The NASA Question

Is something in the water over there on the Wampanoag Trail at the WPRO studios? I’m amazed at what I’m hearing. First, today Dan Yorke was going on about how great the Mars landing was for NASA and his opinion that this is the kind of thing that we should be spending tax dollars on. Skip ahead a couple hours to the Matt Allen Show and Matt has a similar opinion. He’s all geeked out about the technology and how successful it all was and how he also seems to agree on using tax dollars to fund space exploration.
I couldn’t disagree more.
First, I’ll agree that it is an awesome achievement and I share Matt’s “what ifs” with questions like what if NASA finds traces of DNA or some new element that is a cure for cancer. Those are great reasons to be there. I just feel we should not be using tax dollars to do it.
When my friends on the left tire of my whining about the federal budget, they’ll ask something along the lines of “Ok smart guy, what would you cut?” expecting the usual “Welfare!” My first answer is always the same “NASA.” Last fiscal year, the NASA budget was $18.4B. Sure, that’s about one half of one percent of the entire federal budget, but imagine what else we could do with $18.4 billion. That’s still a lot of money. It’s about $118 per federal income tax payer. Relatively peanuts? Maybe to some, but that’s also the point.
Some people believe that this is an awesome accomplishment and love the fact that they’re helping to pay for it. That’s great and I don’t want to stop people from doing so. However, I don’t want to force everyone else to pay for this as well. My solution is to privatize it.
I would offer all of NASA to Sir Richard Branson for one dollar. He can have the whole thing to do with it as he sees fit. Or, if it could be done, break up NASA into other logical divisions and sell those off to other various corporations, like a Lockheed-Martin, that could do some good with it.
My basic feeling is that if a government organization like NASA does so much good, then the private industry could do it as well. I think the reason that people don’t beat NASA at their own game is in part due to the fact that not just anyone is allowed to launch a spaceship to the moon or elsewhere into outer space. Also there’s an attitude of why not just join them? It’s government funded, so become a partner with NASA or work for them directly.
My feeling is that government should provide infrastructure and defense and to me, NASA doesn’t do either one. Flying to Mars really is an awesome accomplishment and all those scientists deserve all the praise in the world (in the universe?) but I just think they shouldn’t be publicly funded.

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ANTHONY
ANTHONY
9 years ago

Some good points Patrick however NASA was born as a result of competition with dreaded mother Russia…..the Space Race. Like all govt. programs it’s difficult (or impossible) to put the genie back in the bottle. NASA has done well in some areas and also has wasted a ton of taxpayer money. It also has captured the imagination of countless baby boomers (Walter Cronkite “Man on the Moon!”). My feelings are NASA should remain and continue it’s missions even though some of them shoot (and miss) at the moon.

Monique
Monique(@monique-chartier)
Editor
9 years ago

My question is about NASA’s budget. President Obama has cut back on (and even changed) the mission scope of NASA. But has their budget been correspondingly reduced?

Monique
Monique(@monique-chartier)
Editor
9 years ago

I also have a question about WPRO (as Patrick brought them up). What’s the deal with the change of subject format away from politics?
I tune in semi-regularly to Buddy C and seems to still be talking politics. But for weeks, both Matt Allen and John Depetro have pretty much been steering away from political topics.

Bill
Bill
9 years ago

How about just folding NASA’s budget into the defense budget. It’s be merely a blip, and Republicans would never cut it. 🙂

