Neil Tyson on exploring space

By Phil Plait | August 6, 2007 7:59 pm

Astronomer Neil Tyson wrote a pretty good article for Parade magazine this week about why we explore space. He hits a lot of the right points, and he says something that I wind up hammering when I give public talks as well:

How many times have we heard the mantra: "Why are we spending billions of dollars up there in space when we have pressing problems down here on Earth?" Let’s re-ask the question in an illuminating way: "What is the total cost in taxes of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the space station and shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit and missions yet to fly?" Answer: less than 1% on the tax dollar — 7/10ths of a penny, to be exact.


So, with 99 out of 100 cents going to fund the rest of our nation’s priorities, the space program is not now (nor has it ever really been) in anybody’s way.

The short version: space exploration costs us very little. Need I remind you that we are basically setting fire to $11,000,000 per hour in Iraq? When I talk on this topic, I make an analogy: when your disk drive is full, do you go through and take hours to delete thousands of small text files, or do you delete that one big 3 Gb video file you never watch? NASA is a text file on the hard drive of the government.

Amazingly, even after Neil made his case perfectly clear, people took the time to post incredibly ignorant comments on the Parade website, making me wonder if they read what Neil wrote at all:

How much longer will vital funds needed for crucial projects here on earth, such as bridge inspections and repairs, be squandered on the space program?

This doesn’t even deserve an answer, since it’s plain as day in Neil’s article.

Another person wrote:

I am avidly againt [sic] wasting money for outer space exploration. […] We have so many needs here that there doesn’t seem to be money for.

Yup. Same thing. A third wrote:

He sites [sic] pride as a nation and the science that accidentally results from NASA’s projects. I would feel much more proud of our nation if we were known for caring for our own people and not for putting another rover on mars or another person on the moon. We should fund research for cancer directly and not hope for an offshoot of something that we accidentally discovered with the Hubble.

This person has it precisely wrong. We didn’t hope to find a help for cancer using astronomical imaging techniques. It just happened; a happy outcome. In fact, astronomical and medical imaging techniques are very similar; so similar that years ago I considered switching fields, knowing that my imaging knowledge would transfer easily. But anyway, this misses the point: we don’t fund these avenues because of serendipitous results; we fund them because it’s the right thing to do. Knowledge always benefits us. Always.

Or maybe these people are just really big fans of Katie Couric.

If you are laughing or ruefully shaking your head at the woeful pig-headery displayed by those three people, then consider this: those are real people with real (if utterly wrong) opinions. They are your co-workers, your neighbors, maybe even your relatives. Most people have no clue why we fund space exploration; in fairness most people probably don’t have an opinion about it. But I bet most people also think it’s very expensive (every single time something goes wrong with a NASA mission, the first thing reporters comment on is how much it cost, but they never seem to compare it to, say, the cost of a bridge in Alaska that goes nowhere).

This is why we need to speak up. People don’t get it. If you hear someone making these arguments, send them to Neil’s article, and tell them not to skim it, but to actually read it. Maybe we can get a few people at least to understand the real issues.

Hat tip to my old bud Dan Durda for pointing this out to me; ironically I had just read Neil’s article in the paper about twenty minutes before I got his email. :-)

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, NASA, Piece of mind, Politics

Comments (90)

  1. I always thought Dr. Tyson seemed pretty cool and I’ve suggested he be invited to TAM, but of course he’s not as cool as Phil… I mean I don’t feel compelled to hug him or anything…

  2. Grand Lunar

    Dr. Tyson hits the nail on the head.

    Indeed, I’ve met many people online that complain of the expenses of space exploration. They really need to read that article. Of course, some might not understand it.

    I wonder if the rise of anti-science is related to the anti-space program mentality.
    After all, space exploration utilizes, and teaches, a great deal of REAL science. With the rise of creationism and related fields, it could be that a distrust of REAL science is on the rise. And the high visibility of the space program makes it a target.
    But that’s just my feeling.

    Anyway, I do hope Dr. Tyson’s message does get across. It does confirm what I’ve known about space exploration; far more is spent on other programs. It doesn’t stop any other research from going on either, nor will getting rid of a space program suddenly result in new medical cures.

