The United States of America has always been a land filled with explorers. Shortly after the founding of our country in 1776 we began our expansion westward into places unknown. This drive, our Manifest Destiny as a nation has always given the people of our country something to hold onto and come together over. In modern times we have expanded our borders to the Pacific ocean and our journey to the moon is almost fifty years behind us and we have done very little since. The current federal plan for manned space travel is lacking. The Space Shuttle program is now gone, we rely on Russian Soyuz to travel to the International Space Station, and our only current plan of developing a spacecraft capable of reaching the ISS is in the hands of private industries such as Virgin and Boeing. Current financial woes have pushed the public opinion of further space exploration to about 50% (White 1) and despite a recent upturn, talks of increasing funding once again have not yet been discussed. In order for our nation to fully break out of our economic recession, funding must be increased for manned space travel. The jobs it will create will jump start the economy and help to boost interest in the sciences amongst the old and young alike. This renewed interest in scientific endeavors will help to create a new generation of workers willing and capable of handling the job of potentially being the first people to colonize worlds other than our own. Manned space travel is integral to the advancement of the human race because it will help to boost the ailing economy, inspire the nation and give the people a common goal, help to train future generations for a permanent step into space, and help to bring the countries of the world together, and therefore the funding should be increased to a point to allow these events to occur.
In the 1960's the United States was undergoing an upheaval of mammoth proportions. During the middle of one of the tensest periods in history , the Cold War, we were thrown into a proxy war conflict with Vietnam, had a social uprising of blooming activism opposing racial oppression and military expansion, and we had many of our nation's leaders meet untimely fates through assassination. One of those leaders, JFK, had a dream that our nation would land on and explore the lunar surface by the end of the decade and that dream was fulfilled. It was driven by a collective desire of the nation to accomplish this task prior to the USSR and without this unification of public opinion it is unlikely that it would have ever occurred.
Fifty years later, we have advanced much as a society in all regards but we have yet to do much in terms of space travel. According to Leopold of Electronic Engineering Times, since the 1960s the United States has not sent a man outside of the Earth's orbit, and while significant progress has been made technologically within the confines of our orbit, it is not particularly interesting to read about or watch (Leopold 1). While it may seem like this problem can easily be fixed by simply starting more manned space exploration missions. This makes sense on paper, but public opinion plays a large role is how these decisions are made and there are two main aspects, the value of human life and the economic cost of space. This is best described by Lawrence Krauss of Scientific American:
"What happened? Why did the dream of unlimited manned space travel and a vast new universe of possibility for humanity dry up and fizzle? The answer is relatively simple: reality prevailed. Human Space travel is expensive and dangerous, and there is almost no scientific justification for it. All of these factors stem from the same problem: most of the incredible cost of human space travel goes into keeping humans alive during the process, leaving little money for other things. This harsh reality leaves those of my generation in a position, 50 years hence, of having to reevaluate those childhood dreams"(1).
While Krauss presents a valid counterargument, the idea that scientific advancement and research is not worth putting human life in danger is easily debatable. Human life was first taken by the space program in 1967 by a fire in the Apollo 1 spacecraft during a practice run. Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee, three of America's most promising astronauts were killed in this fire. (Long 1) This event, as well as the two space shuttle tragedies, stamped the concept of manned space travel with very negative image. However, very little scientific progress we have made as a species has been completely free of any danger. Exploring the depths of the oceans risks drowning among other things and settling the American west wasn't without risk of starvation and Indian raids. On that same line of reason, very few positive aspects of our history have been cheap. The Great Depression was ended by utilizing FDR's New Deal and the by the costly war effort spurring industry. The Space Industry and the American public must be willing to take risks in both categories in order for significant scientific progress to be made.
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