KenW
KenW
9 years ago

Patrick,
I had the good fortune to be working in R&D for a RI Company Elmwood Sensors, Cranston that received the contract to develop the temperature sensors for the NASA Skylab (precursor to International Space Station) and had a direct hand in figuring out how to QC & QA measure the contact bounce with a great engineer which had to be less than 1 millisecond repeatable tolerance for the thermostatic sensors that were being manufactured in RI and sold to NASA.
I had the continued ability to be involved in 2 other NASA space endeavor projects in my working career but with two other companies.
I watched the whole landing real-time last night from Hawaii and all I can say is the creative technology that was displayed and for the first time in history during the 7-minutes of terror (no manual over-ride control landing) was absolutely awe inspiring and totally unbelievable.
Three space vehicles had to be positioned exactly at the right time and seconds over planet Mars. “Curiosity” had to morph 5 times into a new configuration and reposition its transmitting antenna, it had to slow down from over 13,000 mph so the world’s largest supersonic parachute could deploy and a first ever jet hover craft and sky crane lowering down the SUV-size rover to the surface of Mars and only a few meters off original target!!!!
What really got me was during the first media televised conference the question was asked about how much it cost and the answer was $7 per person U.S.A. population.
That is less than a Starbucks’s cup of coffee!
For the engineering technology displayed and brought to life by NASA, American universities, colleges, companies and their foreign partners I’ll gladly give up one cup of Starbucks’s coffee!

KenW
KenW
9 years ago

Patrick,
Oh by the way, in case you have not been paying attention NASA after the space shuttle program ended is being privatized at least the space shuttle program is.
The first American commercially made cargo space ship made a historic visit to the International Space Station (ISS) and delivered replenishing cargo supplies and successfully returned to earth with scientific test results and garbage.
Three American companies have been selected by NASA to provide cargo service to the ISS and also deliver/return NASA astronauts. One is already active with its space vehicle in cargo mode.
NASA tests the space rover vehicles in Hawaii and also is testing space colony habitant facilities in Hawaii because of unique environment conditions that mimic some space environments on other celestial bodies.
Hawaii has the most celestial telescopes located in one spot in the world and also is the site of the largest telescope in the world the 30-meter telescope plus has some very interesting space related monitoring military and research sites.
Hawaii is also working on becoming a commercial space port for spacecraft.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
9 years ago

I can remember a time when NASA regularly rolled out a list of things that had been developed for the space program and made their way into commercial endeavors. I haven’t heard of anything like that in a long time.
I have heard rumors that the entire Mars landing was filmed in the same location where the Moon landing was faked. I understand it is located in Utah and controlled by the Mormons. Can anyone verify that?

Max D
Max D
9 years ago

Assuming everyone’s figures are accurate,
$118 per taxpayer = $7 per USA population.
Caution, snarky comment to follow:
Who’s paying?

Patrick
Patrick
9 years ago

Max, you’re making the same mistake I heard many on WPRO making and confounding the numbers. My $118 per tax payer is for the whole NASA budget. The $7 per US citizen we hear used is just for this Mars rover project.

ANTHONY
ANTHONY
9 years ago

“I understand it is located in Utah and controlled by the Mormons. Can anyone verify that?”
Yes I can verify Romney is behind the hoax. He also invented Piltdown Man and pet rocks.

ANTHONY
ANTHONY
9 years ago

Here’s why NASA missions may have lost their way:
http://www.thegatewaypundit.com/2010/07/krauthammer-bashes-obamas-infantile-nasa-muslim-outreach-program/
“In a far-reaching restatement of goals for the nation’s space agency, NASA administrator Charles Bolden says President Obama has ordered him to pursue three new objectives: to “re-inspire children” to study science and math, to “expand our international relationships,” and to “reach out to the Muslim world.” Of those three goals, Bolden said in a recent interview with al-Jazeera, the mission to reach out to Muslims is “perhaps foremost,” because it will help Islamic nations “feel good” about their scientific accomplishments.”
Yes… we must fund terrorist self esteem.Heaven forbid that they feel bad about hating the west.

Max D
Max D
9 years ago

“Max, you’re making the same mistake I heard many on WPRO making and confounding the numbers. My $118 per tax payer is for the whole NASA budget. The $7 per US citizen we hear used is just for this Mars rover project.”
OK but my comment was more about the funding source than the program. I’m not necessarily against funding NASA but whether it’s $118 per taxpayer for NASA or $7 per USA population for the Mars Rover, only some of us are footing the bill.

Patrick
Patrick
9 years ago

Right. I took that into account with the $118 per taxpayer. I took the US population, cut it by the percent that pay federal income taxes and then did that division into NASA’s budget.
The $7 per citizen assume that every citizen pays that $7. Which we know isn’t true.

