To the moon and beyond
5/18/2019, 6 a.m.
Whatever President Trump does is rightly met with skepticism. In addition to changing with the wind, he routinely lobs policies and proposals that are regressive, hurtful and often terrifying to populations who need help the most. (Examples: Think of President Trump’s efforts to roll back pre-existing condition protections in the Affordable Care Act and to push policies allowing children of undocumented immigrants to be separated from their parents.)
So it is rare when we find ourselves in agreement with one of his proposals.
Monday evening was one of those rare times.
President Trump sent a 2020 budget amendment to Congress that would shift $1.9 billion in surplus Pell Grant money to fund other budget priorities. Among them would be an additional $1.6 billion to NASA to once again send American astronauts to the moon.
Specifically, the additional funding is to facilitate a human landing near the lunar south pole by 2024, a target announced earlier this year by the administration. NASA officials said the mission would lead to a long-term, sustainable human presence on the moon.
The money would be in addition to the $21 million already allocated to NASA for 2020, officials said.
While we had concerns that money would be siphoned from the critically needed Pell Grant program that helps low-income students and families pay for higher education, officials from the federal Office of Management and Budget stated that no students or their grants would be affected by the change, and that the program remains sound financially. According to OMB officials, enrollment in the Pell Grant program has declined since 2011, leaving nearly $9 billion unspent.
Further investigation may be needed into why enrollment is down, or whether Pell Grant enrollment guidelines should be changed. But in the interim, we believe shifting $1.9 billion of the surplus largely to help boost the space program is commendable.
Funding the future in space is better than funding a border wall on Earth. Our working in space can help broaden our horizons and thinking and expand our capability for collaboration and alliances with other nations rather than building barriers that separate us.
Many of the innovations we take for granted today were born out of NASA and the space race. Among them:
• Pressurized air tanks originally designed for life support systems aboard spacecraft are now used to help firefighters breathe when they enter burning buildings. The same lightweight tanks are used to fuel city buses.
• Thanks to NASA algorithms, first responders, explorers and drivers have precise GPS locations.
• NASA technology enhances fitness workouts through exercise devices employing “weightless” technology that are widely available on the consumer market.
• NASA innovations have become a crucial components in the area of health and medicine, including infrared ear thermometers, robotic arms used for surgery, robotics and shock-absorption/comfort materials used for artificial limbs and technology used in pacemakers. A collaboration between NASA and the late renowned heart surgeon Dr. Michael DeBakey and others resulted in creation of a lifesaving heart pump for patients awaiting heart transplants.