Lack of NASA support sets limitation on space frontier as well as the dreams of our youth

We lost two great heroes of the space age this summer.

When Neil Armstrong set foot on another world in 1969, he showed not just this country but this planet that nothing is impossible. Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, was perhaps the ultimate feminist icon — a woman who mastered traditional male fields and became known as a true American explorer.

They represented the greatest aspect of our country: innovation, exploration, discovery, curiosity.

Their passing is a tragic reminder of how far the American space program has fallen. The cuts to NASA funding and end of manned space flights are perhaps the greatest failures of this country in recent decades.

Technology that was created for NASA has gone on to affect fields such as medicine, geology, communications, climatology and computing.

That phone in your pocket wouldn’t be there without NASA. Neither would most machines in hospitals. And the laptop used to write this — also wouldn’t exist. Same for technology featured in airplanes and automobiles.

What is most important about space exploration is how it affects the American psyche. Americans — and especially American politicians — right now are focused on paying down the deficit, making more jobs, fixing health care, etc. But policies like that won’t inspire anybody to break boundaries and truly innovate.

Little kids don’t dream of drafting a health care proposal with bipartisan support that covers the most Americans with the least cost to taxpayers. They don’t dream of finding a way to gracefully extricate American troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. They don’t dream of closing loopholes and ending exemptions in the tax code or creating a balanced budget.

Little kids dream of going to Mars. They dream of finding new worlds and new stars. They dream of being the first person to go to another planet, another solar system, another galaxy. And that’s a dream we should let them pursue.

Politicians and educators bemoan this country’s lagging standards in science, technology, engineering and math. But STEM education is failing in this country because science isn’t sexy enough.

Policy and lawmakers say NASA’s mission has no practical application to the everyday American: We went to the Moon and all we got were some lousy moon rocks. But Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins gave this country the sense that it could conquer any challenge. No problem too difficult, no obstacle insurmountable.

NASA shouldn’t need a reason to explore other worlds. The benefits of exploration and curiosity have been proved again and again throughout history.

So Washington, take note: The point of going to outer space is that outer space is awesome. And if we happen to figure out how to build more fuel-efficient airplanes, more advanced diagnostic machines, and faster and smaller computers, then we’ll ask again: Was it worth it?