The NASA space program gives us all something to root for

Between NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover and future manned missions to the moon and Mars, it’s an exhilarating time for spaceflight

As a young girl, I dreamt of becoming an astronaut. I’d even planned the physics, mathematics, and engineering courses I’d have to take to have a chance of being blasted into outer space. I soon realized, however, that I’m not good at any of them.

Needless to say, that dream never got off the ground, but it didn’t stop me from watching space shuttle launches on my tiny kitchen TV or sneaking off to my school’s library to watch it on a computer.

But years later, seeing women inside NASA control rooms and female commentators involved in Space-X launches has been awe-inspiring, but we’re only part way there.

“In 2016, women made up 34 per cent of STEM bachelor’s degree holders and 23 per cent of science and technology workers among Canadians aged 25 to 64,” according to Statistics Canada. One of the most common reasons for women not continuing post-secondary STEM studies is feelings of isolation in predominantly male classes and unequal treatment by peers or professors. Women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and computer science also “have lower academic self-confidence than men of equal academic ability.”

Perhaps I’m not suited for a science or math career, but that shouldn’t stop future generations of women. Maybe the first person on Mars will be a woman.

NASA’s space program is the one thing that unites us by giving us something to root for. For example, the International Space Station was a 20-plus year-long collaboration between 15 nations, including Canada. While space might be the “final frontier,” luckily, it’s big enough for everyone to explore.

But there’s something else. There was a collective joy around the world when Space-X’s Dragon spacecraft launched in May 2020 carrying two astronauts, marking the first manned launch from American soil since the retirement of the space shuttle program. Then on Feb. 18, NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover touched down on the red planet after a seven-month, 470 million kilometre journey through the inner solar system.

If you believe the space program is a waste of money, consider this: the 2021 fiscal budget for the United States is $4.8 trillion, while NASA’s budget is $23.3 billion. That means NASA receives only half of one per cent.

You might be wondering how the space program benefits you. Well, look at your phone. Whether getting GPS directions, or checking the weather forecast, none of these advancements would’ve been possible without weather and communications satellites. And how did they get up to low-Earth orbit? Rockets.

The space program inspires future generations, creates thousands of STEM jobs, and garners knowledge about Earth and our place in the universe. Some technology derived from space exploration includes solar panels, cameras, computing, water purification systems, and biomedical technology.

Within the decade, we’ll see NASA’s Artemis mission, where women will walk on the moon for the first time. Using that as a stepping stone, humanity will journey to Mars in the years following. The technological challenges involved with these endeavours are monumental, but history has shown what a nation can achieve when trying. Now imagine what’s possible if it has the support of the entire planet.

Nearly all of the elements inside the human body were created inside the core of a dying star. Humanity’s past and future lies within the stars. I hope we never lose our perseverance in getting there.

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