19 March 2012

NASA's budget

Defended by Neil deGrasse Tyson.


  1. Makes me want to weep with dispair that we got as far as the moon and decided "that's far enough."

  2. I'm really torn by this. I started reading sci-fi almost as soon as I could read. My father worked at NASA's Ames Research Center. When I was a kid he took me to work one day and I sat in a mockup of an Apollo capsule, watched pilots get spun in the centrifuge, and stood in the huge wind tunnel. When Armstrong stood on the moon I felt like my dad had a part in the accomplishment. So part of me is all for NASA going back to the moon and on to Mars.

    But now I'm much older, and another part of me sees the world through more experienced eyes and says this is a different time. We're not in a race with the Russians any more, so what's the upside of going back to the moon? We're not going to find the answers to earth's problems there, at least not soon enough to save us from ourselves if we don't get it together down here first. I share Tyson's passion for space, but I also know it's easy to be passionate about things you don't have to pay for yourself. How can I justify funding the "dreams of tomorrow" when people don't have enough to eat, schools don't have enough money to teach students, and people without health care are dying--today?


    1. Even when we were in the Space Race, space exploration was very unpopular with the American people for many of the reasons you cite.

      NASA's budget comprises approximately 0.5% to 1% of the Federal budget for the past 10 years (the highest was in 1966 at 4.41%). The economic benefits of the NASA have been variously estimated at the budget expense of 51 Billion between 1958-69 generating a return of 33% to $181 B by 1987 (Quaere?) Nonetheless the growth in technology from the space program is undoubted (and no I am not talking Tang or the "space pen"). From 1975:

      The current NASA budget is asking for approx $19 Billion.

      The U.S. Budget is 3.803 Trillion for 2013, of which 60% is non-discretionary spending ie, Social Security, Medicare, of the discretionary spending approximately 65% is devoted to Defence related spending, 6.5% is devoted to interest payments and the remainder $410 Billion allows for all other Federal Departments.

      A recent infographic:

      A ginormous infographic of the federal budget:

    2. "NASA's budget comprises approximately 0.5% to 1% of the Federal budget for the past 10 years (the highest was in 1966 at 4.41%)."

      Well, when you put it that way, $19 billion for NASA sounds like pocket change. But no matter what insanely large figure you compare it to in an effort to make it appear trivial, $19 billion is still an eff-load of money.

      The "growth in technology from the space program" sounds mighty nice, too. Still, I think I'd rather invest that money in, say, schools, or feeding hungry people. Sad to say, I don't have ROI numbers for that.

    3. You misunderstand me, the usual arguments in support of NASA's budget cite the 0.5% to 1% of the Federal budget but in fact NASA's budget request is 4.5% of the discretionary budget.

      The Federal budget did not, until President Obama changed the accounting method, include the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars which now total approximately $1.3 Trillion or an average annual cost of $131 Billion (http://costofwar.com/en/). That is an eff-load of money.

      There is a companion webs-site to the cost of war counter, the National Priorities Project a left-leaning think-tank that makes interesting budgetary comparisons. There website is: http://nationalpriorities.org/en/

      We will have to agree to disagree as to the worthiness, in general, of NASA''s budget request. The particular plans are equally debatable but beyond this discussion.

  3. Thanks, Jerry - you saved me 5 minutes of typing :-)
    Plenty of tomorrow can be found here if we had the will to look for it.

  4. We have a deficit, huge tax cuts, 15 million unemployed and millions of children going to bed hungry every night.

    We are doing what we should be doing. We are privatizing the program with SpaceX planning a late April launch to the Space Station. We have wonderful satellites up there taking pictures. We have Mars Rovers still. Orion is being worked to land on asteroids.

    Meanwhile, NASA has amazing results with Cassini and Dawn's scientific discoveries. NuStar is going to study black holes.

  5. I acknowledge that we have a huge deficit and high unemployment. However, I cannot even estimate the impact that NASA and the Apollo programs had on me growing up. The Apollo astronauts were my first heroes. They gave me hope and inspiration - two things I feel that we are sadly missing in today's cost-cutting quest-for-efficiency model. Do we need balance? Of course. I just think that sacrificing everything to the almighty dollar is short-sided and ultimately detrimental to our progress and growth as a civilization.

  6. The scientists who developed the rockets should be our kids' heroes. The scientists who are developing the satellites today should be our kids' heroes.


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