Friday, July 19, 2013

The "Values" Found in the Republican's Proposed NASA Budget

There is more Republican idiocy going on in the House of Representatives concerning NASA's budget. Among the elements of the Republican NASA plan, they explicitly prohibit NASA from spending money on a mission to capture a small asteroid and bring it into lunar orbit.

(See, Wall Street Journal, NASA's Asteroid Plan Is Shot Down in House )

There are two reasons to be interested in asteroids and, among other things, in our ability to alter the course of an asteroid.

The first concerns the fact that somewhere, out there, there is an asteroid that will hit the earth. We do not yet know which one will hit us, when, or where, but it's out there.

In fact, there are several large enough enough to destroy a city. There's a few that can wipe out a country. And there is even at least one with enough power to set humanity back to the stone age - if it survives at all.

The second concerns the fact that the future of space development is to be found in the harvesting of material from asteroids.

The main fact relevant to this proposition is that it takes approximately .002 cubic kilometers of material to build 1 square kilometer of living space in a floating "space city". This city can have a level of artificial gravity suitable to human health, while at the same time having access to other regions with more or less gravity as best suits special circumstances. Inhabitants of the moon are stuck with 1/6 earth gravity, which is below the threshold for maining a healthy bone structure.

In other words, the material in the asteroid belt can be harvested to produce the living-space equivalent of 30,000 earths. While the moon has the same surface area as Africa and Mars has the same land-surface as Earth. (Three-fourth's of the Earth's surface is not on land.)

These space cities are best built in proximity to Earth to allow for easy trade and communication - as well for the potential rescue of its inhabitants in case of a disaster.

All of this involves learning how to capture the material of an asteroid, bring it into the proximity of the Earth without threatening Earth, and determine how best to use its resources.

What the Republicans want in its place is a "show piece" - something that the space enthusiasts call a "flags and footprints" mission. Like the Apollo program, it generates some press and public enthusiasm, but does nothing constructive - nothing useful. It wastes billions of dollars for the sake of "feeling good" and spends nothing on "doing good".

This provision of the Republican space bill is simply stupid. The Republican proposal has another element that is utterly malicious.

The Republican bill also slashes the funds for earth-science research. Much of this research is showing the deep harm being done to the rest of us - and our children and grandchildren - by those with money. Those with money do not want us to know about these harms so that they can continue to make money, even it it kills us (our chilcren, or our grand children). They want to keep us in the dark.

This is not a case of "what we do not know will not hurt us." This is a case of "What we do not know will allow others to make a great deal of money while intruducing a great deal of future suffering to those without money."

One of the things we know about climate change is that, if you make a modest amount of money, you can immunize yourself from its effects. You can move to higher elevations, buy air conditioning for your home and office, pay more for food and buy water, and afford the medical care that will protect you from or treat disease.

Climate change is a case of rich people getting richer by killing, maining, and imposing other forms of suffering on poor people - with the greatest harms falling on those with the least money.

As long as hard evidence is lacking - as long as earth science goes unfunded - they can gather more and more wealth to themselves while imposing greater and greater death and suffering on others.

These are the "values" that we find in the Republican NASA budget. Fluff and show over substantive progress in space development, and ignorance of the harms infliceted on the poor by the rich who accumulate more and more wealth.


Anonymous said...

Well, uh:

1. How is this news? Showy and useless has been the Republican strategy for all spending since at least Reagan. (Think about the military -- useless for fighting terrorists, which are the only wars we're fighting now, but with lots of shiny fancy weapons which would work just great against an organized army -- or education -- No Child Left Behind, anyone? -- or just about anything else.)

2. Most of NASA has been "showy but useless" for years. Look at the Space Shuttle: it was originally part of a much larger plan to build infrastructure in space, with the shuttle to bring things back and forth. Republicans killed off everything in the plan except the shuttle, which was thereby rendered largely useless. And maybe we should be glad: thanks to NASA not really being as good at engineering and construction as some people claim, and being full of people who are all about politics rather than good science or engineering, the shuttle turned out to be no more safe or efficient than the single-use rockets the Russians have developed in the same period. With that as the track record, we should seriously wonder what a NASA-built space base would look like.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

(1) I did not claim it to be "news".

(2) It is true that the fact that politics has made an expensive mess of NASA's manned space program. For the most part, we need to look at it as corporate welfare for Lockheed and Boeing (and a few other companies) - a way for their executives to siphon a few billion dollars out of the taxpayer's pockets.

The space station is defective because of its high-cost to orbit. The least expensive route into space is an equatorial launch to low-earth-orbit space station above the equator. This is also the least expensive tranfer point to geosynchronous orbit for communication and - in the future - power generation satellites. But NASA built its station in a highly inclined orbit.

(Ultimately, the truth of the matter is that the ISS was a multi-billion dollar "grant" to Russia for the purpose of giving the country econimic aid that did not look like charity. The goal was to prevent Russia from collapsing into civil war as the Soviet Union broke apart. In this respect, it may well have been a worthwhile investment. However, it had nothing to do with space development.)

Unknown said...

What's the harm of little idi*ts?

Anonymous said...

Asteroids are indeed the treasures of our Solar System. However, asteroids are not limited to the main asteroid belt, but there groups of asteroids within the inner-solar system, the so-called near earth asteroids. Before we will start with mining the asteroid belt, it would be better to start with the near earth asteroids first.