Throughout its history, NASA has been criticized -- often unfairly -- as a drain on public resources. Let's spend money "down here," the argument goes, not "up there."
And yet, closer examination shows that NASA not only pays for itself but also stimulates the economy through the creation of profitable products. Moreover, scientists such as Neil deGrasse Tyson have made the point loud and clear that NASA also provides intangible benefits, by putting the U.S. at the forefront of innovation. Fully funding NASA, Tyson argues, would inspire a generation of innovators.
So this is a good discussion to have during an election year, as the issue of funding for NASA was brought to the forefront by the successful landing of the Mars Curiosity space probe. The cost: $2.5 billion. The return on investment? We're still taking stock of that, but here are the early results: a surge of interest in NASA and a desire to take on further challenges that are seemingly impossible.