The Sitting Room: Space Exploration and You.

“Damn, first they crashed two hunks of metal into the moon, and now they’re launching another rocket? Why in the hell is this worth spending money on? Going into space in the sixties and seventies didn’t do anything for us except make us proud that we beat the Russians, and it’s not going to do anything for us now. We should be fixing the budget with all that money.”

I saw him slap at the remote in frustration, trying to find something less infuriating to watch on the TV.

Trying to drown out the new sounds of some hunting or fishing show behind me (I couldn’t be sure, since I’m not allowed to watch TV in probation—all I heard was a southern accent saying “We got us a big ‘un right here!”), I closed my eyes and shook my head.

I need to get out of probation… because I’d like to have a high-volume discussion about why what you just said is stupid.

Alas, I had to finish my meal in silence, unable to weigh in on The Farm’s Space Talk. Little did any of them know…

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First off, NASA’s budget is barely perceptible on the fiscal radar. For FY2009, NASA announced a budget of $17.6 billion. In contrast, the Department of Defense was given just over $515 billion in “discretionary authority”—the allotment to repair and update our nation’s aircraft fleets is $17.3 billion alone.

More importantly, I find it inconceivable that someone—who was alive when a man set foot on the moon, mind you—is unable to grasp the tremendous impact that NASA and space exploration had on our lives as a whole. GPS units, medical imaging (MRI/CAT) machines, ear thermometers, satellite dishes, game controllers, anything made of plastic… the list goes on and on.

Oh, you’d like some more applicable specifics? Well, turn your head away from the TV I can’t watch (yes, Joe Hick’s Fishin’ and Huntin’ Time is being piped through the cable box, yet another invention from space) and listen here.

Power tools that we use, both here and in our homes? Well, a 238,857 mile-long extension cord doesn’t work very well for digging moon rocks.

Temper Foam, like the stuff inside our helmets? It was originally seat padding developed for both aircraft and spaceflight.

Fire-resistant clothing and material? The inherent fire risks associated with space travel (small compartment, oxygen tanks everywhere, sparks and wires, etc.) were unfortunately only addressed after the Apollo 1 fire that killed astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee.

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While their poorly-designed suits were only part of the whole picture that led to the death of these heroes, properly flame-retardant gear might have helped keep them alive long enough to find a way out of the test cockpit—instead, Grissom and White’s suits were found melted together. Following this, a great deal of research was conducted into making the entirety of the suit (and much of the material, fabric or otherwise, inside the cockpit) heavily resistant to heat and flame. Today, much of what we all have in our gear lockers is a descendant of NASA material, having adopted and bettered the technology for modern-day firefighting.

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Now, you tell me that’s not impressive. Sure, everyone knows that a good deal of modern technology comes from the military—but did you know that a whole mess of other stuff came from the space program? Kindly don’t piss and moan about NASA. They’ve been working for decades to do more for humanity than many other agencies, and on a shoestring budget at that (they’re running with 3% of the DoD budget—a mere drop in the governmental bucket).

Besides, it’s just cool. It’s space. The Final Frontier… “to infinity and beyond…”

Who didn’t want to be an astronaut when they were a little kid? My parents have said that when they were younger and they watched a man get out of a spacecraft and walk on the damned moon was one of the most amazing things they’ve ever seen. I’m jealous I didn’t get to see it myself.

On a funnier note, writing this post reminds me of one of my favorite Onion articles.

So, whaddya think? Are we wasting our time with the Ares-1-X and the new Constellation Project?

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Constellation Project logo and Apollo 1 crew image courtesy of NASA in the public domain.

Ares launch pad image © Bill Ingalls/AP/NASA.

Note: If you haven’t already figured it out, I have created this new category/headline for specific types of posts—”The Sitting Room” shall be hereafter reserved for my take on a wide variety of conversations, serious or otherwise, that go on in the firehouse. No, it’s not gossip, and no, it won’t be getting anyone in trouble. Think of it like a “miscellaneous” category.

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Alex Capece

Washington, D.C. Firefighter and Paramedic

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