NASA’s Impact Isn’t Limited To The Stars — It’s Also Felt Here On The Ground

Athena Brensberger brings the importance of the space agency back down to Earth.

The importance of funding NASA goes beyond space exploration. Funding NASA means advancing our technology, which branches into industries such as automobiles, GPS, cellphones, computers, MRIs, sonograms, and more. My mission when I volunteered to visit Congress last month with the Planetary Society was to convey the importance of and the extent of NASA's contributions in our society in a way that would convince the House of Representatives to pass the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017



Without cooperation between the U.S. Government and NASA, it will be nearly impossible to move forward in space exploration. There are privately funded space agencies and companies outside of NASA that don't get the majority of their funding from the federal budget (SpaceX, United Launch Alliance, Orbital ATK, Boeing). However, NASA was the one that achieved putting the first human on the moon. That itself shows its level of importance, not just in the past, but in raising younger generations to pursue a future in science. It means having better emergency planning, and an increase in jobs that result in a growing economy and business. It means remaining a world leader in innovation, which in turn keeps the United States' national security on point. Funding NASA is funding research that goes into the development of new medicine.

When I first signed up for the Space Exploration Alliance Legislative Blitz 2017, I didn't exactly know what to expect. I signed up through The Planetary Society, of which I am a member in case anyone was wondering, and whose CEO is Bill Nye (yes, from that cool science show, Bill Nye the Science Guy). This nonprofit organization was started by Carl Sagan, Louis Friedman, and Bruce C. Murray to further expand humanity's space and planetary exploration. Being a member for only a few months, I saw this opportunity to speak with Congress to further the United States' space exploration endeavors, and applied right away. Upon arrival, we were trained on the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 and learned about NASA's goals for the next few years:

1. Sending humans to Mars

2. Continuing robotic missions to Mars

3. Missions to the moon

4. Developing our own space launch system aka the SLS

5. Continuing international relations with other space agencies

6. Continuing visits to the international space station

7. Other trips outside of lower earth orbit (LEO) such as going to Jupiter's moon Europa, where there are oceans of water underneath its icy surface

8. STEM education

9. Spinoff technology

The experience of speaking with Congress was so personal. Upon arrival, we introduced ourselves as representatives of the Space ExplorationAlliance who were volunteering our own time to speak face to face with them because we feel that this is crucial and very important for our country, and the world. My mission was to convey the importance of space exploration, NASA technology, and how NASA impacts our lives every single day. 

Meeting with Congress was something I didn't realize was such a rare occasion. To speak on behalf of NASA and the Space Exploration Alliance, to be recognized as an authority figure on space exploration was something that I will never take for granted. If there's anything I've been trying to convey to people through my blog and my vlog it's to be more active and involved in the space community, because it's not only about learning what's beyond our own planet, it's also about how we can advance as a species, accelerate in technology, and inspire forthcoming generations — who can learn how to use an iPhone better than their parents within the first five minutes of holding the device. 

When I spoke with our senators, I had to take it to a personal level, so I had to research them beforehand to find out how involved they are in the sciences, and also find out how much of an impact NASA and other space organizations have made on their states.

Also, what a lot of people don't know, is that the technology that we use in hospitals these days was first created by NASA engineers. For example, the image resolution problem that was fixed on the Hubble Space Telescope by NASA's computer software engineers is now used in modern day mammograms to detect breast cancer much sooner than ever before.

 The potential for economy and business to grow is astronomical (pun intended). I say this because we are living in an era where technology is dominating everybody's everyday life. The job opportunities for the generations being born today are all going to revolve around some form of technology. The funding from grants and scholarships that NASA provides to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education is massive. I personally was a student who benefitted from this funding while in college. Conducting research in college is not only an opportunity to give students the experience of what pursuing a career in their field would be like, but the research they actually do with their mentors can end up published in scientific research papers, and can end up developing something like a rocket.

For example, the SLS, which is going to be the new way that Americans can be launched into space. The SLS is a rocket that will be carrying the Orion capsule, which seats four astronauts to launch into space — currently, we pay Russia $81 million per passenger per ride to launch our astronauts on the Soyuz capsule, which Scott Kelly came back in from the International Space Station. This and many other reasons are why we are developing our own launch system and capsule.

NASA is spending $2.5 million on academia to conduct research and development on the SLS. This money from the federal budget is coming directly back to the people, to the students of 12 universities nationwide, and to the jobs of Americans. There are many research facilities with professors, astrophysicists, engineering, and astrophysics students developing and learning about it because the opportunity comes from NASA and NASA's funding. If we met with a specific representative from a state where NASA spent, say, $12 million dollars (such as Montana) on research, including STEM education, then it is seen as a very good thing, because that means that NASA is using money from the federal budget to put directly into the people of the state, hence economic growth and increase in state income.



It's also important to keep international relations strong because, after all, space unites us. The International Space Station unites participating nations with the amount of collaborations that go into it. However, I think it's about time that the United States had its own launch system and capsule, hence the importance of Orion.

 NASA has contracts with SpaceX, orbital ATK, Boeing, and a few other space organizations, and we want to continue that relationship, but another point I made to Congress about the NASA authorization Act of 2017 was that it should layout NASA's plans and how its spending will be influenced by using the federal budget (which is 0.4 percent of the total federal budget). I'm sure you've heard that SpaceX has announced it will be sending humans to the moon on an orbital mission in 2018. SpaceX is using something called the Dragon capsule launching on the Falcon 9 rocket, which it was recently able to launch but land back safely on Earth.

The bigger picture isn't just to continue being the leading nation of the world in space exploration, but to also answer the questions of "Who are we? How did we get here? And are we alone?" as Bill Nye was quoted as saying in his open letter to the president. I am honored to have been part of this successful mission, because President Donald Trump signed the NASA Transition Authorization Act, which was the first authorization act for NASA that has been passed in seven years. He discussed everything I covered in this article and in my meetings on Capitol Hill. I am honored to have made this impact on our country's space policy and legislation. If I can make a difference, so can you. 

Check out Athena's blog at astroathens.com. You can also follow her on Twitter and Instagram.  

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