Monday, October 05, 2015

Never Again Scientific Activities. I.e., NASA!

About two years ago, I blogged here that India was wasting a whole lot of resources on an expedition to Mars when it had plenty of problems, especially the daily realities of open defecation and urban waste management.  And then a year later I celebrated India's success with the Mars expedition, and was delighted with the number of female scientists in the project.

It is not that I am a flip-flopper who is happy to ride along with success.  If it were up to me, I would any day push India towards spending money on the fundamentals like addressing defecation and the atrocious government schools.  The Mars expedition success does not change the reality on the ground.

The United States, on the other hand, has been doing everything possible to dismantle its valued, respected, and universally admired NASA, thanks to Congress crying that there is no money to fund NASA.  Seriously?  My old country and the adopted country are both messed up with their priorities in their own ways!  The richest country that the planet has ever known has no money for NASA?  We waste trillions of dollars on fighting wars for reasons that did not even exist, but no change to spare for NASA.
In the 1960s, NASA’s budget was nearly five percent of our federal budget. The U.S. space program gave us solar panels and MRI scans and inspired two generations of citizens to become fascinated by science and engineering, which is arguably the driving force behind our technological superiority among nations. Today, NASA scrapes by, still doing remarkable things with rovers and probes, on less than half of one percent of the federal budget. How can we help more Americans understand the value NASA has for our advancement?
From five percent of the budget to less than half of one percent?  Shocking.  Disgusting.

Even more shocking to when it is put like this:
NASA's flat budget won't pay for a Mars mission. At the moment NASA can't even get an astronaut to the International Space Station without buying a seat on a Russian rocket.
Seriously?  WTF!
In recent years, the agency has had to build its strategies around flat budgets. "Budget is mission-critical" is a catch phrase at headquarters. NASA retired the space shuttle program in 2011 not because the hardware was old or dysfunctional, but to free up several billion dollars a year to build new rockets and capsules that could go beyond Low Earth Orbit.
Why spend the money, you ask?  Here is Neil deGrasse Tyson:
There’s a lot to do in space.  I want to learn more about the greenhouse effect on Venus, about whether there was life on Mars, about the environment in which Earth and the Sun is immersed, the behavior of the Sun.  We still can’t predict the day-to-day behavior of the Sun.  We have something called space weather now, which monitors particles that stream off from the Sun.  That’s a whole frontier, didn’t exist a few decades ago.  We knew about it but we couldn’t measure it, couldn’t do anything about it.  So I see NASA as our… the extension of our senses into space.  ‘Cause Earth is not an island, Earth is a participant in our cosmic environment.  And the more you think… I only have to look down, the more doom you are because of the environment in which we’re embedded.  You look down, all the asteroids coming behind you and you miss it. 
But, all that cannot happen when we want to cut NASA's budget further down from the less than half of one percent of the federal budget.
What a mess. The majority of Americans love NASA, and it’s incredible that NASA can do such amazing feats like send probes to Pluto and Saturn and protoplanets like Vesta and Ceres at all, let alone given the Keystone Kops feel of the Congresspeople pulling the purse strings. My only hope now is that these folks in Congress get replaced in the 2016 elections.
It’s hard to look to the stars when the people funding you have their heads jammed into pork barrels.

What a mess!


Ramesh said...

The slow strangling of NASA is one of the tragedies of our age. Unfortunately, space exploration is so tied with defence that the US would not permit NASA to be a global organisation. If it was, I would gladly pay an additional tax for NASA.

NASA stands for the finest of what America is. No other country on earth can have an organisation that can do what NASA can. What a tragedy it is for the human race, not just America, that we as a species cannot exploit fully one of its finest creation.

A new Congress is going to change nothing, alas.

Sriram Khé said...

Yep, CONgress is increasingly against PROgress :(

NASA not getting the financial support speaks volumes not only of the anti-science politics and the politicians in this country, but also about how much people these days are way more inspired by the twerking entertainers and other freakish accidents. In this "free market" people willingly give over their wallets for those human stink-bombs and then, without any sense or shame, question the money for NASA. To use the old country language, "நாசமா போச்சு" (ahem, NASAma pochchu) ;)

Anne in Salem said...

So, let's set the Social Security full retirement age to a more appropriate number, like 75; return unemployment to 26 weeks max, not 1.5 years like it is now; increase the Medicare age with the Social Security age; and abolish Obamacare so we can return NASA to its full glory. Space exploration has generated such amazing scientific findings for use here on earth and inspired so many people that we should figure a way to fund it.

Sriram Khé said...

We need not do anything you list, Anne. We can easily get money for NASA from the military's budget--the US by itself accounts for more than a third of the entire world's defense spending!

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