Obama drops moon mission funding from NASA

US President Barack Obama is planning to axe the NASA funding for Constellation, the space program that would see NASA return to the Moon by 2020. They’ll put development plans for the shuttle replacement into the hands of private industry.

This is bad news.

I’ve waffled on many times in this blog about the apparent short-term wisdom but long-term foolishness of abandoning (or putting at great risk) research like this. I know that times are tough, and money is needed elsewhere. And US space funding has roller-coastered over the decades.

But this is important for the future. It was important enough that Obama made it a campaign pledge, as did John McCain. It’s important because we can’t even imagine today what might be discovered by scientists who don’t have to make profits. Here are a few historical reasons that represent only the spinoffs of the space program, to say nothing of actual space exploration:

Under the Space Act of 1958, NASA has had a mandate to share all the information it has gained with the public. Here are a few of the practical applications that have resulted from technologies and information learned by space scientists:

  • CAT scans
  • MRIs
  • Kidney dialysis machines
  • Heart defibrillator technology
  • Remote robotic surgery
  • Artificial heart pump technology
  • Physical therapy machines
  • Positron emission tomography
  • Microwave receivers used in scans for breast cancer
  • Cardiac angiography
  • Monitoring neutron activity in the brain
  • Cleaning techniques for hospital operating rooms
  • Portable x-ray technology for neonatal offices and 3rd world countries
  • Freeze-dried food
  • Water purification filters
  • ATM technology
  • Pay at the Pump satellite technology
  • Athletic shoe manufacturing technique
  • Insulation barriers for autos
  • Image-processing software for crash-testing automobiles
  • Holographic testing of communications antennas
  • Low-noise receivers
  • Cordless tools
  • A computer language used by businesses such as car repair shops, Kodak, hand-held computers, express mail
  • Aerial reconnaissance and Earth resources mapping
  • Airport baggage scanners
  • Distinction between natural space objects and satellites/warheads/rockets for defense
  • Satellite monitors for nuclear detonations
  • Hazardous gas sensors
  • Precision navigation
  • Clock synchronization
  • Ballistic missile guidance
  • Secure communications
  • Study of ozone depletion
  • Climate change studies
  • Monitoring of Earth-based storms such as hurricanes
  • Solar collectors
  • Fusion reactors
  • Space-age fabrics for divers, swimmers, hazardous material workers, and others
  • Teflon-coated fiberglass for roofing material
  • Lightweight breathing system used by firefighters
  • Atomic oxygen facility for removing unwanted material from 19th century paintings
  • FDA-adopted food safety program that has reduced salmonella cases by a factor of 2
  • Multispectral imaging methods used to read ancient Roman manuscripts buried by Mt. Vesuvius

But if you don’t want to bother, America, feel free to drop it. China will happily step in.