From orbit, you can’t see America sliding backward into mediocrity – Car and Driver, May 2010

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.

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3 comments

  1. However…I must offer that it’s good that students return to their own countries to enhance the quality of life there. Students from other nations would well benefit their nations (and the US) by taking their skills home and enhancing the lives of families and countrymen.
    Brain drain, perhaps, but surely we can produce enough US students to stay in-country and still benefit from their relationships with international students and turn that into the proverbial win/win for both the US and other nations.

  2. I certainly agree; that’s a very good point. I just hope the number of US students in the STEM majors doesn’t continue its decline. Robinson mentions in the article the likely event that, with the ending of shuttle and no follow-up program in place, “Expertise will boil off like liquid hydrogen on a hot plate.”

  3. Aaron Robinson hits the nail on the head. As a kid I was completely consumed by the excitement of Mercury, Gemini and Apollo. To this day, the dreams inspired by those BHAG-driven people and programs guide much of what I do. Current and future generations deserve more than the promise of a secure bureaucratic government job. Lofty goals, big dreams, and the funding to go beyond the current envelope is how genius is cultivated and new frontiers are opened.

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