Building Our Space Infrastructure
A Project to Change the World
The construction of the Interstate Highway System, spanning from 1956 to 1974 and costing $114 billion dollars (1) (or $522 billion in 2011 dollars) was initially hatched as a national defense project. The roads were meant to provide a means for US troops to quickly traverse the country in case of attack(2). No one, at the time if the initial inception of the project, could have foreseen the vast amount of change these roads would bring about. Take a moment and think what life would be like without the interstates that we now take for granted. Now, take another moment and imagine what a similarly large and ambitious project could do for our country today.
Our country is in deep crisis. We have fewer friends and more enemies, our economy is growing stagnant, our politicians unable to agree on anything. Now more than ever, we need a new ambitious project to unite the country, give our people jobs, and new innovations to improve life here on Earth. The Apollo program of the 1960s generated much of the modern technology that we take for granted now(3). Indeed there are thousands of inventions and discoveries that came out of NASA that American companies have used to create life changing technology.
A report done in 1989 examined 259 non-space applications of NASA technology during an 8 year period. This report found that these technologies produced more than $38 billion in sales and benefits, 352,000 (mostly skilled) jobs, and brought in over $646 million in federal corporate income taxes. Keep in mind, these 259 examples represented a mere 1% of the estimated 25,000 to 30,000 space program spinoff’s at the time(4). All of this, and NASA’s budget at the largest was 4.4 % of the federal budget, or $36 billion in 2011 dollars for that year(5). The average budget over NASA’s entire existence is around $10 billion annually. Imagine what would happen if we turned up the dial.
It is for this reason that I strongly feel this country needs to up its investment in both NASA and our fledgling private sector space industry. My proposal for funding such an investment is this: reduce military spending and make government more efficient. While these goals may sound simple, pushing them over the political hurdles will be difficult, but if can (and must) be done.
Before the year 2000 the total defense budget was around $390 billion. The estimated 2012 budget has soared to over $1 trillion(6). Reducing the budget back to pre 9/11 levels would eliminate over $610 billion in spending. Of that $610 billion, I propose giving NASA $50 billion per year (in addition to their current budget), and using $10 billion per year to further stimulate the private space industry.
Reducing the defense budget by this amount would be achieved largely by bring home a large majority of our troops deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. The current cost of supporting a single US soldier in Afghanistan is currently around $1.2 million(7). While I have yet to find a solid number on the costs of a non-deployed US soldier, the estimates I’ve seen were around $150,000 per soldier per year(8). Also, soldiers stationed at bases in the U.S. will be spending money out in the local towns that surround those installations at a more constant rate, helping to stabilize and strengthen the economies there.
As part of this package, reforms should also be included to help streamline government and make it more efficient and thus cost less to run. A large portion of cost cuts should come from cutting contractors and replacing any necessary jobs with federal employees. Some of these contractors are paid five times the rate of a federal employee for similar jobs, and the US currently spends over $320 billion per year on contractors(9). With the money saved from cutting the defense budget and making government a more efficient machine, the tax burden on the average American household would be lessened. With the increased budgets for NASA and funding for the private space industry, innovative new technologies will begin to flourish, further stimulating the economy.
One of the very large issues that NASA faces is the possible change in direction ever 4 - 8 years. It is for this reason that NASA should be directed to work closely with the private space industry, ensuring that these companies will be able to match NASA’s capabilities in time. Just as the government built the interstate highways and turned them over to states to use and maintain, NASA will forge the path into the new space age and insure that these new companies will have the capability to continue in its footsteps. Of course, ideally the president would not intervene in a large way in NASA’s business upon his or her election.
Another cause of shifts in the space industry’s budget is the actual location of the space industry. States that host NASA facilities and private space companies naturally have a reason to help those entities flourish, while non-space supporting states feel those funds would be better used elsewhere. With today’s modern communication technologies and an increase in the space industry’s budget, space and space supporting facilities need to be spread to all fifty states. Not only will this boost jobs and prosperity throughout the whole country, it will help to insure that ALL states have a vested interest in keeping the space industry healthy.
Some people may ask “What is there to be gained from giving the space industry to much money to spend each year? What benefits could we possibly see out of this?” In answer, I will provide a few examples of technology spun off from NASA that has become common place :
A water filtration system providing safe, affordable drinking water throughout the world is the result of work done by Marshall Space Flight Center engineers who are creating the Regenerative Environmental Control and Life Support System, a complex system of devices intended to sustain the astronauts living on the International Space Station. The devices, available through Water Security Corporation Inc., of Sparks, Nevada, make use of the available resources by turning wastewater from respiration, sweat, and urine into drinkable water.
Langley Research Center engineers developed a low-cost device that creates electrical energy out of mechanical energy. It is now in widespread use as a wireless light switch and contributing to renovation and reconstruction efforts in areas affected by Hurricane Katrina. Face International Corporation, of Norfolk, Virginia, holds several of the NASA licenses, and is mass-producing the devices at a new, dedicated plant in Taiwan.
Tiny light-emitting diode (LED) chips used to grow plants on the space shuttle and the International Space Station are lighting the way for wound healing and chronic pain alleviation on Earth. Developed with Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) support from Marshall Space Flight Center, the LED chips have made their way into a non-invasive, handheld, portable medical device called WARP-10. This device is intended for the temporary relief of minor muscle and joint pain, arthritis, stiffness, and muscle spasms, and was initially designed to provide armed forces personnel with immediate first aid care for minor injuries and pain. A consumer version sharing the same power and properties of the military model is also available, from Quantum Devices Inc., of Barneveld, Wisconsin.
A Goddard Space Flight Center researcher developed cable-compliant mechanisms for use in sounding rocket assemblies and robotics which have now been implemented into an adjustable patient harness system used to treat patients recovering from traumatic brain injury, stroke, spinal cord injury, and hip or knee replacement, as well as aid U.S. service personnel with spinal cord or traumatic brain injuries at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. The device provides patients with the opportunity to stand and walk in a safe and controlled environment without constant assistance from a therapist. The product is available through Enduro Medical Technologies, of East Hartford, Connecticut.
A robotic vision system designed at Goddard Space Flight Center to determine the position and orientation of bar code targets without the use of lasers led to the development of sophisticated crash test dummies and computer crash test models that provide repeatable, computerized evaluations of laceration injuries. Triangle Research & Development Corporation, of Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, collaborated with Goddard through a Small Business Innovation Research Grant (SBIR). These dummies and models are now being used by automobile and component manufacturers in vehicle testing worldwide.
Supercomputer experts from Ames Research Center and engineers from Johnson Space Center teamed up with famed cardiologist Dr. Michael DeBakey to develop a ventricular assist device that functions as a “bridge to heart transplant” by pumping blood throughout the body to keep critically ill patients alive until a donor heart is available. The consortium analyzed blood flow through the battery-powered heart pump using NASA supercomputers and the same methodologies used to analyze fuel and oxidizer flow through rocket engines. NASA patented the heart pump and licensed it exclusively to MicroMed Technology Inc., of Houston, Texas. The 400th patient implant was performed on October 20, 2006, by Dr. Matthias Loebe of Methodist Hospital in Houston.
These are just a few examples of thousands of technology that has come from NASA over its lifetime. So to answer the question of “What benefits could we possibly see out of this?” I would simply say the universe is the limit. Though our initial goal may be to put boots on Mars or build a large structure in space, the technology we would gain building up to that goal will have an immeasurable value and provide decades of economic growth and stability.
- http://www.csbaonline.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/2010.06.29-Analysis-of-the-FY2011-Defense-Budget.pdf , page #8