Without NASA, how will Americans learn about space?

Since the dawn of space travel, interest and investment in exploring the beyond have significantly dropped. Astronomy is on the fringes of pop culture, only catching our interest when it’s in science fiction or extraterrestrial sightings. But this is just pulp for voyeurs to digest, exemplifying disconnect from the need to go deeper into exploring our own universe. Let’s face it, space exploration is extremely costly and needs a multi-billion dollar budget to function even remotely well. Results are dependent upon technology and equipment, which in turn are dependent upon money. Furthermore, the support for these expenditures and subsequent missions comes from us, the public. The periodic governmental budget cuts for National Aeronautics and Space Administration only get worse, further alienating – no pun intended – the space program and the public’s attention for such matters.

In an article for Slate.com, astronomer Phil Plait describes how the White House is affecting the popularity of space programs through its cuts.

“One of NASA’s shining triumphs is public advocacy, from creating educational products to garnering public interest in the overall mission of exploring the Universe,” he said. “This cut seems to align with the bizarre notion of taking the educational efforts away from NASA and giving it to outside museums and the Department of Education.”

Plait goes on to critique this fiscal decision as detrimental to the organization’s relationship with the public, deeming it “a big mistake.”

The newly proposed cuts undermine everything Plait describes. As a result, collective interest is fading; most interest in these programs now comes from astrophysics courses at universities and from academics.

Essentially, unless you’re studying astronomy or actually working for a space program, there’s not much out there to quench your thirst for space exploration info. Even more so, space travel is no closer to reviving itself as a public interest topic because of the political suppression and alienation encapsulated by increasing cuts to NASA’s already truncated budget.

For now, those who want to learn about their nation’s space programs are forced to subsist on tidbits of news here and there. We occasionally hear about the return of a space probe or the discovery of a new extra-solar planet, but these stories then fade from the news cycle as quickly as they appear.

In place of authoritative information on the universe beyond our planet, the public has turned to pop culture. Programming on the History Channel and FOX Network has popped up to pick up NASA’s slack. Recently, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has taken up hosting duties for a Seth MacFarlane-produced sequel to “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage,” the beloved PBS documentary series from 1980. “Cosmos” gives viewers a compelling look into space travel and the phenomena of our universe, but ultimately cannot replace the actual, scientific research that informs such programming.

The revival of “Cosmos” has thus far enjoyed a warm reception. If only the public interest in space exploration could translate into an expanded budget for NASA, this discussion would not be necessary. An expanded budget would increase the amount of quality information out there about the universe. Regardless, public outlets persist in redefining comprehensible astronomy.