NASA, Government funding for
Should the National Aeronautics and space administration (NASA) be government funded?
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The government should stop funding NASA because it is not worth the $17 billion of taxpayers’ money ...
The government should stop funding NASA because it is not worth the $17 billion of taxpayers’ money that is spent on it every year. We can take pride in NASA’s past achievements of putting men on the moon, and enjoy the benefits of satellite communications which resulted from its work in the 1960s and 1970s. However, NASA’s recent record is very poor. Its scientific discoveries are of no practical use to mankind. Its tragic loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia is part of a pattern of failures that expose the agency as dangerously incompetent and wasteful. And its obsession with manned spaceflight and the International Space Station combines maximum expense with minimum scientific justification.
The government does not put a high enough priorty on space exploration and NASA should receive much more government funding in order to expand its crucial mission. Far from being pointless, NASA’s recent work has allowed mankind to explore the origins of the universe and our own planet’s formation. It has led the search for worlds around distant stars, where life might one day be found. And it continues to embrace the challenge of human spaceflight; manned missions have a flexibility and scope that robot probes will never deliver, and they can inspire and unite humanity in pursuit of a noble common cause.
NASA is such an expensive part of the government budget that it would be better to redirect the mone...
NASA is such an expensive part of the government budget that it would be better to redirect the money to more urgent causes here on earth. Barack Obama, for example, has suggested cutting the agency’s budget in order to fund early years education and more investment in the teaching of Maths and Science. Others see the millions of Americans who cannot afford health insurance and wonder whether a country which pours billions into space exploration has its priorities straight. The facts that America is entering an economic downturn and that the federal budget deficit is huge suggest that NASA is a luxury we should no longer afford.
Cutting NASA out of the federal budget, would only cut less than one percent of the total. Compare this to the 5% of the federal budget spent on NASA at the height of the Apollo missions to the moon and it is clear that its current programmes are affordable. Nor would scrapping NASA and spending its budget on social programmes make any great difference – the federal government alone spends nearly a hundred times more on social programmes than it does on NASA (and state and local governments spend tens of billions more tax dollars on similar programmes). So the impact on the poor from redirecting our space exploration budget would be less significant than a rounding error in federal accounting. By comparison, defence and homeland security spending is more than forty times NASA’s budget each year, so if the nation is to change its priorities that is clearly a better place to start.
We should solve our problems here on Earth before we go into space. The environmental damage that m...
We should solve our problems here on Earth before we go into space. The environmental damage that mankind has inflicted on our planet is so great that life on earth is in great danger. At the same time millions of children go to bed hungry and die of preventable diseases. Tackling these issues is such a global priority that all our resources need to be directed to saving the planet and its, rather than frittered away into space. If our nation’s technological might and the efforts of its best scientific minds were directed to these causes instead of cosmic ones, we have a chance to reverse our suicidal course.
Even if earth’s huge social and environmental problems could be solved simply by throwing more money at them, redirecting NASA’s small budget will make no real difference. In fact NASA makes a real contribution to solving the world’s problems by helping to expose and investigate the issues facing us. For example, NASA satellites provide critical data on problems such as the ozone layer or global warming, and they can expose illegal deforestation or track the progress of dangerous weather events such as hurricanes. More profoundly, NASA’s pictures from space of our beautiful Earth have changed human consciousness, bringing home to us our common destiny as shared inhabitants of a fragile planet. Nothing has done more to stimulate the growth of internationalism and environmental awareness.
NASA is hugely bureaucratic and wasteful, tying up thousands of our nation’s best minds in a complex...
NASA is hugely bureaucratic and wasteful, tying up thousands of our nation’s best minds in a complex system of red tape and vested interests. Other countries and private companies both produce much cheaper, more cost-effective space missions. NASA also suffers from political interference, with the President and Congress both trying to micro-manage the agency. This forces it to focus on prestige projects, such as the International Space Station or President Bush’s New Vision for Space Exploration with its emphasis on manned flights to the moon and Mars. At other times it has proposed politically-correct missions “to planet earth” to please environmentalist legislators. And each year NASA’s funding round in Congress becomes highly politicised as legislators seek to ensure that part of its budget is spent in particular states, or devoted to their pet projects.
