Planetary Society editorial about NASA

By Phil Plait | February 27, 2006 5:19 pm

Louis Friedman of the Planetary Society has written an interesting if depressing editorial about NASA’s budget woes. He uses the word "administration" and I’m unclear over whether he means the White House Administration or NASA’s. But his arguments have the ring of truth about them. I hope Mike Griffin reads it; this budget, as it stands, is pitting manned exploration versus unmanned science.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Rant, Science

Comments (5)

  1. “I hope Mike Griffin reads it; this budget, as it stands, is pitting manned exploration versus unmanned science. ”

    Hasn’t it always been that way? NASA was created to coordinate all space activity, but it was given its high profile in Congress because of the Mercury program. Science programs have always been almost afterthoughts to the manned efforts. The “glory days” of NASA were the Gemini and Apollo years, but the budget cuts started before we’d even reached the moon (NASA’s peak budget was either 1966 or 1967, and it’s never been as high again).

    I do agree with you that the current budget is especially draconian for the science programs, but it really is nothing new.

    – Jack

  2. squawky

    I think there’s been, in the past, the perception that there was an invisible “firewall” between manned funding and unmanned/science funding — and the perception now that this no longer exists. [Whether it ever did or not is a matter of opinion, as far as I can tell.]

    Not to mention that we are not just talking about cutting science, but taking missions/programs that are already in progress, and stuffing them in a closet (the Dawn mission, as an example). This is a gigantic waste of funds and time, especially when launch windows are limited. (I’m thinking of the parallel of someone who goes out and spends a wad of cash on a treadmill and then never uses it — and you can’t sell the spacecraft on eBay to get some of the price back, either).

    And all of this to prop up an outdated launch vehicle for a few more years — what exactly do we get out of the shuttle missions proposed? And where is the replacement (or the funding to develop one?).

  3. David Bennington

    I wonder of a Brit. astronomer can comment on this and other items affecting NASA.
    It does seem that US science isnot in a good way and that almost too late the scientific community have understood the hidden, religious and antiscience agenda of the Bush administration. The Bush admin. seem to have an Islamic attitude to science – that science it must fit in with the dogma of religion and anything that doesn’t should not be encouraged or of course publicly financed.
    Maybe the centre of scientific excellence is moving to Europe – certainly so far as astronomy is concerned ESA is going from strength to strength and because it is fianced by over a dozen countries, has fewer direct political influences on it. In Europe science is regarded as secular and in no way conflicting with individual’s private beliefs, although there is a growing creationist lobby in the UK(thanks to our friends in the States!) but it little political clout.
    I hope I have not spoken out of turn but it is always interesting toi have an outsiders point of view.

  4. The US is definitely making signs of divesting of science. It’s not just space science– particle physics too. Of course, there was the whole SSC debacle, where huge funds were put into a project that was then cancelled, leaving particle physics in shambles.

    Since then, it’s happened again. A smallish detector project (in particle physics terms) was BTeV, to be put on the Tevatron at Fermilab. It was always very highly rated and said to be a priority in reviews. Then, one day, basically without warning, DOE killed it. I know about this because some people at my institution were on BTeV. What has the group here done? They’re now on the CMS experiment at CERN. The US is ceeding any meaningful participation in particle physics to europe.

    You can be sure that most of the important discoveries from stem cell research isn’t going to happen in the US.

    There is a pattern here. I don’t think that the US needs to “compete” with Europe… but as an American, I’d sure love to see the US recognizing that funding science is not only the best investment in a *long term* future that you can make, but also that continued interest in exploration has historically been shown an absolute necessity if a society is to remain viable. It’s great if Europe (and, increasingly, Japan) will pick up the slack the US develops, but I hope that we manage to get out of this administration and back to a culture that values science as something more than just what will produce the next DRM-encumbered video player technology.


  5. Will.

    I guess folks have forgotten the stem cell controversy which leads directly to the “when is a fetus a person” argument which leads directly to the Pro LIfe supporters and their ilk. In Calif. voters foiled the Bush administration’s pandering to these essentially anti-science and anti-evolution folks by enacting a ballot proposition to publicly fund stem cell research WITHOUT the aid of the feds. This topic was presented on CBS’s
    “60 Minutes” program this past Sunday, and showed the absurdity of the fed’s regs. which have forced the University of California’s stem cell research facility to duplicate itself in a basement lab using only private funds in order to not lose federal monies for other medical research which the feds DON’T restrict. The R’s have gotten themselves in hot water many times because of their support of their Christian Fundamentalist base: can anyone forget oily Mr. Frist’s attempt at the long-distance diagnosis-by-video of Terry Schaivo? That there is an attack on science in general by this administration should no longer be doubted, given all the other areas where science has been questioned and denigrated when the conclusions have not fit the Bush Co’s agendas…


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