The recent State of the Union address and Obama's remarks got me thinking: why do we have such trouble making the argument for funding space exploration? In speeches like this, leaders appeal to some higher "value", some non-partisan vision which is, quite literally, not of this world. But when the rubber meets the road, it's just rhetoric.
For me, the most apparent argument can be found in the products that millions of Americans use everyday. So many were used for military/industrial applications before trickling down to benefit consumers. Invisalign, space blankets, temper foam, solar cells.
America's military might goes without saying, but our success has been supported by a more subtle aspect of this fact: the vast technological development that building ever better weaponry brings. The billions upon billions spent to stay one step ahead result in all sorts of handy goods.
The same process applies to NASA and the space program - I'll bet if you looked at the return on $1 spent on NASA compared to $1 spent on defense, the public benefit, to consumers here on American soil would far greater for NASA.
So, why does it seem so hard to translate this concept into meaningful discourse? Why can't we change the dialogue from lofty (spacey) intangible things, to the actual R.O.I. of space exploration?
Or maybe I'm looking at it all wrong. We don't ask that of the defense industry, we spend out of fear. Perhaps we need an un-seen enemy in space. Perhaps Reagan really was on to something with the Strategic Defense Initiative.