Ru­mors of NASA’S demise greatly ex­ag­ger­ated

Space agency to re­sume ex­plo­ration if Congress pro­vides fi­nan­cial fuel

The Washington Times Daily - - Opinion - By Nick Lamp­son Re­viewed by Robert Ver­bruggen

It is a grow­ing con­cern that the public be­lieves NASA is clos­ing its doors. This is far from true. Although NASA’S shut­tle fleet re­tired in 2011 af­ter 30 years of ad­mirable and ground­break­ing ser­vice, the space agency’s vi­brant mis­sion is far from over. We need to keep the fires of the agency’s spir­ited agenda burn­ing by en­sur­ing NASA is fully funded to carry out what it has been tasked to do for our coun­try.

The fu­ture of our na­tion’s space pro­gram lies in the hands of those elected to rep­re­sent the peo­ple of the United States. A great re­spon­si­bil­ity is placed be­fore these de­ci­sion­mak­ers. While we face eco­nomic ob­sta­cles that chal­lenge ev­ery decision made in Washington, de­ci­sions made merely for po­lit­i­cal gain must stop. It’s time to re­store ci­vil­ity in Congress. It’s time for ac­tion where ac­tion is needed — all pol­i­tics aside.

As leg­is­la­tors con­sider the fis­cal 2013 bud­get over the next few days, it is of vi­tal in­ter­est that our lead­ers up­hold the bi­par­ti­san tra­di­tion of sup­port for NASA’S char­ter. Our na­tion’s space pro­gram de­serves sup­port, and such an ex­am­ple of con­gres­sional ci­vil­ity should spread through­out the Capi­tol and the na­tion.

Many may won­der why space is the topic at hand. If you do won­der, I ask you to learn about all that our na­tion’s space pro­gram does for our coun­try.

First, and per­haps fore­most, stud­ies have shown that space ex­plo­ration in­spires our chil­dren to pur­sue ed­u­ca­tion and ca­reers in sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and math­e­mat­ics. It also con­tin­ues to in­spire the child in­side all of us. But there is much more to it.

As­tute in­vest­ments in NASA’S sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy port­fo­lio pro­vide both tan­gi­ble and in­tan­gi­ble ben­e­fits. They strengthen our na­tional se­cu­rity by win­ning the long-term re­spect of our global al­lies and ri­vals alike. Ad­di­tion­ally, these in­vest­ments pro­vide op­por­tu­ni­ties for col­lab­o­ra­tion with academia, in­dus­try and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity on un­prece­dented lev­els. They con­trib­ute to a steady stream of break­throughs with a track record of strength­en­ing the U.S. econ­omy and plac­ing a spot­light on the im­por­tance of math and sci­ence ed­u­ca­tion. They pro­vide do­mes­tic man­u­fac­tur­ing, en­gi­neer­ing and re­search jobs in a time when these op­por­tu­ni­ties are of­ten out­sourced to for­eign en­ti­ties.

Right now, NASA is build­ing the next-gen­er­a­tion deep-space crew cap­sule and heavy-lift rocket to ex­plore far­ther than ever be­fore. NASA is also ex­pand­ing use of the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion by part­ner­ing with Amer­i­can com­pa­nies to cre­ate trans­porta­tion ca­pa­bil­i­ties for reach­ing the sta­tion in low Earth or­bit. This will stim­u­late the econ­omy and de­crease our reliance on for­eign launch providers. Congress has di­rected all of these ac­tiv­i­ties in a bi­par­ti­san man­ner.

NASA also is de­vel­op­ing ad­vances in avi­a­tion and space tech­nolo­gies, and reach­ing far­ther into our so­lar sys­tem through in­no­va­tive ex­plo­ration mis­sions. These pro­grams not only ex­pand our tech­no­log­i­cal ca­pa­bil­i­ties and sci­en­tific knowl­edge, but they also boost our econ­omy, cre­ate jobs and ex­pand op­por­tu­ni­ties for skilled work­ers.

These projects can­not be abruptly stopped and restarted. Projects that can take sev­eral years to de­velop and per­haps decades to op­er­ate can­not be rel­e­gated to near­sighted an­nual bud­get plan­ning. They must be sus­tained to as­sure the avail­abil­ity of a ca­pa­ble do­mes­tic en­gi­neer­ing and sci­en­tific skill base and to achieve ad­vance­ments in sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy that will im­prove life here on Earth. NASA’S achieve­ments, each many years in the mak­ing, are the prod­ucts of a long-stand­ing com­mit­ment to NASA’S mul­ti­mis­sion tra­di­tion with an en­vi­able record that prom­ises to pay div­i­dends for decades to come — if Congress acts re­spon­si­bly.

