One of the strangest spin-offs from the budget quagmire is NASA’s funding for “planetary defense.” With deep cuts likely in the next few years, some astronomers are worried that there won’t be enough money to detect near-earth objects (NEOs).
Maybe this would have been a non-issue a few years ago, but practically everybody’s seen at least two or three Discovery Channel specials on the dangers of asteroids. We’ve also seen with our own eyes the fireballs on Jupiter from Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9. Asteroid collisions are a real concern.
With all the talk about environmental responsibility, human rights responsibility, and so forth, are we ignoring a real moral imperative for the U.S.? We are arguably the only nation on earth with both the artillery and astronomical capability to find and attempt to destroy an asteroid which could potentially eliminate life on earth. Isn’t this something we should fund regardless of other cuts? You know… fate of all mankind vs. tax cuts for the rich?
I’m only speaking half-flippantly. While asteroid impacts are probably not at the top of the list of real dangers to humanity, they are a real and verifiable danger. And the potential budget cuts for asteroid hunters are representative of the attitude America has taken in recent years with regard to science and moral imperatives.
It seems that we don’t really care much for moral responsibilities these days. We will spend millions of dollars to put Barry Bonds on trial for cheating at a game, or fine television companies millions for letting a half-second wardrobe malfunction slip through the filters. And we’ll call these moral issues. We’ll prevent women from choosing their reproductive paths, and call it morality.
We won’t fund research on stem cells that could save millions of lives. We won’t increase funding for the many state universities that have labored under hiring freezes and budget cuts for decades. We won’t contribute to Head Start programs that would help develop tomorrow’s scientists. We won’t require science classes to teach science for fear of offending religious sensitivities.
And we won’t even throw a few bucks towards NASA to protect the world from annihilation. Some moral example we are!