A sign in a downtown State College store window reads, “50 years ago we drove cars on the moon — What happened!”
David Godiska is the owner of Lion Antiques on Atherton Street. He is so passionate about space exploration, he actually owns the original flying saucer from the film “Mars Attacks.” He said he hung up the sign in his store window because he strongly believes NASA has become obsolete.
“I just thought it was interesting that we’re approaching 50 years since we, you know, landed on the moon, and the space program is going nowhere," Godiska said. "I thought, with the students in town, I try to do positive things that would stimulate some interest.”
Godiska said he thinks our technology has regressed since we first landed on the moon.
“Our space program was really strong in 1969," Godiska said. "Nothing’s happening right now, not compared to what was going on there.”
And he isn’t the only one who said space exploration is at a standstill. Students and locals alike walking the streets of downtown State College generally believe NASA hasn’t been very active lately.
“I guess 50 years ago NASA was a lot more prevalent and now things have changed drastically I guess,” Braden Rosemas said.
Unlike Rosemas, State College local Jerry Goff follows the space program closely and thinks we’re making more progress now than we ever did before.
“To me, going to the moon was more of a political thing," Goff said. "I like now the emphasis on unmanned spacecraft going out. The telescopes and things like that. I think they make better progress.”
So, what is the truth about NASA?
Penn State kinesiology professor and former astronaut Jim Pawelczyk said the space program is most definitely alive and well. He studies how the human body adapts under conditions such as space flight.
“I think the termination of the space shuttle program might have created a little bit of confusion that some people may have thought that this was a complete termination of NASA, and that’s nothing of the case,” Pawelczyk said.
Some people mentioned hearing about large cuts to NASA’s funding, which leads them to believe NASA isn’t doing anything. But Pawelczyk said that isn’t necessarily the case. Rather, money is being redirected from one program within NASA to another. This is why the space shuttle program was terminated.
“If we want to go beyond, if we want to actually return to the moon and go to Mars, the space shuttle is simply the wrong vehicle," Pawelczyk said. "It’s sort of like saying, gosh I have a very large school bus, and I’m going to use that as a daily driver for getting around town. It’s really kind of the wrong tool for the purpose.”
He said NASA and the Obama administration jointly decided to terminate the space shuttle program. That way, more funding could be put towards creating a new vehicle for deep space exploration.
The Trump administration has yet to appoint a new NASA administrator, but Pawelczyk doesn’t expect there to be drastic changes to the space program under Trump.
There has been a shift in the roles played by government and private industry.
“And what’s essentially happening is that we as a society are pushing to low earth orbit and beyond and then using government resources to go even further beyond low earth orbit,” Pawelczyk said.
This means a number of private programs like Elon Musk’s Space X are taking over satellite work, allowing NASA to use government funding for planetary exploration on places like Mars.
“So, and we’re already seeing that — Space X just had a very successful launch with deploying another 10 Iridium satellites," Pawelczyk said. "Blue Origin is ready to go orbital — they’ve already been to space several times with a reusable vehicle. Right now is an incredibly exciting time in space flight. It’s very, very dynamic.”
In fact, NASA’s Juno spacecraft flew over Jupiter’s Great Red Spot on July 10, while the Cassini spacecraft is currently orbiting Saturn.