  3. Arthur Maruyama

    Unfortunately people generally don’t get it. Certainly more funding should go towards, say, cancer research for improved imaging techniques IF WE KNEW BEFOREHAND THAT THAT WOULD BE THE OUTCOME. That is the reason why GENERAL research must be done: we don’t know what benefits may be derived from any line of research, sometimes relatively unrelated to the original intent of the research. To restrict science only to what is known eventually will lead to a new Dark Age.

  4. Gadren

    Dr. Tyson (one of my favorite people to be interviewed on Jon Stewart’s program!) hits the nail on the head here. This anti-space nonsense about how we need to solve all problems here on Earth just DOESN’T WORK. Below is posted an old entry from my blog on this issue:


    “Nihilism is not an answer”

    From a certain episode of Babylon 5:

    >>Reporter: “After all that you’ve just gone through, I have to ask you the same question a lot of people back home are asking about space these days. Is it worth it? Should we just pull back, forget the whole thing as a bad idea, and take care of our own problems, at home?”
    >>Sinclair: “No. We have to stay here, and there’s a simple reason why. Ask ten different scientists about the environment, population control, genetics – and you’ll get ten different answers. But there’s one thing every scientist on the planet agrees on: whether it happens in a hundred years, or a thousand years, or a million years, eventually our sun will grow cold, and go out. When that happens, it won’t just take us, it’ll take Marilyn Monroe, and Lao-tsu, Einstein, Maruputo, Buddy Holly, Aristophanes – all of this. All of this was for nothing, unless we go to the stars.”

    Stephen Hawking recently said that humans need to go into space in order to ensure our survival. Sadly, there are those who, especially on this Slashdot comments page, dismiss human spaceflight for these two reasons:

    1: We need to fix the problems on Earth first.
    2: We’ve done so much harm to the planet, why be trusted with the rest of space?

    Both of them are complete bull.

    First, it’s very doubtful we’ll ever fix everything on Earth. Why do we need to get everything finished here before starting elsewhere? The problem with this thinking is that it leads to the kind of contentment with the status quo that prevents progress. If this line of thinking had been held by everyone, we would never have gone anywhere at all! Sail to America? No — there are still problems in Europe! Build the Roman aqueducts? No — what about the plight of the Gauls…shouldn’t that come first? Go over that hill beyond our thatched hut? No — what about the rest of the hungry cavemen?

    And considering the many benefits that space travel can bring to soiety, it’s utter foolishness to toss the opportunity away.

    As for the second reason: why must people be so nihilistic? As one voice on Slashdot said:

    >>Me personally, I’m a big fan of humanity. I don’t quite get the whole nihilistic “humanity sucks, boo hoo hoo” thing. If that’s what you really believe, that we’re all so terrible, go eat a gun — you won’t be much missed. I don’t think I’m alone here when I say I really like what we’ve gotten going over the past few trillion years, and I’d like to see it continue for another trillion or so, the rest of the universe be damned.

    Humanity needs to focus, not suppress, its drives to be faster, higher, stronger. Instead of finding “inner peace” or one’s own “identity,” actions that move humanity forward to new heights should be the goal.

    Every now and then, people idealize the past as a simpler and better time for the world, and that we should never have further progressed. Let me break your delusions of the utopian past — it was a time of ignorance and poverty and disease of levels greater than today. The average person would never travel more than 5 miles from his place of birth and would never see the world. Such a world, at least to me, would be misery, knowing that there is a possibility of a life outside the dead end of habit and limited scope.

    Then there are those who would esteem every piece of matter in the universe — except for humanity. I will not pretend that humans have never been poor stewards of their resources, or that they have not done evil things. But to condemn all of the human race for the actions of a few and to state that as a species we do not deserve life is a blind view.

    Life that is self-aware, able to reason, able to act with judgement, and able to change its environment for the better — that is what I value most, and I defend its right to exist. And until we find something else out there, I’m casting my lot with the human species.

    >>Space offers us an unlimited future. As soon as anyone can exist in space, we have that limited backup (sort of). As soon as we can build, garden, live and breed in space, then we have that unlimited future.

    >>The problems people cite as reasons not to explore have always been with us, read Tacitus, Sun Tzu or the Hammurabi column for proof. The “Fix us first” crowd wants Utopia on Earth. There is no such thing, unless you can stamp out human nature. If their arguments won out, we’d still be clubbing antelope in Africa, “Oh, no, don’t walk north, you might stub your toe.”

