Friday, January 21, 2011

NASA: A Very Good Thing

Throughout the book “Parables of the Sower” by Octavia E. Butler, the main character, Lauren Olamina, appears to make several critiques about our society. There appears to be such a passage in her entry on Saturday, August 3, 2024 on page 20. This passage appears to be a critique of NASA regarding whether or not it benefits our society.

This passage was preceded by a passage about one of the astronauts on the current Mars mission. Her name was Alicia Catalina Godinez Leal, and she died “when something went wrong with her protective suit and the rest of her team couldn’t get her back to the shelter in time to save her.” Lauren states that the people in her neighborhood believe that the government doesn’t have any business in going to Mars.

During the last moments of her life while she knew that she was going to die, Alicia Leal stated that she wanted to be buried on Mars because “Mars was the one thing she had wanted all her life, and now she would be part of it forever.” Lauren; however, was angry when she heard the news that the Secretary of Astronautics had denied Alicia Leal her last wish due to the concern of her body contaminating the Martian environment. She states that one of the men who is running for president, named Christopher Morpeth Donner, promised to abolish the Department of Astronautics if he is elected.

“Bread and circuses” is the expression that Lauren’s father uses when he hears space news on the radio. He says that “politicians and big corporations get bread, and we get the circuses.” Lauren argues to her father that “space could be our future,” but her father responds with “you don’t understand. You don’t have any idea what a criminal waste of time and money that so-called space program is.”

Based on this passage it appears that Octavia E. Butler is not a fan of NASA. I imagine that she believes that NASA is a waste of money and that the United States of America does not have any business in the exploration of outer space. I assume that she believes that the money that the government invests in NASA would be better allocated towards areas of the government that directly benefit citizens that are in need.

I would have to strongly disagree with Octavia E. Butler’s viewpoint on the benefits that NASA has on the citizens of the United States. I believe that NASA plays a vital role in increasing the strength of America politically, militarily, and economically.

NASA was established on July 29, 1958. It replaced its predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which was founded on March 3, 1915. On July 20, 1969 the Apollo 11 space flight landed the first humans on Earth’s Moon. The three lucky humans were Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin Eugene “Buzz” Aldrin Jr. In the documentary “In the Shadow of the Moon” Michael Collins had this to say about their return from landing on the Moon.

After the flight of Apollo 11, the three of us went on an around-the-world trip. Wherever we went, people, instead of saying, “Well, you Americans did it,” Everywhere, they said, “We did it. We Humankind, we the Human race, we, people, did it.” And, I had never heard of, um… people in different countries use this word “We, we, we” as emphatically as we were hearing from Europeans, Asians, Africans… Wherever we went, it was, “We finally did it!” And I thought that was a wonderful thing. Ephemeral, but wonderful.

I believe that this quote shows the profound impact that the achievements of space exploration can have on the world. Without organizations such as NASA, it would be nearly impossible to achieve such great accomplishments.

Another way in which NASA benefits our society is militarily. NASA plays an important role in the defense of our nation. It is the means by which we are able to launch satellites the provide support for our military. Some of these satellites include the Global Positioning System (GPS.) GPS was created and realized by the U.S. Department of Defense in 1973 and originally consisted of 24 satellites. Its purpose was to overcome the limitations of previous navigation systems. The highest quality GPS signals were originally reserved for the military; however, on May 1, 200, President Bill Clinton ordered that the selective availability be turned off. This increased the accuracy available to civilians from 100 meters to 20 meters. Since then GPS has been an enormous benefit to our society. It enables safe and reliable navigation to ships lost at sea, aircraft traversing hazardous weather, and families trying to find their beach house. Valuable technology such as GPS would be impossible without the contributions of NASA.

There is also an economical benefit that NASA provides. The unique challenges of space travel have spawned many great inventions. Some of these inventions have also been adapted for use in the civilian market. One such invention is the space blanket. The space blanket is a blanket that can be used in emergencies to erduce the heat that is lost in a person’s body caused by thermal radiation, water evaporation, and convection. Their use ranges from preventing and countering hypothermia to providing shade in hot environments.

Although Octavia E. Butler may believe that organizations such as NASA are a tremendous waste of precious resources, I believe that society has benefited a great deal from the existence of NASA. It has spawned technologies that allow us to navigate more precisely and reliably and products that help save lives. It also has the power to unify our planet in conquering new worlds. I think that it is important that our society realizes the importance of having a government organization that enables us to explore the space that surrounds our world.


  1. This one is kind of hard to respond to, because you start out with a faulty premise. While Olamina's father and president Donner are anti-NASA, Olamina herself is vehemently pro-NASA. While that pro-NASA orientation is less clear at the end of last week's reading than at the end of this week's readings, it's still very clear: Olamina does not agree with her father at all on this issue.

    So, why would you assume that Butler is putting forth Olamina's father's views as her own (as an aside, Butler herself was also very pro space exploration).

    There's another dimension of trouble here, though. You get into some wholly irrelevant material (the thumbnail history of NASA), along with giving benefits to NASA (the military benefit) which Olamina would likely vehemently disagree with.

    So you're in the position of mistakenly attributing to Butler anti-NASA views, *and* of giving perhaps the only common pro-NASA argument she wouldn't agree with. Your interest in NASA is good - but you need to pay more detailed attention to the text in order to make it work for you.

  2. I myself thought Butlers beliefs were the ones that Lauren represented in the story. This made the argument here confusing. Lauren is for the space program and talks about different planets as being a good solution to their problem.

    The outline for the essay is very good and easy to read. The sentence flow is nice but I got caught up in the NASA quote I guess. I don't think it was necessary. I would have more interested if you would have expanded on some your interesting reasons that the space programs are essential. Like a lot of people think that NASA is a waste of money in both the book and today's world and I would like to here more on how it could help economicly.