NASA’s funding and management are not perfect, but that is a reason to reform them, not to abolish the agency altogether. Part of the reason the agency’s work is expensive is that it is both cutting-edge and concerned to minimise risk. Other countries’ space agencies and private companies may look more cost-effective, but that is because they are less ambitious, being largely content to replicate what NASA already achieved decades ago. They may also be prepared to tolerate more risk to their manned missions than NASA would. But with NASA’s commitment to the most challenging and innovative scientific missions comes economic benefits, as technological breakthroughs in materials, communications, imaging, and propulsion find new applications in civilian industries here in the USA.
Many who are serious about space research are very critical of NASA’s emphasis on manned space explo...
Many who are serious about space research are very critical of NASA’s emphasis on manned space exploration. They see it a classic example of political interference, as NASA seeks to respond to President Bush’s New Vision for Space Exploration. This may be more sensational, making it easier for NASA to attract funding from the Administration and Congress, but it makes the agency look like it exists simply for its own sake. The New Vision will actually result in less serious science being done as money is shifted away from more cost-effective and important robotic missions. Manned space flights are hugely more expensive than unmanned missions, largely because the rockets and craft needed to send people into orbit are much larger than those needed for robotic exploration, but also because so much has to be done to minimise risk. Yet that risk cannot be completely removed, as NASA’s past tragedies show, and further loss of lives may well discredit the whole idea of space exploration of any kind.
NASA has always been committed to manned flight, so President Bush’s New Vision for Space Exploration was hardly imposed on the agency. Robot missions are fine for one-off, defined tasks, but they are not able to respond intelligently and flexibly to new situations in the way astronauts can. Manned missions can take on many more challenges (e.g. repairing and reconditinaing the Hubble space telescope); they also have huge importance in focusing the attention of mankind upon the mysteries of the universe and in inspiring millions of young people to become engineers and scientists. It is true there is a legitimate debate within the space community about manned vs unmanned missions, but few who wish to focus on unmanned spaceflight would want to shut NASA down. Instead they would like it to shift its priorities, generally into areas private space businesses are unlikely to venture.
NASA is not only ineffective in advancing space exploration; it actually prevents progress by others...
NASA is not only ineffective in advancing space exploration; it actually prevents progress by others. In recent years private businesses have become interested in space exploration, finding innovative and cost-effective ways to solve technological challenges. Yet NASA obstructs the development of cheaper private sector alternatives to its own efforts, just as any big centrally-planned socialist monopoly distorts the economy. NASA has prevented other branches of government from placing space-related work (e.g. satellite launches) with private companies. The agency also ties up vast numbers of talented engineers and scientists in both its own ranks and in university departments that receive NASA funding. Freeing these minds from the numbing hand of government would unleash innovation and enterpreneurial energies that would surely drive progress rapidly forward and quickly bring down the costs of space flight.
In recent years many private sectors space companies have started up, which suggests that NASA is not preventing their growth. On the contrary, NASA’s investment in research and technology has stimulated an eco-system of space industries that continue to depend on it for trained personnel and scientific innovation. But these private efforts will never replace NASA’s role – they are only interested in the commercial opportunities of near-space, such as tourism or satellite launches. Private money will never wish to explore the solar system and answer the fundamental questions about the origins of the universe. For these, we have NASA.
If the government wishes to put public money into space research and exploration, then it should do ...
If the government wishes to put public money into space research and exploration, then it should do so as a customer. In other areas of public life government increasingly commissions services from specialist private companies (e.g. welfare or military supply), which bid in open competition for the work and accept some of the risks. This drives down costs, promotes innovation and efficiency, and ensures that the government’s financial commitment is capped. Following the same model, if the state wishes to buy satellite data, transport a load to the International Space Station, or send a mission to Pluto, it should put the job out to tender from the private sector rather than building its own wasteful and enormously expensive infrastructure.
The government should not be reliant on the private sector for its access to space. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, having a dedicated space agency continually expands the realm of the possible, allowing it to offer new data and propose new missions to government. Without NASA’s expertise, the government would not know how to approach space exploration, so private companies would not be offered any business anyway. Secondly and more importantly, control of space is now critical to our defence, with intelligence-gathering, communications and early warning satellites vital to the protection of American interests and the projection of its power. Not only should control of this part of our national security not be entrusted to private business, but defence considerations mean that NASA should continue to be well funded in order to ensure the USA continues to be the global leader in all space technology.
What do you think?