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Time to Find Our Place in the Stars

by Sean Begin

“Mankind was born on Earth. It was never meant to die here.”

This is the tagline from one of the trailers for “Interstellar,” the new movie from Christopher Nolan coming out in November.

The film features an Earth in the not-to-distant future that sees the human race facing extinction, as the planet has become unable to sustain life. Matthew McConaughey stars as an engineer who travels with other astronauts to a wormhole to try and find a way to save the human race.

The idea of traveling along wormholes to move through space-time has been a proposed theory in physics for some time now. Space travel itself has long been a romantic notion in human thought.

The human race is slowly, steadily, moving towards interstellar space exploration. Ideas like the space elevator (while implausible right now) and the space jump two years ago by Felix Baumgartner and Red Bull have served to keep human minds trained towards the stars.

And then there’s Richard Branson and his Virgin Galactic space program, which seeks to bring the “average” citizen on a flight in suborbital space on a ship that’s been in design for the last decade. The price for such a flight is around six figures, so an “average” citizen probably can’t afford it, but the technology exists.

Another company, XCOR Space Exploration, recently awarded a trip to space to golfer Andy Sullivan for hitting a hole-in-one during a European Tour tournament. The trip was valued at $95,000.

While private citizens and corporations seek to bring humans to orbital space, NASA continues to push the boundaries of human travel into deep space and beyond.

NASA currently has plans to build a giant space lasso that will trap and transport an asteroid to an orbit around the moon. The plan is for NASA to use this asteroid as a training ground for manned missions to Mars.

This comes on the heels of the successful Mars Curiosity rover that continues to move across the surface of Mars looking for signs of life. The rover recently reached it’s destination on the red planet: a mountain that may contain evidence of life.

NASA received a $100 million budget to build their space lasso. This is still, though, just a fraction of their total budget. And their total budget is a mere fraction of the total US budget.

In 2011, NASA received a budget of $18.724 billion about half of a percent of the total US budget. Their projected 2015 fiscal year budget is earmarked at $17.46 billion.

Compare this to the military budget. In 2011, the US military had a budget of $680 billion, or about 22.6 percent of the US budget. Their approved 2015 fiscal year budget is $756.4 billion.

NASA also continues to face potential cuts to their already slimming budget. They manage to maintain and enact newer and bolder plans for space exploration. Even programs enacted decades ago continue to bring return on investments. Voyager I reached interstellar space in August of 2012 after 35 years traveling through and past our solar system.

On their website, NASA has a webpage headlined “Beyond Earth: Expanding Human Presence into the Solar System.” The future of humanity lies in part in the stars and planets that exist in our galaxy. And with the ideas NASA is putting forth, it’s time for the government and the people to choose to spend money funding that research.

It sounds like science fiction, humanity reaching new planets. But communicating to someone on the other side of the world instantaneously was considered science fiction. So were submarines and helicopters.

If the American public is smart, they’ll view science fiction merely as precursor to science fact and make an effort to fund NASA to continue to push human boundaries.