Thursday, April 25, 2013

50 Years Ago: President Kennedy Defends Space Budget

President Kennedy awarding NASA Administrator James Webb.

I almost missed this item from yesterday's look at the NASA archives. On April 24, 1963, President John F. Kennedy  participated in a press conference where he was asked if he "had any cause to reconsider" his commitment to goals to US lunar program. I think his answer is was not only important for his day during the development of the Apollo and Gemini programs, but it also applies to the importance of our space program today. Let's look at his profound answer:

"We looked at it, of course, when we proposed our budget for this year. We are looking at it again in relationship to next year's budget. We are also looking at it because of the concern that has been raised in the Congress and out of the Congress. I have seen nothing, however, that has changed my mind about the desirability of our continuing this program.

"Now, some people say that we should take the money we are putting into space and put it into housing or education. We sent up a very extensive educational program. My judgement is that what would happen would be that they would cut the space program and you would not get additional funds for education. We have enough resources, in my opinion, to do what needs to be done in the field, for example, of education, and to do what needs to be done in space.

"Now this program passed almost unanimously a year ago. What will happen, I predict, will be a desire, perhaps, possibly, to cut it substantially, and then, a year from now or six months from now, when the Soviet Union has made another new, dramatic breakthrough, there will be a feeling of, 'Why didn't we do more?' I think our program is soundly based. I strongly support it. I think it would be a mistake to cut it. I think time will prove, even though we can't see all the answers which we will find in space, that the overall expenditures have been worthwhile. This country is a country of great resources. This program in many ways is going to stimulate science. I know that there is a feeling that the scientists should be working on some other matter, but I think that this program – I am for it and I think it would be a mistake to arrest it."

It certainly looks like President Kennedy understood Congress.  Let's examine a couple of Kennedy's points. First: Cutting Space Program money to spend more on education and housing. History shows, that after Kennedy's assassination and President Johnson's extremely expensive "war on poverty" and enormous increases in education, Congress cut the space program drastically. For a period of 6 years, we were unable to send astronauts up into space (does that sound familiar?) And did the increases in spending achieve their goal. The result is a giant NO. Poverty levels have increased since then, and America places worse in educational results than we did in 1963. We can easily see through history that Congress is terrible at budgets and cannot control its spending habits. On the other hand, we can easily see that the spending in the space programs were of enormous benefit to the country, and the world, in the spinoff technological developments that went from exploring space and into the private sector. Few government programs have the spinoff benefit record that NASA has. SOmething we should consider today.

Second: Kennedy foresaw that other countries, in this case the Soviet Union, sought to beat the US in technological leadership, and that eventually something would happen and we would regret giving up our leadership in space. The same holds true for today. Although the Soviet Union is no more, Russia under Putin is determined to eventually replace us as the world leader in space technology. China seeks to do the same, AND is also involved in advancing techniques to destroy their opponent's satellites in space. 

Third: Kennedy believed that the space program would stimulate science. We certainly saw that with the Space Race. The drawdown from the space program of the last decade also takes lace during a time of a loss of industry and technological advances. We hear our leaders talk about a famine of American science students in our industry. Foreign students learn in our universities and then take that knowledge back to their countries, instead of immigrating to America. There is a push now for STEM and more science education. Well if you want that area to grow, we need to have some space heroes, some space adventures, and some great discoveries. As much as I believe in the importance of the science programs in the ISS, I think we have reached the point where it is up to private industry to make the leap from government support to finding wealth in space. We need to have a gold rush in space.

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