Give NASA Back

Will Tucker

Compare Obama to Carter, Kennedy, or even Reagan, if you must — but God forbid you compare him to Richard Nixon.

Unfortunately, that comparison is all too appropriate this week, at least when it comes to attitudes toward NASA.

Only Nixon, since the creation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, has actively taken a swipe at the program, a signature project of his hated rival, John F. Kennedy. Even then, Nixon only killed the Apollo moon exploration program. Obama plans to kill American manned spaceflight, period — taking America out of the manned space exploration game for the foreseeable future.

America can’t afford to lose NASA, in any capacity, and neither can Alabama.

America can’t lose NASA, as an organization, because it wholly represents exactly what anyone opposed to perpetual conflict and war should want. The history of NASA consists of story after story about how weapons — rockets, missiles, and technology in general — have more peaceful potential as exploratory vehicles or machines.

Take the story of Werner von Braun, for example. von Braun first used his engineering brainpower in Germany, developing a missile program for the Nazis, before coming to the United States. Here, he and his team of scientists ultimately developed the rocket technology that would make space travel possible. He worked in America to build rockets to land a man on the moon, not to land a warhead on Moscow.

Also consider that NASA makes it possible to phase away the military-industrial complex that remains so important to the United States’ economy. The same factories designed to produce weapons systems and machinery can easily transition to the production of tools for space travel and exploration.

For example, the Boeing Company produces missile defense systems. Boeing, therefore, has the hardware, technology, and ability to fill government orders for peaceful exploratory vehicles as well as weapons — and they do. Boeing produced the Delta line of rockets for NASA’s use, a still profitable peaceful venture.

Obama, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, should want nothing more than to protect an organization that symbolizes these kinds of idealistic transitions. Cutting funding for space exploration is simply contradictory to the image he purports to want for America.

Also on the subject of international relations, think about the possibilities NASA brings to the table. Fifteen nations across the world, for example, currently have big-money stakes in the International Space Station, an achievement that embodies the fruits of international cooperation. Astronauts can routinely share rides on space travel vehicles, and interaction between the multinational corporations filling government contracts for the Space Station’s parts increases, making this peaceful venture, as well as peace itself, very profitable.

Most importantly, this achievement of the International Space Station proves, definitively, the existence of the worlds’ potential for cooperation. Nations can peacefully work together towards a common goal—not unlike, say, Obama’s goal of eradicating nuclear weapons. If NASA were to go commercial, as Obama hopes, the country would lose its ownership, and cooperation between multinationals—only concerned with their bottom lines and profits—wouldn’t be nearly as idealistic as the cooperation between nations we have now.

On the domestic front, Alabama can’t lose NASA, either. Think about where von Braun came when he gave up weapons development in Germany for exploration in America. He landed in Huntsville, providing jobs to people across North Alabama. Jobs that many North Alabamians saw as worth a 30- to 45-minute commute. These jobs represented participation in an overall national goal, and provided a sense of national pride. Back then, to be Alabamian was to be a backwards, fire hose-wielding segregationist, and the space program stood in the face of that ridicule. America put a man on the moon, and Alabama had a stake in it. The situation wholly embodied unity despite the enflaming differences present.

So no, Mr. Obama, don’t talk to me about how you “hope” commercial space flight can pick up the slack left by your budget cut. Prove to me that you “hope” America can continue to lead the world in space exploration by showing a little support for NASA. It brings “hope” for America by representing the possibility of peace as well as technological advances, and it brings “hope” to Alabama in the form of paying jobs people are proud of. Cut NASA’s budget any more, and its benefits all disappear, probably for good.

Cutting NASA takes it too far, Mr. President. As much as I support you, I resent this. Give NASA back to America, and give NASA back to Alabama.

Will Tucker is a freshman majoring in international relations. His column runs weekly on Friday.