Monday, March 01, 2010

NASA's Budget and Real Space Development

NASA Administrator Dan Golden has been attempting to defend the Obama Administration's budget before a hostile Congress these past couple of days.

It seems that the members of Congress are upset that, under Obama, NASA does not have a Kennedyesque type goal of 'returning a man to the moon before the decade is out, and returning him safely to the Earth.' They claim that if NASA itself is not building huge rockets to send people off into space, then America will no longer have a starring role in space exploration and development.

This is absurd as saying that if the U.S. Government itself is not owning and operating massive power plants, and it is instead buying power from private companies, that America is a second-rate country in terms of energy production. Or, if the U.S. Government is not personally building and flying a fleet of passenger aircarft, that America's airline industry is second rate. Or if the U.S. Government were not providing telecommunication services and the people were buying their phone service from use government agencies, that America's telecommunications industry will be second rate.

Some people might be surprised to discover that many of those who are most critical of Obama's decision to have the government buy its launch services from private companies - the same way it buys its power, airline seats, and phone service from private companies - are Republicans. One would expect that Republicans would tend to support this type of move.

Yet, for quite some time now, Republicans have not based their position on any issue on any type of principle. If Obama is in favor of a huge government-run medical program, the Republicans are against it because it is government run. If Obama is in favor of the government purchasing its launch services from private companies, the Republicans are against it because private companies cannot be trusted to produce reliable services.

If there is a 1% chance that a foreign power may be supporting a terrorist organization with plans to attack the United States, this justifies a massive 3 trillion dollar war against that country. But, if there is only a 90% chance that carbon dioxide emissions will result in the eventual destruction of every coastal city in the country, then this means that we need to perform further studies before we waste government money on any type of action.

Any long-time reader of this blog will know that I consider the human development of space to be extremely important. I also consider another Apollo-type mission to be a huge waste of taxpayer money. These types of missions do not promote space development. Instead, they take resources away from the types of programs that could make significant contributions to space development and wastes them on publicity stunts and photo ops.

Under the Obama plan, the money spent on the next set of photo ops and publicity stunts will go to buying launch services from private companies and studying the types of technology that will actually be useful in space. NASA's budget is not being cut - nor is its effort on the behalf of human space development being taken and given to defense or education or energy. NASA will be working on those technologies that will generally benefit human space development, rather than working specifically to put another set of flags and footprints on the moon.

I am in favor of this budget. And, I fear that many who are claiming to be a friend of NASA and of space development are advocating policies that do significant harm - that will take money away from productive science and engineering programs and instead waste it on another publicity stunt.

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