My friend sent me this great article today. The tumult surrounding the NASA budget and the (blurry at best) vision for space exploration has been disheartening to employees of the space industry and space fans everywhere. Aaron Robinson captures the sentiment succinctly: "For an agency that keeps its clocks wound on just $18 billion annually, or about one half of one percent of the 2009 federal budget, NASA stokes a disproportionate share of the public imagination." It's hard to put a dollar sign on inspiration, but to me 0.5% of the federal budget seems like a bargain.
Anyone who's been in college, particularly graduate school, in recent years could attest to the fact that the US is now in a kind of reverse "brain drain." While overall enrollment in science and engineering may not be in decline, this is probably mostly due to the many international students who now come to the US for university and then return home. With outsourcing the norm in so many industries, it seems the trend is spreading to engineering and science as well. This is not encouraging, and Robinson comments that "A country that desires its engineers and technicians to keep the pace must demonstrate that it values their work, that it offers a future to them besides continuous frustration and third-place finishes" (think China and Russia).
Let's hope that the US can get back on track and inspire our own future scientists and engineers to continue to attempt the seemingly impossible for the benefit of all humanity.