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Reality Blog

The Return of Sputnick

Posted on March 11, 2014 at 5:10 PM

Beep… beep… beep…

Imagine a sound so terrible, so paralyzingly horrifying, that it frightened children into hiding under desks and hardworking middle classfamilies underground in their back yards.

Beep… beep… beep…

Yeah! That was all it took. That was the sound that launched an entiregeneration of new political, military, technological, and scientificinnovation. For the first time in 4.6 billion years, life on Earth, had createdsomething that left the Earth and America was caught sleeping. On October 4,1957, the Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik I, and the space racebetween humanity’s two superpowers was on.[i]

The US, still living high on their triumph in World War II, would not bebested and by the end of 1958 not only would the US launch its first satelliteinto space but NASA would be born.[ii]Though initially behind, the US took the reins and ultimately won the spacerace on July 20, 1969, when, under the Stars and Stripes, humanity walked onanother celestial body.[iii]

Flash forward forty-four years, and Russia’s military occupation of theUkrainian Autonomous Republic of Crimea, threatens America’s presence on theInternational Space Station. Not because in the forty-four years the SovietUnion overtook the US in the space race and built a series of condominiums onPluto or created a gravity warping machine that saw the first known wormholelaunch the first human vessel to another star. No. Russia’s occupation ofCrimea threatens the US space program because on August 31, 2011, the US put anend to its space shuttle program with no program to replace it.[iv]

Since then, the United States has opted to pay Russia 70 million dollarsfor each astronaut the US sends to the International Space Station.[v]

Wait! What?!

"With the retirement of the Space Shuttle, America currently has nodomestic capability to transport our astronauts to and from the InternationalSpace Station." House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas,said in a statement on March 4, 2014.[vi]

The complete and utter irony of this situation would be comical if itwasn’t indicative of a larger looming problem the United States currentlyfaces. While one might think US concerns might turn to Russia using this aspolitical leverage against the United States, former Astronaut, Tom Jones, iscertain this is improbable.

"What they [Russia] lack for example, is all the control softwarethat we use to point, maneuver and control the space station. So, they wouldnot be wise to deny us access, because they would be denying themselves accessto all the utilities and supplies they need for the space station."

So if cosmological blackmail is not a concern, then ultimately what is?

When you take a look at America, the world’s lone and potentially lastsuperpower, it is amazing where it finds itself today. Once upon a time,America was the “Land of Tomorrow” and the home of technology and scienceinnovation. America had survived depression, triumphed in the greatest war ofall time, and placed a man on the moon. America represented freedom andequality with an opportunity to “make it” if one truly tried. During and afterthe space race, America found itself on the frontier… of EVERYTHING.

America’s space program was more than a symbol of America’s overwhelmingability to produce and raise capital in a crisis. The Space Race offeredinspiration to an entire generation of scientist which created the microchip,the computer, and the internet. The Baby Boomers are often called thegeneration that saw the most change in their time and it is most likely becauseof the culture of innovation and technology cultivated during the space race.In the 1970s, the very concept of outsourcing of jobs was foreign as there wasno one else in the world that could do what America could do – they had justlanded on the moon!

Research and development was center stage in the United States and by theyear 2000, America had defeated its Soviet rival. By creating new technologies,America created new markets, new opportunities, new jobs, and new innovators.America’s bravado was not a slogan, it was a practice.

Yet in the second decade of the 21st century, America findsitself mired in a stagnant and shrinking economy and failing social programswith a government shrugging its shoulders looking for answers that are staringthem in the face.

In 2013, the National Institutes of Health felt budget cuts that saw 700fewer research grants awarded than in 2012.[vii]The National Science Foundation reports an approximate 10% decrease to basic researchfunding between 2010 and 2012 and a 13.5% decrease in applied research in thesame period.[viii]And finally, NASA, the organization that pioneered the answer, whosediscoveries have produced countless spin-offs, bolstered the economy in everyUS state, and doubled their investments on just about every venture, has seenits budget reduced from .75% of the national budget in 2000 to .48% by 2012.[ix]

The equation is simple: new technologies = new markets = newopportunities = new jobs = new innovators = a strong economy. At no point inthis equation will you find scrapping the manned space program for a $70million dollar ticket on a Russian space craft.

Humanity is an incredible species and it will continue to innovatewhether America follows its equation or not. If it does, it will continue to bethe leader of the frontier. If it does not, another nation will. This should bea very familiar sound…

Beep… beep… beep…

[i] (NASA 2007)

[ii] (NASA 2007)

[iii] (Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum n.d.)

[iv] (Space.com 2011)

[v] (McKelway 2014)

[vi] (McKelway 2014)

[vii] (Stein 2013)

[viii](The National Science Foundation 2013)

[ix] (NASA 2012)


Works Cited McKelway, Doug (FoxNews.com). 2014. Crimea crisis comes at touchy time for US-Russia space program. March 05. Accessed March 05, 2014. http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2014/03/05/crimea-crisis-us-soviet-space-program/.

NASA. 2012. Fiscal Year 2012: Budget Estimates. 2012 Fiscal Report, NASA.

—. 2007. Sputnik and The Dawn of the Space Age. October 10. Accessed March 5, 2014. http/history.nasa.gov/sputnik/.

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. n.d. Apollo 11 (AS-506). Accessed March 05, 2014. http://airandspace.si.edu/explore-and-learn/topics/apollo/apollo-program/landing-missions/apollo11.cfm.

Space.com. 2011. Nasa's Space Shuttle Program Officially Ends After Final Celebration. September 1. Accessed March 2014, 2014. http://www.space.com/12804-nasa-space-shuttle-program-officially-ends.html.

Stein, Sam (Huffington Post). 2013. NIH Losing $1.7 Billion, 700 Research Grants Due To Sequestration . June 4. Accessed March 05, 2014. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/04/nih-sequestration_n_3385949.html.

The National Science Foundation. 2013. Federal Funding for Research Drops by 9% in FY 2011. September. Accessed March 5, 2014. http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/infbrief/nsf13336/.

Categories: Government, Economics, Reality

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