Those are the immortal words of Buzz Lightyear. In reality, we may not be reaching for infinity yet, but something just a little bit closer - that mysterious red planet that has spawned so many science fiction and Armageddon movies. On Saturday, November 26th, the United States launched he $2.5 billion Curiosity Mars Rover, with the mission of searching for ancient habitable environments to learn if Mars was once home to microbial life.
On that same day, only two days after Thanksgiving and one month before Christmas, children living in 17 million US households went to bed hungry. While hunger and poverty are reaching record levels in the US and the Republican controlled Congress looks for new ways to cut social welfare programs in the name of reducing the federal deficit, our government was able to justify spending $2.5 billion to learn if there was ancient life on Mars. We all should be asking, “what about life on this planet?”
If we kept our focus on earthly needs and not on the remote possibility of Martian microbes, what could that $2.5 billion have provided? For starters $2.5 billion dollars could have produced more than 6,00 units of affordable housing, providing a decent place for thousands of American families currently without homes.
There are other possibilities for those dollars as well, the same amount of federal dollars could have been used to hire approximately 37,000 elementary school teachers. Replacing many teachers fired due to budget cuts, thereby reducing class size and providing a higher quality education for thousands of children. Or it could have been used to provide more than 150,000 college scholarships making college attainable to young people whose families cannot afford the increasing costs of a college education. If you are more concerned about safety, these funds could have been used to hire 40,000 police and firefighters, making u for the thousands who have been laid off due to municipal budget cuts.
In his remarks at the John F. Kennedy Space Center on April 15, 2010 President Obama stated “I am 100 percent committed to the mission of NASA and its future. Because broadening our capabilities in space will continue to serve our society in ways that we can scarcely imagine. Because exploration will once more inspire wonder in a new generation -- sparking passions and launching careers. And because, ultimately, if we fail to press forward in the pursuit of discovery, we are ceding our future and we are ceding that essential element of the American character.
Now, just nineteen months alter, in the midst of a severe economic downturn, when millions of children are having their dreams denied or deferred these words seem to run hollow. What do we gain by inspiring wonder in a new generation if they are unable to pursue that wonder through a quality education or if they are too hungry to aspire to anything more than wondering where their next meal will come form or when their Mommy or Daddy will get a job or they will have a permanent place to live. How do we tell them that as a country we believe that finding microbes on a distant planet is more important than helping them to succeed right here on planet Earth?
When we cannot even provide the basic needs for millions of American citizens, and unemployment is approaching record levels, we must make crucial decisions about how our federal tax revenues are spent. Do we focus our attention on improving life here on earth, or do we look out beyond the stars and focus on the possibility of ancient life existing on a distant planet?