You are on page 1of 8

Gasparovich 1

Maria Gianna Gasparovich

ENG 101-104
Professor Harper
19 April 2015
A New Frontier: The Fight to Continue Human Spaceflight
Famous actor William Shatner, well known for his role as Captain Kirk on the television
series Star Trek: The Original Series, once said that "A sense of the unknown has always lured
mankind and the greatest of the unknowns of today is outer space. The terrors, the joys and the
sense of accomplishment are epitomized in the space program. Though Shatners views are
widely shared by the American Science fiction subculture, the United States Space program has
yet to get anywhere near visiting worlds like the ones made up in the famous television series.
Since president Kennedys initial push for human spaceflight in 1961 the United States has
greatly contributed to the exploration of our universe. Yet, in recent years the National
Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has struggled to keep funding for their research.
Without the pressure of the space race our nation has begun to criticize the spaceflight program
for its consumption of money and question its scientific usefulness. This is evident in the 2011
federal budget when their funding dramatically dropped to 0.5% (Achenbach). With this in mind,
the urgency to revive the space program is now. The spaceflight program has been important and
continues to be in understanding and protecting our planet, introducing new technologies that
improve daily life and eventually will prolong the survival of our species. Without funding and
support these goals to better mankind will never be achieved.

Gasparovich 2
When I was a child, I used to believe that NASAs only purpose was to observe
everywhere in the universe outside of our own planet. It came as a sobering surprise when in
2012 at an interview with NPR, American physicist and former astronaut, John Grunsfeld
celebrated the fact that NASA has a very vibrant earth science program that is currently
[studying] many aspects with satellite observations from orbit and [that it has] absolutely
changed entirely the scope of our understanding of how climate and weather on planet Earth
works (5). I wholeheartedly endorse what Grunsfeld calls the backbone of NASA (2). His
argument that the earth science division uses technology that was initially created for
extraterrestrial exploration towards a more domestic, terrestrial environment (6) serves as
evidence that NASAs manned spaceflight program is crucial in understanding our own world.
For example, it is a popular belief in the United States to dismiss the presence of climate
change on our planet due to lack of proof on a global scale. As part of better understanding our
planet, NASA has sent satellites into space to observe increasing sea levels. With the help of the
satellites provided by NASAs spaceflight program, there is now evidence that climate change is
on a global scale and a
serious problem. Based on
his testimony to the US
Senate Piers Sellers, Deputy
Director of sciences and
exploration at Goddard
Space Flight center and
veteran of three space shuttle
missions, emphasizes the fact

Satellite used to observe rising sea levels (Drumheller, 102)

Gasparovich 3
that Earth science has made some amazing advances over the last three decades, principally
thanks to the data provided by a constellation of Earth-observing satellites (1). In making this
comment, Sellers argues that without the spaceflight program monitoring and fixing Earthobserving satellites the scientific community would not be able to understand the effects of
climate change on a global scale. The fact of the matter is that we need fully functioning
satellites to observe the Earth in order to understand it better in the means of protecting it. A
point that needs emphasizing since so many people believe that manned missions to space arent
important because they dont help the science field on an Earthly level.
It has become common today to dismiss NASAs contribution to the field of technology.
Acknowledging the popular belief, authors Drumheller, Rademakers and Schwerin demonstrate
with evidence that for over 50 years, NASA has created new technologies with direct benefit to
the private sector, supporting global competition and the economy. The resulting
commercialization has contributed to products and services in the fields of health and medicine,
transportation, public safety, consumer goods, environmental resources, computer technology,
and industry (8). The free yearly publication made by NASA informs the American public of
examples of their technologies being used outside the field of human space travel. According to
the 2010 forward, each years mission is to [find] ways to bring the benefits of space
exploration back to Earth (7). Yet some readers may challenge the view that space travel is the
reason we ever invented practical technologies like the hand-held cordless vacuum. After all,
many believe that inventions like the one previously mentioned would have eventually come
about based on the demand of consumers.
When the subject of human space travel is brought up the common question arises If it is
important how does it affect my daily life? Schwerin, award winning author and editor for the

Gasparovich 4
series, answers this question time and time again by showing the plethora of inventions that
result from each manned mission to space funded by NASA. One example given by the 2010
edition of Spinoff states that a major innovation created through the space program is their
ability to recycle and purify water within the closed system of the International Space Station
(ISS) (Drumheller, 108). Just as our
resources are limited in emergency
situations, Spin Off states that the
resources onboard the ISSair, water,
energyare limited and must be
carefully managed and recycled to
Photograph of Oil Spill Clean Up (Drumheller, 109)

create a sustainable environment for the

crewmembers (Drumheller, 108). The direct usage of the technology is evident in this site in
the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador, [where it was] being employed in mitigating the
environmental damage caused by the 2010 oil rig explosion and spill in the Gulf of Mexico
(Drumheller, 109). But not only is it used for cleaning up the water in a large scale, the
technology has also been commercialized for survival/camping gear. Where the consumer can
take a water bottle with a filter created using the ISS technology and fill it from any water
source, even human waste, and it will filter it nearly immediately for human consumption. The
product is now used worldwide to help us improve the daily lives of thousands of people as well
as maintain our planets health.
In discussions about the need for human space travel, one controversial issue has been its
use to carry on the survival of the human race. On the one hand, most Americans argue that the
need to travel to another planet isnt important because it isnt in our near future. On the other

