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The stock market's wild ride of the last several years has caused many of us to reevaluate how we consider options to allocate our investment dollars. I recently sat down with my broker to make sure I was appropriately investing to ensure the future stability and growth of my portfolio. For the individual, these decisions weigh heavy on our minds. Should I be as risk-tolerant as I used to be?
Wouldn’t it be great to have a crystal ball to tell us if an investment will reap high returns in the future? What if someone told you ten years ago that Apple would revolutionize how we purchase and listen to music? Would you have invested in something called the iPod? GPS is a staple in so many consumer products with applications across industries as diverse as agriculture and energy. How much would a timely investment in GPS technology have brought in?
Appropriately so, the federal government too is reevaluating how it spends its dollars. Finding the right balance between short-term, risk-adverse investments and more risky investments that stand to have a high payoff in the future is not always easy. But government has an important and long-standing role in investing in hard-to-predict advanced research and development – and to great success. Early R&D investments have yielded game-changing technologies such as the Internet and GPS. These investments have had countless real-world commercial applications that have contributed to our overall economy – and to those lucky investors who took a gamble on new products!
NASA has been a hotbed of innovation and technology development over its short 53-year history. The Saturn V rocket and the Apollo moon landing programs pioneered miniaturization of electronic circuits and specialization in computer design and garnered attention across the globe. Dozens of others resulted in life-saving advancements, such as magnetic resonance imaging technologies to detect cancer. More recently, photosynthetic bacteria to purify water in space was developed commercially and used in the remediation of the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
And then there are government investments that don’t have a dollar figure attached – those unquantifiable “know it when you see it” benefits that reap long-term rewards to the U.S. national agenda. If there is one area where the world looks to the United States for leadership, it is through our space program.
The commercial space community is already making its bets for big-time payoffs in space. Investors have lined up to support projects ranging from new launch vehicles, space habitats, space tourism, suborbital and orbital scientific research and many others. And who would have thought that those leading the charge are from a world totally unrelated to space. Entrepreneur Bob Bigelow owns a national hotel chain and Elon Musk is the founder of PayPal.
Yet now, many skeptics question whether or not federal investment in NASA is worthwhile. The president requested a modest $18.7 billion for NASA for fiscal 2012, a cut of $800 million from the authorized level. For a mere half-cent on the dollar, the American taxpayer stands to gain a lot from that investment. And many benefits are yet unknown.
As Congress debates federal spending and decides where to make wise investment decisions, we must remain focused on the need to sustain NASA’s budget to ensure it is able to continue its tradition of innovation and of pushing the technological envelope. We cannot afford as a nation to miss out on the “next big thing.” Our economic competitiveness and global leadership depends on the entrepreneurial American spirit that resulted in the marvel of the Space Shuttle, the International Space Station--where even now they are working on vaccines for drug-resistant staph infections --and the countless commercial applications that enhance the daily lives of every American and of citizens worldwide.
My question to the U.S. Congress and to our citizens is: How can we afford not to?