I ran across a number of blogs including Buddhist blogs complaining about NASA’s moon mission and space program in general as that anniversary rolled around recently.
What a waste of money they said. It’s a hobby for rich white men they said.
Someone in the comments on one of them pointed out these tidbits:
– NASA costs about 7 billion dollars a year
– Iraq costs about 12 billion a year
– Americans spend 154 billion a year on booze
[I found another statistic that put NASA’s budget at 18 billion but you get the point anyway]
NASA’s mission as stated on their Mission Statement page is:
- To improve life here,
- To extend life to there,
- To find life beyond.
As well they have a vision statement on the same page:
To understand and protect our home planet, To explore the Universe and search for life, and To inspire the next generation of explorers… as only NASA can.
And in the About NASA section is a more comprehensive explanation of What Does NASA do?
For details of NASA’s budget here is all the information you could possibly want. On their Budget page. One of many things to note on that page is the list of things besides moon missions that NASA is involved with. These include:
Earth Science (1.61 MB PDF) Planetary Science (1.20 MB PDF) Astrophysics (1.12 MB PDF) Heliophysics (1.99 MB PDF)
› Aeronautics (616 Kb PDF)
› Exploration Systems (1.33 MB PDF)
› Space Operations (660 Kb PDF)
› Education (572 Kb PDF)
› Cross Agency Support (936 Kb PDF)
› Inspector General and Reference Materials (1.32 MB PDF)
Included in this is such things as observing earth-bound asteroids and assisting in formulating contingencies if such a mega-disaster should occur (provided the planet and humanity survives), monitoring sunspot activity (which interferes with electronics and communications including in aircraft!) and a lot of other fairly significant activity. And the amount of educational material that they put out FOR FREE to students, teachers and the general public all over the world is extremely valuable.
Beyond that here’s another perspective.
The first Indian cosmonaut Rakesh Sharma flew aboard the Soviet Soyuz T-11 rocket in 1984. But at the time most people in India (and elsewhere) didn’t know too much about it. There was not much by way of mass media in India at the time and the USSR wasn’t exactly in the business of publicizing things to do with state controlled high-tech endeavors.
Years later the Indian kids were excited to see female Indian astronaut Kalpana Chawla, born in the state of Hariyana, and her space shuttle journey on television. And they experienced great sorrow when the Columbia went down and she lost her life in 2003.
The excitement was re-ignited when Indian-American astronaut Sunita Williams toured India in 2007. Her ancestral village in the state of Gujarat welcomed her and scholarships to study space science were set up for children in her name. Her visit was chronicled on every television channel and in every newspaper in every language in India (that’s hundreds). She addressed conferences and school groups,and encouraged young people to pursue their dreams. As she stood there in person it was proof to many in the audience that all the limits of the past and even present circumstances can be overcome. It was massively symbolic. In a country that has such a long history of conquest and colonialism and suffering this is incredibly important.
…Ellison Onizuka, the Japanese-American astronaut… died in the tragic Space Shuttle Challenger explosion in 1987. Onizuka, a Buddhist, once said of his experience in outer space,
“I saw the Pure Land…it is the land of ‘no boundaries.”
The “Pure Land” is the symbol for the Buddhist awakening in Pure Land Buddhism. However, it isn’t really a “place” to go to. Moreover, it isn’t a “destination” far away or something only accessible after death. According to the founder of our Jodo Shinshu Buddhist tradition, Shinran Shonin (a 13th century Japanese Buddhist priest), the Pure Land is really just the everyday world around us, however this is a “world” to which we who are unawakened, are unaware of. Thus, the “goal” in Buddhism is to become awakened, or as is sometimes said symbolically in Jodo Shinshu, “Be reborn in the Pure Land,” …