Columns

Guest Commentary

Guest Commentary by Walt Shotwell and Lee Hamilton


NASA spends billions as we go bust

By Walt Shotwell

 

In Des Moines, school teachers are being fired, classes are enlarged and such subjects as art and music are being eliminated for lack of money. In Iowa, the governor struggles to find ways to overcome the state’s financial shortfall. The United States is trillions of dollars in debt, especially to China.

Scary.

Yet since 1958 the National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA) has been spending more than $8 billion a year on outer space exploration that does no earthly good.

In 1969, it was fun to watch Neil Armstrong hop-skip-and-jump on the moon.

But this really did no good for Earth, and it cost us about $3 billion to put Armstrong there. More recently NASA bombed the moon to — maybe — uncover water. Again, this didn’t help Earth in any way. (We shouldn’t hammer the moon. We might break it and throw our entire solar system out of whack).

These moon excursions cost the United States many billions of dollars, the exact amount depending upon which government agency makes the calculation. And the cost of more excessive outer space explorations is astronomical — pun intended.

Low-orbiting satellites, of which the International Space Station is one, make worthwhile contributions to Earth, especially in communications. It’s as easy to phone Pakistan as it is to call your nextdoor neighbor. The world enjoys instant television news coverage, thanks to these satellites. But the probes into outer space provide Earth with no practical good.

Well, NASA did come up with one important development — a cushion with memory. When you sit on it, it remembers the shape of your butt for the next time you sit on it. This memory was adopted by the mattress industry. Actually, the research was done by NASA on Earth, so outer space had nothing to do with it. The same is true of certain medical technologies developed by NASA, plus advances in power tools, quartz clocks, smoke detectors, Teflon and Velcro. But these advances were made by private companies under NASA contracts, which had nothing to do with outer apace. Astronaut John Glenn drank Tang in outer space, but Tang was invented by General Mills on Earth.

True, knowledge for the sake of knowledge is of some value, especially to outer space scientists and academicians who think it’s important to know why Mars appears to be red and Saturn has rings around it. Rocket scientists love to find new planets and write essays about their discoveries.

Frankly, however, given the state of the United States economy, it makes more sense to reign in NASA and keep more teachers in Des Moines. CV

 

Walt Shotwell is a former Des Moines Register reporter and columnist who writes occasional commentaries for Cityview.

 

Antidote for anxious times? Do your duty

By Lee Hamilton

 

Over the last few months, many Washington pundits have been discussing whether our government is dysfunctional and what might be the remedies.

I want to tell you my view on the best way to fix government dysfunction.

Let me explain with a story. In 1780, the skies over much of New England became very dark at mid-day. Many people thought Judgment Day was at hand. The Connecticut legislature considered adjourning, but one representative opposed the motion.

“The day of judgment is either approaching, or it is not,” he said. “If it is not, there is no cause of an adjournment; if it is, I choose to be found doing my duty.”

So it is with us. We may be discouraged about Washington, but whether Capitol Hill and the White House are falling apart or performing splendidly, our responsibility as citizens does not change: to do what we can to improve our own corner of the world, and to insist that our elected representatives improve theirs.

If we hold both ourselves and our politicians to account, that is the best salve I can think of for our country’s current pains. In short, we must choose to be found doing our duty. CV

 

Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.


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