    >>Space is our future. Lead, follow or get out of the way. The meek shall inherit the Earth, the rest of us are going to the stars.

  5. jmd

    Can I just quote you instead?
    “NASA is a text file on the hard drive of the government.”
    I like that one.
    -astro groupie

  6. Chip

    Neil deGrasse Tyson is brilliant and correct. The present space program costs next to nothing. I wish the money we completely wasted in George Bush’s foolish war using 911 as an excuse to get Iraqi oil had been spent on just space exploration and improving our country. Ronald Reagan was yet another disaster for America. He favored a total big corporate aristocracy without scientific gain or benefit to the common citizen. In reality, both privatization, (for example, of asteroid mining and helium three from the solar system,) and big governmental projects, (such as a new space telescope or small colonies on Mars) are needed and compatible. We won’t survive without knowing our place in the universe. Exploring space: I’m all for it!

  7. DenverAstro

    Over the years since Apollo, I have seen many individual examples of items in every day use that were the direct result of our space program. But, I dont remember ever seeing a comprehensive list of all modern inventions that people appreciate today that came from the US space program.
    Perhaps if someone were to come up with a list like that where everything was accurately documented, it might shut some of the space exploration antagonists up. We will never convince them all that the exploration of space and the acquisition of knowledge is always a worthwhile effort, but wonder how many converts could be gained from a web posted list like that?
    If you ask the average person what one thing came from our space program that they see on a regular basis, most people will give one of two answers;
    Cumon people, I know there is a huge list of items that make peoples lives better which were a direct result of putting stuff in space. (stuff being defined as satellites, manned vehicles, deep space probes, landers, etc.)
    So, I challange this board of excellent people to work together to come up with a list like this and get it out there. (there probably already is one and Im just too lame to know about it :o))

  8. strangeangel23

    That less than one per cent is important because it helps to breath fresh air in a room full of ignorance. Therefore, it’s more than worth it. And besides if BA’s numbers area good guestimate, can you imagine what 1, 000, 000/hr into space programs and the rest into social? We could in decades maybe having inter-planetary flight with new technologies and solving homelessness at the same time.

    Yeah, I like to dream.

  9. Ian B Gibson

    Hey everyone – why don’t each of you give me 0.7 cents on the dollar of your tax money? You won’t really notice the difference, but I will.

    I’m fully in favour of funding the space program. But using the argument that NASA etc. only gets a small fraction of federal money isn’t logical; it doesn’t in itself justify the expenditure any more than my own idea for spending tax money, as outlined above, does.

    Any bureaucrat could use precisely the same argument to justify the continued funding of their own particular department. There is some figure that is the optimum amount to spend on the space program; maybe it’s greater than the current figure, maybe it’s less. You need to be talking about value for money, not using the ‘it’s just a drop in the ocean’ line.

  10. BlondeReb3

    My knowledge of astronomy is very limited (basically, one semester course in College to get my Science requirement out of the way. By the way, Dr. BA’s book was one of our two texts for the class!). However, the course make me realize that it is important to understand what’s going on in the universe, because this is what we come from. After all, we’re made of “star stuff.” (Though it seems as though many people, mainly the Young Earth Creationists, would disagree with that statement)

    Everyone I know that was alive in 1969 talks about the immense pride they had in the space program when we landed on the moon. At that time we were also pumping God knows how much money into our defenses in the Cold War. No one I know says “those funds could have been put to better use!” If only we could get more pride in our Space Program again!

  11. Max Fagin

    Tyson is such a great guy, and he always puts things in such a clear light.

    Off topic, but watch this hilarious video between Tyson and Richard Dawkins (all the way to the end):

  12. Cameron

    The comments on that article are pathetically sickening to read. I don’t think half of the people who commented even read the entire article before posting. The sad part is that these people vote.

  13. John Schroeder

    Here’s the public problem with Nasa

    -$90,000 space pens
    -$300,000 space toilets

    Publicly, it looks like an agency that allows major inaccountibility flaws. Meters to feet? C’mon says the average joe!

    Nasa will have the same problems for the next 8 years, which will change when China enters into our exclusive moon domain with a proveable event…then, we’ll see the race happen!

