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'We the People' seek to double NASA budget – at least

Is 1% of the total US budget too much to spend on space?

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Calling all space fans: point your browser to the Obama White House's "We the People" petition website and sign onto an effort to ensure that NASA is funded to at least 1 per cent of the US annual budget.

"NASA advances our nation when well-funded;" the petition argues, "by guaranteeing that no less than 1 per cent of federal spending will be on NASA, we promote job creation, encourage creativity in the economy, and gain insight on our universe."

According to the petitioners, who launched their effort on Thursday, during the heyday of the "space race" with the Soviet Union in 1961, NASA received a healthy 4.41 per cent of federal spending.

Ah, the good ol' days. In 2013, NASA will receive around $19bn from the feds, which is less than one half of one per cent of federal spending. "Truly this is a pittance, but one that yields vast economic and scientific rewards," the petitioners argue.

They also cite figures from a Space Foundation report that contends that although the feds spent only $15bn on NASA in 2005, that amount engendered $180bn in what the Foundation calls the "space economy."

As we click Publish on this story, the petition has quite a way to go in its drive to reach the 100,000 signatories that will catch the attention of the White House – it's 99,712 short of its goal.

But we do know that the White House does, indeed, keep its eye on We the People. For example, a petition decrying the recently instituted law to prevent mobile-phone unlocking may very well have had some influence on the Obama administration's decision to issue a statement on Monday in support of that law's demise.

Even when a petition is less than serious, if it attracts enough publicity the administration will respond. Case in point: last December a petition suggesting that US build a Death Star gained enough notoriety that the White House thought it wise to wittily reject it – a budget-based decision that was welcomed by the Galactic Empire.

Then there was the petition begun by the shadowy hacktivist group Anonymous, which argued that DDoS attacks should be legalized since they are actually a form of free-speech protest. Their petition, however, was rejected, having not garnered the required number of signatures – and that was before the bar was raised from 25,000 signatories to 100,000.

Whether the "one per cent for NASA" petition will gather that many signatures – and if it does, whether the Obama administration will see it as the will of the people – is, of course, unknown. And during these dark days of "sequestration," it's highly unlikely that anyone in Congress would push for doubling down on NASA funding, whether it feeds the "space economy" or not.

But as of 4pm Pacific Time on the first day of the NASA petition's existence, there are 288 people hoping that their elected representatives would loosen up their purse strings.

As the petition says, "1% is a small financial guarantee of progress in the final frontier!" ®

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