Far more than landing men on the moon and other planets, NASA provides a vital role in shaping the dreams and futures of American youth.
This is a passionate and evocative response by Neill deGrasse Tyson to a University of Buffalo student’s question about funding cuts for NASA back in 2010. It’s an emphatic defense for the space program, beginning with the vital role that NASA plays in inspiring children and young adults to turn towards careers in the science, technology, and engineering fields. Without American’s youth dreaming to enter these fields, Tyson argues, we can forget about making further strides in development of our country, or competing with other nations. No other scientific agency in the States stimulates young Americans to pursue careers that deliver us the future today, and we can see the impacts of lower funding for the Space programs by our lack of progress in green technology, transportation infrastructure, and education. Despite the fact that this speech was given back in 2010, the urgent need to get this nation concerned with funding dreams and the future, is a theme that resonates strongly today.
The argument to support NASA isn’t just about dreams and inspiration, however. NASA funding and stimulation has a clear and dramatic economic impact in this country. What many don’t realize is NASA contracts outside businesses and researchers to develop the technology they need for space exploration – and licenses their own technology for those businesses to produce. NASA technology invented for space exploration has initiated the growth of entire global industries like weather forecasting, satellite communication, radial tires, and Global Positioning Service. This is the multiplier effect of NASA – the money that it receives from federal funding is directly invested in U.S. companies that produce and sell technology all around the world – and bump up the return rate to the U.S. from its original investment.
(By the way, federal funding for NASA is currently a paltry 0.5 % of the federal budget at $17.8 billion. To put that into perspective, that’s how much the military budget was increased just in 2010 - by the equivalent of NASA’s entire budget.)
You can follow this link to an infographic breakdown of the U.S. states that illustrates how much money NASA has contributed into each one in 2011 alone. NASA even provides an analysis of every business, patent, and product developed in each state as a direct result of their spending. Last year, NASA pumped nearly $900 million into Florida alone, and over 50 private businesses, who have made dramatic advances in thermal insulation, water purification, food preservation, and piezoelectric devices for vibration control. That last one, peizoelectric dampeners called Macro-Fiber Composites, was licensed to the Smart Materials Coporation and sold to over 120 customers all over the world, including Honda, BMW, Volkswagon, Toyota, and G.E – sales that are added to our nation’s GDP. Further, these customers used the MFC’s to file over 100 additional patents of their own – inventions that will undoubtedly improve their products by increasing efficiency and lowering energy costs.
Neill deGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist, host of the PBS series NOVA scienceNOW, and director of New York City’s Hayden Planetarium. You can visit his website at http://www.haydenplanetarium.org/tyson/ for access to books, movies, and more science resources.