  14. I like to compare the cost of space missions to the cost of, say, a couple of big summer blockbusters. Especially with the robotic missions, they’re seriously starting to converge.

    Either that means space is cheaper than we think, or we’re spending way too much on entertainment.

  15. Bunsen

    To Chip –

    When you talk about Reagan and say that he was bad for the non-biased pursuit of scientific advancement, please remember that he’s the dude who led the charge for the twelve BILLION dollar SSC project. A project that Bush, Sr.’s White House then spent 4 years trying to shut down. When it finally did get shut down in 1993, it was stated that 11 billion more dollars was not a worthwhile price to pay “to satisfy the the curiosity of a small minority of the scientific community.”

    If you ask me, Reagan was one of the only presidents who realized that in the long run, ANY price is the right price to satisfy the curiosity of ANY credible members of the scientific community.

  16. csrster

    I don’t know why we’re spending so much time and energy trying to work out how to build mud huts. Don’t these people realise that some people in this cave are cold and starving?

  17. I suppose we could say something about how we are all born to explore, that we’re all naturally curious, and want to learn more, and our drive to journey into space, to the Moon, Mars, and beyond, is part of the very core of what makes us human, but that’s just not the truth.

    The drive for exploration is NOT a core trait of human nature. We are NOT all “naturally curious”. Many humans get along just fine, playing it safe. They stick to what they know, keep their heads down, plugging along, staying busy, settled, and maybe even occasionally comfortable.

    But people like that rarely make history.

  18. Adam

    Hi, folks!

    In my line of work I daily have to try to explain complicated (sorta) things to people who just won’t listen. Also to people in managerial positions that later have to take some important financial decisions. Man, this can be frustrating! I have given a lot of thought to the question how to reach these people. To me it seems that one of the most basic rules to observe is to be brief. This kind of people will read/pay attention to at most first 2-3 sentences. Generally, anyone who goes beyond that can always be reasoned with anyway even if they might be wrong. They have probably enough humility to realize they *can* be wrong. And I think here’s the main problem: the lack of civility and humility to actually listen to (as opposed to hear) what others are saying. And this is a general problem in the society. Maybe it’s just human. Consequently, it’s a raising problem and not primarily one of education. If someone is brought up to reason and to listen they will have the drive to look up the knowledge anyway.

    So, if say NASA wants to promote it’s case among the citizens it should probably focus on showing how hard its employees work. Perhaps also on the spin offs, which Mr. BA has alluded to. Maybe a little less on how spectacular things are. Because if you show fantastic fireworks at a launch it just breathes huge costs and that’s the first sentence after which your average Joe looses interest. All he remembers later on is how expensive it looked.

    Sorry for the long post but I see I’m not the only one. 😉


  19. Nadia

    “The comments on that article are pathetically sickening to read.”

    Exactly. Just so frustrating. Too bad nothing can be done about stupidity.

    Oh, and I followed the Katie Couric link and almost choked on my coffee. That picture is hilarious! Hahahahah!

  20. Sue Mitchell

    Back in the ’60s, we used to get those same arguments about wasting money on ‘The Space Race’ rather than on more necessary and useful projects – like a cure for cancer…

    The P.T.B. back then pointed out that American women spent more on lipstick in a year than was spent by N.A.S.A., so if they were serious about curing cancer, why not stop buying make-up? :-)

    Of course, it was the Space *Race* back then, and the U.S. *had* to outperform the Russians. I guess the best thing would be for China to get really serious about getting to the moon and staking a claim. *Then* there would suddenly by plenty of funding available. Cynic? Moi? 😉

    From a U.K. perspective, I can’t help thinking that, if European rulers had had the same negative attitudes when Columbus et al. came cap-in-hand for funding, all you lot across The Pond would now be living in Europe – which would be heavily over-populated.

    We really *need* to get out into space – a.s.a.p.

  21. I don’t think people are stupid. There really are serious problems with poverty, disease and death. Looking around us, in our communities and on tv, it is blindingly obvious that many of these problems can be solved by spending more money on them, and getting smart people to work together on them. We can imagine the solutions, and we can believe that money will help.

