I live in an upper middle-class suburb in Southern California. I, myself, am under the federal poverty level, but I manage to live paycheck-to-paycheck with some left over for savings/retirement. Lots of my neighbors don’t. I didn’t notice it really take off until 2008, but my community has at least quadrupled its homeless population. More women. More children. More young men, in their 20’s.
I love space and space exploration. As a 7-year-old I remember that July day in 1969, living in Fresno, California watching the moon landing on a 17″ black and white T.V. with rabbit ears…grainy images. I walked outside and looked up at the moon…hoping to catch a glimpse of Apollo 11. My imagination fired and my pride swelling…I was proud to live in a country that could accomplish this.
Space exploration will forever be seen as a national source of pride, a barometer of our success, a benchmark of our scientific progress. The best minds, the cutting edge of innovation. All good stuff.
There’s a lady with a couple of kids sleeping in a car that might argue that landing a rover on Mars is not quite as important to our national pride as allowing a child to starve in our own country. It’s simply a matter of priorities. And morality.
I have a household budget. I cannot buy a new car if I can’t put food on my table. Period. What is our choice to be, as a nation, when our own people are starving, are living in cars, are living with their families in storm drains. Do we provide the morally defensible “safety net” that provides a measure of safety and dignity to these human beings? Or do we continue to fund NASA?
Do we put food on the table and shelter our neighbors or do we continue to spend an estimated 17-18 billion dollars a year on space exploration (the proverbial “new car”)?
The moral answer is simple in my view. The political & cultural answers are much more complex and wide-ranging. I don’t have the answer but I think we, as the greatest nation in the world, as a country that has long defended its moral standing in the international community, need to start addressing the issue of poverty and homelessness before we approve another NASA budget. If we don’t, we will be driving that new car on an empty stomach…and that will only last for so long.