OldTimeLefty
9 years ago

Patrick,
Wonderful to read that you’re finally making sense on something. I agree with you 100% on scuttling NASA.
We can use the money on infrastructure improvements.
OTL

Patrick
Patrick
9 years ago

OTL: “Wonderful to read that you’re finally making sense on something. I agree with you 100% on scuttling NASA.”
Dammit. Now I have to rethink my whole position!

Dan
Dan
9 years ago

Didn’t we already send a rover to Mars? Why are we spending billions doing the same thing twice?

mangeek
mangeek
9 years ago

I disagree. First off, scrapping NASA ($20B) to pay for stuff like ‘infrastructure improvements’ (where there’s about a $1,000B backlog of work to do, is silly. It just wouldn’t make a difference. It’s like saying that I can pay for more public schools with money from my wallet, it might cover a few minutes of class time, that’s it.
Also, NASA investments have tremendous knock-on effects on the economy. Everything from materials, manufacturing processes, computers, signaling, fuels, explosives, robotics, neural nets, and who-knows-what-else benefit from research that was done in NASA facilities. Some things are too risky or too expensive for the private sector to undertake. The Linux kernel and drivers were heavily developed at NASA, that’s powering this website and the phone I’m writing this on.
In my opinion, the right thing to do would be to move money out of military R&D and into NASA, then privatize the day-to-day aspects of running the stuff that gets built (like the shuttle program).

Max D
Max D
9 years ago

“Didn’t we already send a rover to Mars? Why are we spending billions doing the same thing twice?”
I think Wolowitz crashed the first one trying to impress a girl during an episode of Big Bang Theory.

Dan
Dan
9 years ago

Mangeek – Top-down government-driven research is a very inefficient mechanism for technological improvement. The few notable successes of the past 70 years are not enough to justify the monstrous level of investment it took to produce them. The vast majority of technological improvements are the result of decentralized R&D conducted through incremental trial and error, or stochastic tinkering, as Nassim Taleb calls it. Illustrative of this is the marked difference in the number of revolutionary breakthroughs that the decentralized, high-risk/high-reward Howard Hughes Medical Institute has produced compared to the NIH grants, which have very mediocre results for the investments.

KenW
KenW
9 years ago

Dan, Spirit rover (2 ft long) landed 1997 and Opportunity rover (5.2 ft long) landed 2004 now Curiosity rover (10 ft long) landed 2012.

Monique
Monique(@monique-chartier)
Editor
9 years ago

“I have heard rumors that the entire Mars landing was filmed in the same location where the Moon landing was faked. I understand it is located in Utah and controlled by the Mormons.”
Yes, more specifically, in Glenn Beck’s studio at Romney’s instruction, as Anthony pointed out. Beck is a mormon, too.
Oops, now we’ve said too much …

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
9 years ago

Posted by Dan
” The vast majority of technological improvements are the result of decentralized R&D conducted through incremental trial and error, or stochastic tinkering, as Nassim Taleb calls it. ”
Since we are way behind Japan in robotics, and it is a partial answer to labor costs, I am particularly interested in that.
Rumor was that GM was going to make a big investment in it, but the unions killed it. Since auto making (via foreign investment) has moved to right-to-work states, have we made any advances? If we have, I suppose it is foreign investment and foreign technology.
I know that manufacturing is considered “low tech”, but that is only because people don’t understand it. If you have an understanding, what is done is totally amazing. Just look at your car and try to imagine it in it’s original state, a pile of rocks.
For more than 30 years now, we have depended on Taiwan to supply the essentials for our national defense. We can no longer make them. You never hear that raised in the “one China” debate.

OldTimeLefty
9 years ago

patrick,
For your cliched comment about agreeing with me you get a DUI, Dull and UnInspired.
OldTimeLefty

Patrick
Patrick
9 years ago

I’ll accept your DUI as long as I don’t have to change my last name to Chafee or Whitehouse.
But I wouldn’t mind being 18 again though…

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