    So where does the money come from? Since most of us don’t have a grasp of national and international economics, it makes sense to save on luxuries. Space travel and space research look very much like luxuries to most people, in a way that the war in Iraq or telecommunications development really doesn’t.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but scientific research and space exploration makes jobs for well-off, middle class people (probably mostly men) while (say) health care is staffed to a large extent by underpaid women. For many people, it all looks way too much like shiny gadgets for the rich boys.

    So the argument that spending money on space is good for people is, I think, counter-intuitive and has to be presented in a way that accepts that.

  22. Sue Mitchell

    Malte asks: “So where does the money come from?”

    Well, from not invading other countries, killing their people, and stirring up hatred among the local population? That would seem a good place to start… No?

  23. Darth Robo

    “I don’t know why we’re spending so much time and energy trying to work out how to build mud huts. Don’t these people realise that some people in this cave are cold and starving?”

    Spot on. I love it! :p

    I do like Tyson. I keep remembering his line on “Horizon”.

    “Pluto is NOT a planet. GET OVER IT!” :)

  24. I love your choice of analogy to explain budget optimizing to us internet nerds. ;oP

  25. Car Sagan was able to make an entire chapter of “The Demon-Haunted World” out of similar comments to his Parade articles.

    Someday I would like to take the people who intone “The space program hasn’t benefitted us in any way!” and put them in an environment devoid of any of those benefits.

  26. Sam

    I’m a long time lurker and I feel compelled to respond to this one.

    The cost argument aside, which is irrelevant really when you consider the billions spend on Iraq alone, space exploration is vital to for life on earth, it is our biggest project. Reason I think so is because of the effect a breakthrough would have on us, especially in our consumption driven western world. Imagine finding evidence for past life on mars or a unified theory. Anything that would give the general masses a new perspective on our place in the universe, a sense of purpose if you will.

    I miss Carl Segan. “pale blue dot…”

  27. Sergeant Zim

    John Schroeder mentioned the old “$90,000 Space pens canard. I thought I’d dispel that little myth:

    Paul Fisher developed that pen on his own, with NO money from NASA, then donated the first production run to NASA. He has recouped the development costs several times over, through advertising, but NASA never paid for the development (They do pay for the pens now, but at market price).

    The Soviet space program also purchased Fisher Space Pens, if I recall…

  28. SLC

    One of the questions that should be asked is the relative cost effectiveness of manned space flight vs unmanned space flight using robots. Dr. Plait supports manned space flight. Prof. Bob Park of the Un. of Maryland, a man who Dr. Plait says doesn’t know what he’s talking about, thinks that manned space flight is not cost effective. James Randi, who knows both men and is representative of an informed public, says he finds both of their arguments persuasive. So the question is, how is the public, who generally lacks the scientific credentials of Dr. Plait or Prof. Park and who is for the most part far less informed then Mr. Randi supposed to make a judgment here?

  29. ZB

    “ironically I had just read Neil’s article in the paper about twenty minutes before I got his email. ”

    You mean coincidentally.

    Yay space!

    /runs away laughing maniacally

  30. ccpetersen

    Neil hits the nail on the same head all of us have been pounding for years. But, the noise machine of ignorant, graceless entitlement is louder than the voice of reason. Why is that?

    Ignorance is comfort. You don’t have to think if you’re ignorant because you can let somebody else do it for you, i.e. the ones who have their eyes on the money NASA spends. Once you abdicate your responsibility as a citizen to critically examine how our representatives spend our tax dollars, then you get graft in Alaska, Texas, D.C., illegal wars, bridge collapses, government policies that intrude into our privacy and rights to free speech and freedom of/from religion, laws promulgating the rise of black budgets, corporate welfare and all the other ills that winger politics brings us. OF COURSE the folks who want it ALL spent on their projects are going to whine about how money they didn’t get is being spent. That’s sort of a basic tenet of greed. And they spend a lot of government money to convince many Americans that they don’t have to worry their pretty little heads about such things, that things will be taken care of for them, so don’t even think about such things as government oversight and efficient spending.

    If we took all the money that NASA has spent and diverted it to the war, it would be gone in less than a day. The war would still be going, no end in sight.

    If we took it and put it toward infrastructure, it wouldn’t cover a fraction of what needs to be done and the infrastructure would still be crumbling.

