I eagerly await your Space Summit here in Florida on April 15. I suppose the significance of the date is to remind us that we are discussing our tax dollars and how you will spend them. I was most upset when you first announced that you would not be funding mankind’s mission to return the Moon and that you would be changing NASA’s budget. I wondered how any American could decide upon such a course for American engineering; how your ideas about space could be so different from mine… and then some ideas came to me.
Although you are only nine years older than me, your childhood was vastly different than most American children of the time. You were born in Hawaii, which while it is one of the United States, let’s face it; it is a world of its own over 2,300 miles from the continental states. In the 1960s, just how much and how quickly did news travel from the mainland (Florida particularly) all the way to Hawaii? Then, from age 6 to 10 you lived in Indonesia, so who knows what kind of coverage man’s first steps on the Moon you even heard about?
And while I was standing outside my house watching the very first Space Shuttle blast off to go into space, you were in New York City going to Columbia…and how much attention does a typical college student–especially those who may be partying–really pay to current events? (The space shuttle may have been no more than a blip on your radar.)
And once you graduated from college, your focus turned to helping develop communities, a very worthy cause. You helped those in need get job training, prepare for college, work for tenants rights…these are very lofty goals and I applaud your work, but once again we differ…your eyes were looking down at the homeless man sitting on the sidewalk, while mine were looking up at the shuttle’s comtrail glowing a dazzling white against the bright blue.
And when the Challenger exploded in the skies above me, your eyes were not tuned toward the sky. How long did it take for you to learn of it in Chicago?
I’m imagining that while you were growing up, space travel was little more than science fiction to you. You may have heard about it, seen a clip or two on TV, but how real could it seem to a child on the other side of the world? While I grew up here, knowing the moms and dads whose sweat made space travel a reality. I knew teachers who were in the running to travel on the Challenger; I dreamed one day I would travel into space, too.
When my grandmother was young, she took the day-long trip by horse and wagon from Orlando to New Smyrna Beach. By the time she was an old lady, she had seen the man travel into space in less than 8 minutes. So, I could not even dream of what mega-leaps into the future mankind would achieve during my lifetime.
I am betting that whenever you read arguments about how we should be focusing on solving problems here on Earth before we explore space, you whole-heartedly agree with them because that makes sense to you. When I read those arguments, I shake my head thinking how ignorant these people are not to realize that exploring space IS helping to solve problems here on Earth: cell phones, medical advancements, satellite technology, etc. (The list goes on and on of life-altering and saving achievements gained or aided through the space program.)
When I hear President John F. Kennedy challenging man to go to the Moon–not because it is easy but because it is hard–I feel the blood in my veins light on fire! And, so I am wondering, Mr. Obama, why don’t you? Is it really because of your unusual upbringing and focus on the community?
Well, I of course believe in helping the community, too, just as many past Americans and Presidents have done. In fact, even while paying for the Vietnam War and funding the Great Societies programs, President Johnson still found a way to give 5% of the Federal Budget to make the Space Race a success. Right now, NASA accounts for less than 0.58% of the Federal Budget… how mush less do you want to give to Space? For every $1 spent on space, $98 go to social programs. (And I haven’t recalculated this amount to accommodate for the billions just approved for the healthcare bill!)
So, in conclusion, Mr. President, I make a small request. Before you make any final decisions and recommendations for the NASA budget, perhaps step into somebody else’s shoes for a while. Somebody whose upbringing was a bit more typical for an American child of the 60s and 70s. Somebody who had their eyes on the stars rather than on the sidewalks. Somebody who shakes her head sadly when Vice President Biden comes to Central Florida to talk up how the stimulus bill will bring a few hundred jobs to Clermont while his President’s actions will be eliminating 23,000 jobs at NASA. Please, oh please see beyond your personal experience, and appreciate the American experience… and understand why funding space exploration is so important!
Like every American President, you aspire to do great things and I hope you will… so make the right decision not only for Americans, but for mankind as well.
This editorial was written by Top 5 editor Bess Auer, native Floridian and avid dreamer.