Gasparovich 5
hand, many notable scientists refute their argument by saying that successful inter-planet travel
and survival will take multiple generations to become efficient and dependable enough to use.
Others, ignorant to the pressing issue, remain impartial about the subject because theyll be
dead so it doesnt apply to them. When it comes to this topic, Nobel Prize winning theoretical
physicist and cosmologist, Stephen Hawking insists that the long-term future of the human race
must be in space. It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster on planet Earth in the next hundred
years, let alone the next thousand, or million. The human race shouldn't have all its eggs in one
basket, or on one planet. (Hawking). The essence of Hawkings argument is that we cant
depend on Earth forever and at the rate we use finite resources and change the environment
whos to say it will even last long enough for us to leave and colonize another planet? With
increasing sea levels and natural disasters as well as the threat of nuclear fallout the pressure is
on to find a new home for the human race. Here many naysayers would probably object the
rush for research when NASA already has plans to send humans to land on Mars in the
2030s, but the plausibility of it being a permanent home to colonize is very unlikely (Grunsfeld
4). We need to set our eyes on places like Europa for its a very capable mission to look for life,
a quality necessary to support the human race for multiple generations once colonized (Grunsfeld
4). Considering this, it is evident that the manned space program still needs to make baby steps
in order to make it to such far off, habitable, places.
Nevertheless, there will always be a critic in the crowd. One of NASAs biggest critics,
physics Nobel Laureate, Steven Weinberg has recently attacked the efforts of the Space Program.
Weinberg states that no important science has come out of [the International Space Station]. I
could almost say no science has come out of it and even goes as far as saying that the whole
manned spaceflight program, which is so enormously expensive, has produced nothing of

Gasparovich 6
scientific value (Than). Although I disagree with his overtly aggressive claims, Weinberg does
bring up a valid argument. He argues that with the increase [of budget for the manned
spaceflight program] being driven by what I see on the part of the president and the
administrators of NASA as an infantile fixation on putting people into space, which has little or
no scientific value." Yet a sober analysis of the matter reveals that NASAs goals arent strictly
limited to the requests of the President. Anyone familiar with the history of the Space program
should see that Weinberg overlooked NASAs research findings. When Kennedy declared to
send men to the moon NASA didnt send 24 astronauts to take pictures on the moon and go
home. With each successful mission, astronauts brought back useful information pertaining to
the moons geology and atmosphere that later proved multiple theories in the fields of physics
and astronomy. With this in mind, it is certain that NASA will do more than just send astronauts
to Mars for the sheer fact that the president told them to. Rather, it can be assumed that the
mission to Mars set to be completed in the 2030s will serve as an opportunity to learn more about
our universe and to obtain more data to make solid observations/theories about our solar system.
Weve seen tangible evidence of previous findings in the form of new technologies like the water
purifiers previously mentioned from Spin off. If Weinberg wanted to make an argument that the
program isnt beneficial, his only sufficient support could have been that the human body isnt
ready to deal with such stresses in terms of colonizing another planet. According to research
done by Maria Angela Masini and her team it has been determined so far that as mankind enters
the space age, it may become a critical problem whether humans will be able to maintain a
normal life cycle, including reproduction, in the extraterrestrial environment (9).
Although manned space travel may seem of concern to only a small group of the
population, it should in fact concern anyone who cares about the success of our species and

Gasparovich 7
planet. As Stephen Hawking puts it in his interview If we are the only intelligent beings in the
galaxy, we should make sure we survive and continue. In order to do so, as a society we need to
stop thinking of traveling to new worlds as science fiction and utilize spaceflight program to
its fullest extent. With the programs funding being less than half of one percent of the federal
expenditure the ability to reach these standards in such a short amount of time solely depends
on the interest in our culture. Once Americans see the need for space exploration the limits of the
Space program are endless. Will our next home be Mars? Thats yet to be determined but it is a
start to a promising future.
Work Cited
Achenbach, Joel. "NASA Budget for 2011 Eliminates Funds for Manned Lunar Missions." The
Washington Post. 1 Feb. 2010. Web. 16 Apr. 2015.
Drumheller, Deborah, Lisa Rademakers, and Bo Schwerin. Spinoff, 2010: NASA Technologies
Benefit Society. US National Aeronautics and Space Admin, 2011. Print.
Grunsfeld, John. Interview. Science Friday. NPR. WYPR, Washington D.C. 27 Ap. 2012. Radio.
Masini, Maria Angela, et al. "The Impact of Long-Term Exposure to Space Environment on
Adult Mammalian Organisms: A Study on Mouse Thyroid and Testis." PLoS ONE: 1-13.
PLOS ONE. Web. 17 Apr. 2015.
Hawking, Stephen. Interview. Abandon EarthOr Face Extinction. Aug.
2010. Web.

Gasparovich 8
Sellers, Piers. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Science and
Space Hearing. Lanham: Federal Information & News Dispatch, Inc, 2014. ProQuest.
Web. 27 Mar. 2015.
Shatner, William. "Space Quotes." The Space Educators' Handbook. Ed. Jerry Woodfill. NASA,
15 Feb. 2000. Web. 6 Apr. 2015.
Than, Ker. Nobel Laureate Disses NASA's Manned Spaceflight. Purch, 18 Sept.
2007.Web. 27 Mar. 2015.