NASA Visitor Center a shadow of its former self

posted by Jeff | Sunday, July 26, 2009, 6:21 PM | comments: 0

We headed out to our local NASA facility to drop by the visitor center. My dad and grandfather used to take us there when we were kids, and I used to love getting the Space Shuttle cut-out glider to make when I got home.

They still have the gliders (now with nasa.gov printed on them), but the place is a sad shadow of what it used to be. Start with just entering the facility. There are concrete barriers around the entrance, as well as all around the buildings on the north side of the street. You have to be a US citizen, and they have to search your car before you can roll up to the visitor center. That's a sad reflection of things. They give you a pass, which you in turn have to give to the receptionist at the center, and they radio over that you're on your way.

Of course, the place seemed bigger when I was a kid (true of all the museums in Cleveland), and part of that is because it was. They had a balcony area with additional exhibits at one time, which is probably office space or something now. Half of the exhibits didn't work, placards were peeling... it was just sad overall. Their crown jewel is still the capsule from a Skylab mission (I doubt many kids even know what Skylab was), and they also have a moon rock.

I don't understand the feelings ranging from apathy to "waste of money" toward NASA. Not spending money on scientific endeavors strikes me as a huge strategic mistake, especially when the expenditures pale in comparison to other things. Military and homeland have 40 times NASA's budget. Social programs have 100 times. The cost of a robotic flight to take pictures of Jupiter won't buy even one stealth bomber. The return on investment for space exploration and scientific experimentation in space is exponentially higher, yet the budget for it is exponentially lower.

I'm not convinced that we necessarily have to put a human being on Mars, although doing so would have an incredible effect on the morale of our nation, and perhaps the world, as the moon landing did. I bet you can do much of the same things with machines. But either way, when I look at all of the things I do on a daily basis, I'm surprised at how many of them were in some way affected by space travel. Every piece of electronics, the materials and manufacturing of my bike, the materials that make up my couch, my video camera... you could make quite a list.

I really hope that it becomes a priority again. Relative to everything else the feds spend money on, I think there's far greater return on space.


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