NASA budget cuts put scientific discovery at risk

National Aeronautics and Space Administration announced on Oct. 23 that the Hubble Space Telescope helped astronomers discover a galaxy from the dawn of time, 700 million years after the Big Bang. This discovery will help astronomers learn how the world and the Milky Way Galaxy came to be. But with rising cuts for federal programs, research and development, NASA’s budget is poised to dramatically decrease.

President Barack Obama’s budget proposal for 2014 has cut NASA’s overall budget by $300 million, bringing it to $16.6 billion. NASA’s budget has declined by roughly $1.2 billion since 2012. Despite an uncertain political climate fraught with partisanship, NASA is too essential of an agency to cast aside.

Just hours into the government shutdown, an asteroid just missed the Earth by four million miles. Though a seemingly minute detail, the government had no well-developed prior knowledge of this occurrence, leaving many to speculate, “What if?”

The asteroid was about 1,300 feet wide, a size that science educator Bill Nye calls “continent and human existence killers.”

The lurking asteroid is proposed to return in its orbit in about 20 years from now. The next time it passes, the asteroid could possibly strike and produce a “force powerful as a couple of thousand atomic bombs,” according to Sara Seager, a professor of planetary science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Nye listed some options to prevent obliteration, such as large rockets and lasers. The common denominator for both options is one important detail: money. In order to start researching properly into “asteroid hunting,” according to Nye, the government must open up funding for the forward-thinking program.

The age-old saying “ignorance is bliss” is fine and dandy until a molten rock the size of a state enters the atmosphere and vaporizes all of human existence. It sounds a touch over the top, but it is uncomfortably true that the government needs to allot more cold hard cash to prevent that rogue piece of rock from entering our atmosphere. If it does not, the risks are immeasurable.

There is a plethora of information about space yet to be discovered due to cancellation of the space shuttle program in 2011. The absence of manned space missions is already a glaring symbol of NASA’s decline.

This has led NASA to rely on China’s exponentially expanding space program and rent seats aboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft in order to charter our own astronauts to the International Space Station. The individual tickets for those seats sell for $63 million.

During the space race, astronauts returned home as national heroes. To this day, the legends of space exploration still are being found in textbooks and blockbuster movies. Yet today, the general population does not know the names of any astronaut aside from Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.

The government must make space exploration as much of a priority as it makes social programs that benefit the general population. We may not know it yet, but there is plenty out there waiting to be discovered that can have a tremendous impact on the state of our planet.