My wife and I, along with some friends, took of a tour of the Houston Space Center. I was not impressed. NASA is supposed to be America’s pinnacle of technological achievement, and the campus looked like something from an old Cold War movie about the Soviet Space Program. The buildings looked old and decrepit, the roads were cracked, the stripes were faded, and the sidewalks were uneven. The insides didn’t look much better with old tiles, faded paint, and bowed stairways. The museum looked more modern. I realize NASA wanted the campus to have a college feel to it, but that was 55 years ago. This isn’t some Ivy League University. The place just looks wore out, and that makes me sad.
How do we fix this? Money!
I look at how much money the federal government plans to spend on NASA in 2016, a paltry $18.5 billion dollars, and I wonder if our country is truly interested in science. You may think $18.5B is a lot of money, but that is less than 0.5% of what we spend as a nation–for every dollar allocated, take a penny and cut it in half. That is what our country thinks our scientific future is worth. For comparison, in 1966, we spent close to a nickle for every dollar allocated or ten times as much as we do today.
I’m sure there is a nostalgic feel to the place for those who’ve worked there since man first looked at the stars, but this is the 21st century. NASA should not have to scrimp and save to maintain a modern infrastructure. They’re still using bicycles to get from building to building for those who don’t want to drive. And the tour guides were bragging on this! In the 1960s, we developed an entirely new technology on those bicycles, and now we’re trying to figure out how to do the same stuff in 20 years. NASA should have monorails and covered, moving walkways like we have in today’s larger airports.
Sadly, perception is reality, and my perception from a simple tour is that NASA is old and wore out.