    If we took it and gave it to hunger programs (here or overseas), it wouldn’t last long at all, and there would still be hunger. It would be a drop in the bucket compared to the money those programs have gotten already. And if all that money hasn’t helped, how is the NASA pittance going to solve the problems?

    And, if we did divert that money to one of these causes, what would we end up with? The problems would still be there, but there’d be no NASA, no forward-looking research, etc.

    The problem is not the AMOUNT of funding going here or there or everywhere it’s needed; it’s the correct application of that funding to solve these problems. And they do need solving. But there’s more than money required for that; we need political will, guts, and recognition that politicization of such programs for private gain, religious domination, or wingnut politics is wrong, wrong, wrong.

    So, the next time some ignoramuses start in on the NASA budget, let’s direct their attention to the way the 99 percent of funding that DOESN’T go to NASA is spent. THAT’S the problem.

  31. David Taylor

    Arguing that the space budget redirected won’t meet all social needs is just irrelevant. Any and all contributions to those needs could be excluded with that misguided justification. That the needs themselves are unimportant or less important won’t yet fly with most of us, thankfully.

    But history has no justification for the belief that money diverted from exploration will, in fact, be invested in helping serious needs. In fact there is a good positive correlation between money spent on exploration (scientific, etc.) and money spent on poverty, health, education. The zero-sum assumption that space exploration subtracts from social needs spending is flat wrong.

    Though the positive correlation is partly due to macro-economic trends, there are also trends in public consciousness that promote or suppress eagerness for helping others and for science. Widespread (and promoted) fear shuts off empathy and open-minded curiosity at the same time. But when people dare open their eyes, minds and hearts again, they may be touched by both opportunities to help and by the mystery of the galaxies.

  32. Rob P.

    The bridge inspection v. space red herring is interesting to me. My first thought on bridge inspection technology is that a number of the techs being researched at NASA relating to materials testing would be applicable to bridges just as to aircraft skins or other mechanical parts. At least at one time (may still be there, but it’s been a while since I was there), there was an entire branch at Langley that worked on non-destructive testing techniques that could be applied, for example, to find cracks or characterize fatigue in metal structures.

    As for publications listing space-related products, NASA (at least used to) has a publication called NASA Spinoff that provided exactly this type of information.

    A quick search finds this website:

  33. John Krehbiel

    Two points:

    1. Asking scientists to solve a particular practical problem where basic research has not yet been done is rarely very productive. It is more productive to give talented scientists money to play with and tell them to have fun. I can’t give explicit examples, but there were many times I was told about a study in biology which was done for purely academic purposes, and a few months later read that somebody had gotten some practical value from it.

    You have to do basic research- without strings.

    2. I have a hard time understanding how we are “spending money in space.” There are no cash registers on the moon to the best of my knowledge.

    I know that sounds silly, but hear me out. My dad is retired from NASA. The money the government “spent in space” was in fact spent to pay him and many other highly skilled people. They, in turn spent that money on groceries, college for their kids, clothing, whatever.

    I know that argument can be made for any government program, even paying people to dig holes and fill them back in, but wouldn’t we rather have a program that gives an incentive to become educated?

    I know Keynesian ideas are out of fashion, but exactly how can you have an economy where nobody has any money to spend? We are going to have to answer that one very shortly, since home equity and credit cards are mostly tapped out.

  34. John Foudy


    Discussing the fact that “NASA etc. only gets a small fraction of federal money” is important not because it is directly relevant to how much money Congress SHOULD spend on it, but because so many people are mis- informed with respect to how much is spent upon space exploration.

  35. Karnak

    People are idiots and sheep.

    Maybe we deserve what we get and let something truly
    intelligent take over.

  36. Um, how about giving the money back to the folks it came from? After all, it’s not the government’s money as it produces nothing. It takes from all of us at gunpoint. And although I like your site, I don’t want you to forget that to receive government funding is to use the thuggish government as a proxy ass-kicker to get money from people who have rightfully earned it.

  37. Mario

    I always thought it was funny, when people bring stuff up like this. They give NASA 1 bill and want them to put a man on mars, but the government can’t even control a country on our planet with 500+ billion.

    If anything NASA and science in general needs more funding not less.

