rump Parliament in April 1653, is entirely applicable:
"You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!"