Countries around the world are becoming richer. They are becoming smarter. More and more nations are coming close to us in the sheer weight their economic power can throw around on the international scene. This of course, will be followed by social power, which will be followed by military power. Why is the United States suddenly in a world full of, well, rising superpowers? Surely, things did not get this way over night, and surely, there is no one answer. However, both of these are false, to some degree. Overnight, no, not literally, but in the grand scheme of history? Yes! China and India specifically have gone, as the old adage goes “from rags to riches” in an astoundingly short amount of time. While they still have a long way to go, just as mankind as a whole does, for our nation to remain competitive, there is something that must be done. Our government must re-invest money in the space program. Double NASA's budget. Give the lion's share of research funds over to research in all the fields of science relevant to space travel (literally more than ninety percent of them) and encourage Americans to once again take interest in the final frontier.
As a bit of a space junky, and someone who would benefit from the whole idea, this may sound a bit selfish. And it is. But I'm also a patriot and someone with a good understanding of macroeconomics. While necessity may be the mother of innovation, in the modern world, innovation is the mother of prosperity.
Think back to the Cold War. I know a lot of you “good old days” types love to do that. We where on top of the world. Threatened, but dominant. And why? The space program. There are three reasons I make such a bold claim. The first is that, in the interest of the military, space research took off, and, as a result, whole new fields of science where explored with the billions and billions of dollars in the military budget. The result? Things as diverse as the first men on the moon to microwaves. The second big reason is that we where an icon. The world looked up to us as Americans, the frontiersmen, the conquerors and the pioneers and the helmsmen of humanity. I'm not saying that this is the case, but having a world that looks to a generally peace-loving, democratic and successful nation for a role model for technology and other things vital to modern human societies is pretty darn good. Our influence extended as we where viewed as, well, awesome. Finally, it encouraged several generations of youth to get involved in the single most important human activity since 1880. Science. American youth became scientists by the thousands as a world was revealed to them: a world of wonder, discovery, learning and knowledge. We jumped even farther into the lead in the intellectual sphere as they came of age and stood on the shoulders of giants to become giants themselves.
Saving money on a national scale, as in austerity measures and and cuts, is ineffectual. Instead, invest most of your money in progress! It has been driving humanity, and America as a superpower, for nearly a hundred years, and has pushed mankind closer and closer to a better world. Try to find one sector of the economy that would not benefit from the scientific community receiving more funds, particularly in the space department, where scientists of all disciplines do tireless work to discover and harness new concepts for both the near-vacuum and the people around us, and you will be disappointed. Realize the potential of the future in scientific research, America, and it will be brighter.
Economically then, the best strategy is to support research and development. Only through continued innovation, specialization (one mark of any successful civilization) and the education of youth in the physical sciences will we remain successful in the three national fields of importance, as stated above: economic, military social. The world is shifting, politically, and many nations are rapidly approaching the level of scientific competence in the United States. Excellent! The more learning in the world, the better place it is. But for the United States to remain competitive, and to keep its position, vital to the success of a scientific world as a whole, as an enlightened superpower, it cannot stagnate. With the cancellation of the shuttle program recently, and the lack of a replacement, we find ourselves in just such a place. There is good news, however! We live in a democracy! While that may not mean, as some people think, that ignorance is as legitimate as knowledge, it does mean we can make decisions. Vote for politicians who support increasing the budget for science programs, demand action on the part of your country. Being a responsible American today means supporting advancement in the most fertile intellectual atmosphere man has ever known.
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