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If you want to know about innovation in the U.S. government then lift off with NASA. This is one federal agency in need of a big budget boost.
NASA is a crown jewel of public sector innovation and a global role model for groundbreaking scientific research and discovery. However, more funding is needed by Congress for NASA to truly maximize its potential for the American people and the world.
Rich History, Challenging Future
NASA serves as a reminder to the USA of what's possible when government harnesses the space agency's full potential, as evidenced by a rich history of landmark achievement.
These historic accomplishments range from landing men on the moon 45 years ago, to current breakthroughs via the Mars Rovers, in addition to amazing findings by the Hubble and Kepler Space Telescopes.
For example, the Kepler Space Telescope is locating hundreds of planets orbiting stars similar to our own - some of which resemble Earth and may harbor life.
The Hubble Space Telescope can see back to the beginning of the universe soon after the so-called "Big Bang" occurred - which has resulted in a new scientific understanding of the cosmos and our place in it.
Windfall of ROI
NASA has not only proven instrumental in boldly going "where no man has gone before" but also in applying innovative approaches in space that yield practical solutions to problems on Earth.
When it comes to a rich return on investment (ROI), NASA provides a windfall to multiple industries via its Earth Science missions. NASA's amazing discoveries in space provide significant tangible benefits back home which should not be overlooked. Today's NASA initiatives include sending humans to an asteroid by 2025 and Mars in the 2030s (video).
According to Jim Adams, NASA's deputy chief technologist:
Much of what NASA does yields practical scientific results. For example, when you fly, NASA is with you. We work with the aviation industry to make flying safer and more efficient. We gather and make available data on rainfall, hurricanes, ground water, and natural disasters, among other things. This data can be used for practical applications such as monitoring climate patterns, farming, disaster response and wildfires, for example.
Moreover, Adams points out:
Every dollar the government invests in NASA fuels the U.S. economy. We don't spend money in space, we spend it here on Earth. Our investments in space and aeronautics return dividends in non-space related industry many times over, including through Spinoffs and Technology Transfer. We push the boundaries of science, technological and human performance every day.
Envy of the World?
In its heyday, the U.S. space program was the envy of the world and put the former Soviet Union to shame. But what about NASA today?
Frankly, it's unwise to rely on Russia to hitch a ride to the International Space Station (ISS) because of the dissolution of our own space shuttle program. Rather, NASA should be self-sufficient.
And while some private sector companies are moving closer to commercializing space travel, it's NASA that ultimately has the most expertise, experience and resources to make historic scientific discoveries which benefit all mankind.
Therefore, it's unfortunate that NASA has arguably been underfunded due to the ongoing climate of budget austerity in Washington and a lack of vision by some politicians.
This is nonsensical because if any federal agency deserves a major budget increase based on ROI then it is most certainly NASA. Moreover, one can't put a price on inspiring the nation through space exploration.
That's why every Congress and Presidential Administration - regardless of party - should sweep politics aside and allocate more funding for NASA to be the very best it can be, not just the best it can be with limited resources.
America and the world will be much better off for it.
David B. Grinberg is an independent Washington, D.C.-based writer who has worked in the Clinton White House and the Office of the House majority leader of Congress, in addition to global political consulting firms and the news media. Follow him on Twitter at @DBGrinberg.