  38. vroman

    Im a geek. I love the idea of space travel, etc. however, NASA is just another govt bureacracy, and is just as horribly mismanaged as all the others. I dont care if their budget is pennies on the dollar, their function is still overcosted by definition of being a federal program. if we really want to get in to space, eliminate federal regulations controlling civilian aerospace projects and let free market and universities decide how much to spend.

  39. soft_guy

    I totally disagree. While space exploration does not have a zero value, I think that it is wrong to waste tax dollars on it. Citing other wasteful government spending is not an excuse to stop wasting money in space. Sure, the Iraq war should be ended. Sure, we should stop wasting money on bridges to nowhere, Amtrak, NEA, CPB, and being the world’s policemen, paying farmers not to farm, paying welfare queens to have more babies, national “parks”, etc. This does not excuse NASA to waste a zillion dollars on drunken astronauts or the exploration of Mars.

    Even scientists will tell you that the manned missions have basically no scientific value. Yet, NASA spends the majority of its money on manned missions.

    Like most of the other unconstitutional government programs, NASA is very wasteful and should be closed. At the very least, they should have their budget cut and should end manned space missions and focus on unmanned missions where there is greater scientific value for the money spent.

  40. Michael

    I don’t think we spend ENOUGH money on space exploration, and the money we do spend we waste. I heard of a project a little while back, where a team was able to build and send a satellite to the moon to map the terrain, and they did it for a couple million dollars. NASA did the same thing and spent around 100 million I believe. You see how inefficient they are?

  41. josh

    your a moron vroman, nasa is awesome even if it is a government agency it feeds alot of working people, if you ask me i think they should take all the money thats invested in research for cancer and especially aids and put it all in the space program and find another planet so i can get the hell out this SH*t hole before stupid morons like you bomb us again

  42. josh

    yeah soft guy most manned missions include some kind of upgrade or maintenance to the space station or satelites show me a robot that can use a rachet with precision or a screwdriver for that matter in zero gravity , thats not bolted to the floor of an automotive assembly line and weighs a 1,000 pounds , then you can talk, its usually alot cheaper in these cases to send a man, we are the ultimate computer robots

  43. “1: We need to fix the problems on Earth first.
    2: We’ve done so much harm to the planet, why be trusted with the rest of space?

    Both of them are complete bull.

    First, it’s very doubtful we’ll ever fix everything on Earth. Why do we need to get everything finished here before starting elsewhere? The problem with this thinking is that it leads to the kind of contentment with the status quo that prevents progress. If this line of thinking had been held by everyone, we would never have gone anywhere at all! Sail to America? No — there are still problems in Europe! Build the Roman aqueducts? No — what about the plight of the Gauls…shouldn’t that come first? Go over that hill beyond our thatched hut? No — what about the rest of the hungry cavemen?”

    I love this! I don’t care how much money is spent on the space program. And the person that says they can be helped with just a little more money. That is usually BS too. Look at the people that we spend tons of money on trying to rehabilitate in our prisons. And by that, i mean stamp them as a felon so they can’t find a place to live or a job…. Is it worth it to spend a dollar to save a dime? Some societies can’t be fixed with a billion dollars. Its like the poor man. He is poor and he learns to live poor. If he wins the lottery, a year later he will be poor again. Its just human nature. The people that have lots of money and keep it, are in that position because they can manage their money. People who have no money, usually are in that position because at one time or currently they don’t know how to manage it. Lack of responsibility will contribute to this situation. This is not ALWAYS TRUE, but as a whole this is the case. So how are you going to help people that can’t even help themselves?

  44. Quiet_Desperation

    >>> -$90,000 space pens

    It’s even worse when you realize the NASA “space pen” is a myth. Some guy did develop one and tried to interest NASA.

    And pencils are a really really bad idea in microgravity.

  45. Ryan

    In case you’re wondering about some of the odder comments, you’ve been popping on and off the digg front page for about an hour now.

  46. For a long time I’ve thought the spinoff-technology argument is a dead end. As many critics of space spending can easily reply, why not research the spinoffs directly?

    I think we should abandon that and focus on the real strong point. Space exploration is worth doing. Period. The Earth is a tiny part of a vast universe, and it’s just sensible to spend at least a small part of our wealth to learn about the rest of that universe.

