Saturday, March 15, 2014

Education Takes a Hit in Proposed NASA Budget


Let me just repeat that.


NASA's proposed 2015 budget isn't making many people smile, that's for sure. With cuts to planetary science (let's stop studying climate change, shall we?) and reallocation of funds from missions like Opportunity to cover the costs of missions like Curiosity (while we're at it, let's sacrifice one rover for the sake of the other!), there isn't lot of good news out there.

But to me, the worst news of all is the severe cut in education funds. It's taking a 25% hit. Reducing education by a quarter. Are you kidding me?


NASA's budget video shows a group of curious kids learning how to play with rockets. Look how cute they are! So inspiring! Now let's take away one out of four of those kids. No space education for you! Reducing the number of people who understand space and technology is surely the best way to move our country forward!

Now, that's obviously an oversimplification of the problem, but the fact remains that someone thought it was a good idea to have NASA cut back on teaching people about what they do. That means this burden falls on us science education professionals in non-profit, non-government institutions. We do our best. We really do. But the further you go from separating the science and the scientists from the public, the bigger the gap is going to be in public understanding.

Who are you more likely to listen to? "I am from a science museum, let me tell you about the newest space mission!" or... "I am from freakin' NASA, let me tell you about the newest space mission!"

This isn't to say that us non-profit science institution folks don't know what we're talking about. It's our job to know, and we generally rock at it. But the level of impact changes when it comes from us, as does the level of connectedness.

If you keep laypeople away from scientists, you get problems. This is the same issue that comes from big-wig scientists not knowing how to communicate to the public. This is the same issue that results in people's lack of understanding about evolution and climate change. This is the same issue as to why the U.S. is ranked so low in the general population's understanding of science.

We just don't put real importance on it.

This problem is why I do what I do. It's why I'm a science communicator--to help every day people understand the field of science. But us science educators can't shoulder this burden alone. We're under enough pressure as it is. I've been to schools where I've been told I am their science lesson for the year. A one hour assembly, and that's all the science they're going to get, so I better make it count. No joke.

Cutting education should never, ever be the answer.
There might be aliens here.


The one part of this budget plan which doesn't make me cringe is that they're allocating some money to look into a mission to Europa, Jupiter's icy moon. It's long been speculated that under its icy crust, down in its giant oceans, our best bet at finding alien life may lurk. Trying not to be too giddy that this kind of mission might actually happen in my lifetime.

This budget hasn't been approved yet, so more changes may come. We can only hope NASA gets the funding they ask for at the very least, and that more cuts don't need to be made. NASA's only asking for less than half a percent of the entire 2015 budget. Less than half a percent to take our nation into the future. Imagine what we could do with a full 1 percent.

Actually don't. Because you'll just get disappointed that it'll never happen.

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