The fact that the U.S. currently has no capability to put a human in space breaks my heart. It’s especially awful because it’s something we had and lost, and something we didn’t care enough to preserve. In this age of budget cuts and hard times for many, it’s hard to think about things like space travel and exploration, but it’s absolutely necessary if we want a future still filled with amazing new innovations seemingly every day.
When we stop exploring, we stagnate. We lose our edge, our drive, our ability to find new and creative solutions to problems, even if that’s not even what we set out to do. NASA’s spinoff technology alone is enough to justify the cost of the manned spaceflight program, in my book. And I think it really, really sucks that we have to bum rides on a half-century-plus-old Russian rocket at ridiculously inflated prices just to get to our own (really awesome) space station.
So where does this leave us? NASA’s budget is smaller than ever, so commercial spaceflight is basically the only way to go for our country right now. It’s up to good old capitalism to get us back into space now, and there are lots of ways to contribute to that.
Contributing your time and efforts:
You can contribute first and foremost by making it your passion – even if it’s too late for you to be an engineer, scientist, or astronaut, it’s not too late to inspire someone else to be. Participate in a STEM outreach event, encourage your kids to be creative and excel in school, and share info with your friends about the latest advances and innovations. Let your friends know what you think about spaceflight and all the good things that come of it – satellite imagery to help us locate a missing plane, that GPS system they are so fond of, Tang, Velcro, great Tom Hanks movies, you name it. Spaceflight has given us a lot of very good things that most people have forgotten about.
If you have a moment, write to your representative and Senator – and even the president – about how important you think space exploration is. Thankfully we do have a robust unmanned space program going right now, with exciting missions that can capture the human imagination, such as the Mars Rovers. Not as PR-friendly as an actual astronaut, but pretty cool. Tell your congressperson that you believe continuing to fund NASA (and fund them better!) is important to you.
Contributing more tangible things:
If you happen to be fortunate enough to have a little in the way of dollars available for donations, you can send them to organizations such as the National Space Society and the The Planetary Society. These folks do great work in terms of outreach, education, research, and activism. Also, The Planetary Society has Bill Nye the Science Guy as CEO. How awesome is that? The memberships have some pretty neat perks, such as cool magazines and discounted or freebie admission at a lot of space museums and attractions.
There are also some great places to invest your money that will help support space exploration. Companies competing in the commercial crew program such as Orbital Sciences and Sierra Nevada. Smaller, niche companies such as Ball Aerospace. Big-name satellite builders such as Space Systems Loral. Defense contractors who do launch vehicles and big space jobs such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin. And the companies that build a lot of their key components, such as Honeywell and L-3 Communications. Many of the bigger companies offer their own STEM outreach programs, too.
I wish I could buy stock in SpaceX, but alas, Elon Musk’s space brainchild cannot yet be bought – but his other company Tesla can, and that might also be an interesting (and possibly lucrative) place to invest some money towards new technology. Scaled Composites, maker of x-prize winner Spaceship One, is also sadly not for sale, but you can buy a ticket on Virgin Galactic if you’re completely loaded and have that kind of money to spare (which I would totally do first if I were ever filthy rich).
The space industry has a lot of ups and downs and may not always be the safest investment, but it could also be incredibly lucrative if you are lucky. If not, at least you contributed something that might allow for some engineer in a cubicle somewhere to figure out the next crucial thing for spaceflight.
We need commercial spaceflight to be resounding success. We lack the national drive of the space race era to get ourselves ahead. Nowadays, a new country launches a human and we just shrug. At least money might be enough to make it happen when prestige and even curiosity are not nearly enough.
What are some other ways you can think of to support efforts to get the U.S. back into space?