Op-ed: NASA offers 'significant and positive return to the economy'

Coming on the heels of Election Day, many people have tax dollars on their mind.

NASA may be the best investment of our tax dollars. For the fiscal year 2019, the federal budget was approximately $4.5 trillion. This includes mandatory and discretionary spending, and interest paid on the national debt.

NASA’s apportionment was about $21.5 billion. While that sounds like a lot of money, and it is, it represents less than a half of one percent of the total spending (less than penny went to NASA for every dollar spent by the government) and approximately 1.5 percent of the discretionary spending.

So, what did we get for that fractional penny?

NASA has 10 field centers operating in various parts of the country and employs more than 18,000 civil servants. Its impact, however, is far more reaching with all 50 states seeing economic benefits. Connecticut industries received about $76 million from NASA missions and research and development opportunities in FY2019.

From a recent NASA-commissioned study on the agency’s national economic impact, the $21.5 billion generated a total economic output of more than $64 billion, supported more than 312,000 jobs, and resulted in nearly $7 billion in federal, state and local tax.

Maybe more important, NASA supports the country’s high-tech industries and invests in economically valuable technologies that help the nation maintain its competitive advantage.

Hundreds of new technologies, services and products are transferred from NASA to private businesses each year.

In FY2019, NASA issued 1,839 New Technology Reports, filed 85 new patent applications, had 122 patents issued, and 2,692 software usage agreements.

For example, this past year, engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory developed a ventilator specifically for COVID-19 patients in just 37 days, releasing the design for free to manufacturers. NASA astrobiologists contributed research and advanced software to study the novel coronavirus’ structure, and NASA supercomputers were volunteered to a consortium of high-powered computers nationwide to compile and process the huge volumes of data coming in about the virus and its impacts.

Large budget programs such as the International Space Station, space telescopes and the Moon to Mars initiative typically come to mind when tagging this government agency, but NASA’s investment of your tax dollars actually impacts your life on Earth and its quality (a quick search of ISS research programs turned up nine experiments that have or are investigating aspects of the Alzheimer’s disease).

While our nation’s budget negotiations can be highly contentious, an investment in a government agency that provides a significant and positive return to the economy, supports and sponsors research that improves the health of the average American and contributes to the country’s technological preeminence should certainly be viewed as a significant asset and supported - science saves lives.

On the local observatory home front, the observatory continues to be closed for public gatherings, but we are working on keeping you up to date on topics of astronomy and space exploration through our monthly newsletter and virtual Second Saturdays event.

We realize that there’s Zoom fatigue, so we are striving to keep the Second Saturday presentations short, light and informative. Our next event will be Nov. 14.

Bill Cloutier is one of the volunteers at the John J. McCarthy Observatory in New Milford.