De­spite global eco­nomic con­cerns, other na­tions are con­tin­u­ing to push for­ward and in­vest in their space ca­pa­bil­i­ties. A U.S. with­drawal from the in­dus­try will only al­low oth­ers to surge in their own ca­pa­bil­i­ties, po­ten­tially im­pact­ing our na­tional se­cu­rity and tech­nol­ogy com­pet­i­tive­ness in the fu­ture.

NASA’S cur­rent bud­get re­quest rep­re­sents a small de­cline, af­firm­ing the agency’s will­ing­ness to make tough choices to re­strain spend­ing along with the rest of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. In to­tal, the agency’s spend­ing plan rep­re­sents less than half of 1 per­cent of the to­tal fed­eral bud­get. Our na­tion can­not con­tinue to cul­ti­vate tech­no­log­i­cal break­throughs with bar­gain-base­ment, un­pre­dictable fund­ing.

There is no ques­tion that we all want a se­cure na­tion, an ed­u­cated and com­pet­i­tive work force, a ro­bust econ­omy with jobs for peo­ple across the na­tion, and for Amer­ica to re­main a leader in tech­no­log­i­cal break­throughs and in­no­va­tion. As Congress moves for­ward in its con­sid­er­a­tion of the pres­i­dent’s bud­get re­quest, I urge mem­bers to con­sider that there is more at stake than los­ing just our in­spi­ra­tion. We can­not af­ford for the ru­mors of NASA’S demise to be­come a re­al­ity.

For years, the New Yorker’s Kather­ine Boo has re­ported on Amer­i­can poverty — not only the broad trends and sta­tis­tics, but the day-to-day lives of peo­ple who are strug­gling. One might ex­pect her first book to cover the same ground; even a com­pi­la­tion of pre­vi­ously pub­lished pieces surely would be worth­while.

But “Be­hind the Beau­ti­ful Fore­vers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mum­bai Un­der­city” is much more am­bi­tious than that. Rather than stick to her com­fort zone, Ms. Boo spent sev­eral years in her hus­band’s home coun­try of In­dia, fol­low­ing a group of peo­ple who live in An­nawadi, a slum near the Mum­bai air­port. The events in An­nawadi un­fold against a back­drop of wealth and rapid de­vel­op­ment. In fact, many of the An­nawa­di­ans we meet make their liv­ing scav­eng­ing the trash of richer ar­eas in Mum­bai and then sell­ing the valu­able scrap met­als and plas­tics they find.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, much of what Amer­i­can readers will find fas­ci­nat­ing and trou­bling about this book are the ba­sic, ground-level de­tails it pro­vides about poverty in an In­dia that is in­creas­ingly pros­per­ous but still weighed down by the his­tory of its caste sys­tem. An­nawadi was built on a swamp and set­tled by con­struc­tion work­ers, and it is home to a sewage lake that presents a con­stant threat of malaria. The homes are tiny, close to­gether and shod­dily con­structed; res­i­dents en­joy ra­dios and phone ser­vice, but work­ing re­frig­er­a­tors are al­most un­heard of, and run­ning water is pro­vided only for short in­ter­vals at public faucets.

Some res­i­dents man­age to find work in the ho­tels near the air­port, and one young woman we meet even at­tends col­lege, but op­por­tu­nity di­min­ishes as events be­yond An­nawadi — the global re­ces­sion, the ter­ror­ist at­tacks at a Mum­bai ho­tel that keep tourists away — in­ter­vene. The gov­ern­ment aid that ar­rives to fund schools and other ameni­ties is cap­tured by peo­ple like Asha, a lo­cal woman with po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions who has mas­tered the art of cor­rupt deal­ing.

How­ever, these are de­tails pro­vided not for their own sake, but within the con­text of a larger story. That story cen­ters around the ac­tions of a woman named Fa­tima, who is nick­named “the One-leg” be­cause a birth de­fect left her with only three work­ing limbs. Fa­tima is a complicated and dif­fi­cult char­ac­ter; it’s hard not to sym­pa­thize with her plight as a dis­abled woman liv­ing in poverty, but it’s equally hard to ex­cuse her be­hav­ior: She cheats on her hus­band reg­u­larly, and when her neigh­bors’ home­r­e­mod­el­ing project sends her into a jealous rage, she lights her­self on fire. Then, she ac­cuses the neigh­bors of beat­ing and burn­ing her be­fore dy­ing in a poorly run, un­hy­gienic hospi­tal.

The ac­cu­sa­tion that the neigh­bors ac­tu­ally lit the match is too ab­surd to sur­vive — too many peo­ple saw what hap­pened. So, be­fore Fa­tima dies, cor­rupt of­fi­cials help her re­tool her story; if


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