As we write this editorial, in early August, the U.S. House of Representatives is preparing to debate a proposed 10-percent budget cut for NASA. Ironically, the debate comes on the heels of the 30th anniversary of the Space Agency's most shining moment, and one of the great engineering achievements of all time, the first moon landing.
No doubt, when the voting and other hoopla are over, NASA will be spared the devastating effects Administrator Dan Goldin has so glumly predicted. The Space Agency won't go away, and it will still have the funds to pursue most if not all of its planned projects. If we're wrong, Congress will have scuttled one of the country's most successful research and development organizations, with sorry consequences for industry as a whole and the consumer.
But doesn't it drive you just a little crazy to have to read or hear some of the hyperbole that surrounds the issue? There's all the carping from NASA opponents who continue to dump on NASA for pursuing large, expensive programs despite the Agency's success in pursuing its "faster, cheaper, better" goals in the Mars landing of two years ago and the reported reduction of NASA employees by one-third over the last five years. Then, there's the hyperbole from the other side forecasting the demise of NASA if budget cuts take place. Yea, we know, it's all positioning, but it's still tiring.
The debate really should center on the future benefits from the programs that NASA has planned. Some of those programs are described in this issue of Design News.
Any discussion of the future benefits of NASA activities should begin with a reminder of how the nation has benefited from past Space Agency activities. You know the record:
The digital revolution, which was speeded by efforts to miniaturize components in the Apollo program.
Can NASA live with a smaller budget? Sure it can. But, what spinoffs will we miss if the Agency cuts back on future unmanned trips to Mars, or an orbiter for Jupiter's moon Europa, or new telescope projects.