    Never mind about spinoffs. Never mind about Stapledonian ideas of spreading human intelligence to the stars. Just knowing about this stuff is worth it.

  47. JKFan87

    NASA doesn’t COST anything. It is a very profitable INVESTMENT actually. It has paid for itself many, many times over with the technoligical advancements that space exploration has required. Sure, many of these would have been invented without NASA, but most would not have been invented until much later.

  48. To the people who “just don’t get space exploration” please consider the following. Reprinted in this comment without permission, originally published in 1980 in OMNI Magazine, reprinted in Expanded Universe.

    “Honorable Chairman, ladies, and gentlemen—

    “Happy New Year!

    “Indeed a happy New Year beginning the 11th year in the Age of Space, greatest era of our race—the greatest!—despite gasoline shortages, pollution, overpopulation, inflation, wars and threats of war. ‘These too shall pass’—but the stars abide.

    “Our race will spread out through space—unlimited room, unlimited energy, unlimited wealth. This is certain.

    “But I am not certain that the working language will be English. The people of the United States seem to have suffered a loss of nerve. However, I am limited by the call to a discussion of ‘spinoffs’ from our space program useful to the aged and the handicapped.

    “In all scientific research, the researcher may or may not find what he is looking for—indeed, his hypothesis may be demolished—but he is certain to learn something new . . . which may be and often is more important than what he had hoped to learn.

    “This is the Principle of Serendipity. It is so invariant that it can be considered an empirically established natural law.

    “In space research we always try to do more with less, because today the payload is tightly limited in size and in weight. This means endless research and development to make everything smaller, lighter, foolproof, and fail-proof. It works out that almost everything developed for space can be used in therapy . . . and thereby benefits both the elderly and the handicapped, the two groups requiring the most therapy of all sorts.

    “When you reach old age—say 70 and up—it approaches certainty that you will be in some way handicapped. Not necessarily a wheelchair or crutches or a white cane—most handicaps do not show. So all of us are customers for space spinoffs—if not today, then soon.”

    Witness holds up NASA brochure. “There is no need for me to discuss applications that NASA has already described. But this I must say: NASA’s presentation is extremely modest; it cites only 46 applications—whereas there are hundreds. Often one bit of research results in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th generations; each generation usually has multiple applications—spinoffs have spinoffs, branching out like a tree. To get a feeling for this, think of the endless applications of Lee DeForest’s vacuum tube, Dr. Shockley’s transistor.

    “Here is a way to spot space-research spinoffs: If it involves microminiaturization of any sort, minicomputers, miniaturized long-life power sources, highly reliable microswitches, remotely-controlled manipulators, image enhancers, small and sophisticated robotics or cybernetics, then, no matter where you find the item, at a critical point in its development it was part of our space program.


    “Image enhancer: This magic gadget runs an x-ray or fluoroscope picture through a special computer, does things to it, then puts it back onto the screen. Or stores it for replay. Or both. It can sharpen the contrast, take out ‘noise,’ remove part of the picture that gets in the way of what you need to see, and do other Wizard-of-Oz stunts.

    “This is the wonder toy that took extremely weak digital code signals and turned them into those beautiful, sharp, true-color photographs from the surface of Mars in the Viking program and also brought us the Voyager photographs of Jupiter and its moons.

    “I first saw one in 1977 at the Medical School of the University of Arizona—saw them put a long catheter up through a dog’s body in order to inject an x-ray-opaque dye into its brain. This does not hurt the dog. More about this later—

    “I did not know what an image enhancer was until I saw one demonstrated and did not learn until this year that it came from our space program. Possibly the doctor did not know. M.D.’s can use instruments with no notion that they derive from space research. . . . and a patient usually knows as little about it as did that dog.

    “The most ironical thing about our space program is that there are thousands of people alive today who would be dead were it not for some item derived from space research—but are blissfully unaware of the fact—and complain about ‘wasting all that money on stupid, useless space stunts when we have so many really important problems to solve right here on Earth.’

    “‘—all that money—’!

    “That sort of thinking would have kept Columbus at home.

    “NASA’s annual budget wouldn’t carry H.E.W. ten days. The entire 10 years of the Moon program works out to slightly less than five cents per citizen per day.

    “Would you like to be a wheelchair case caught by a hurricane such as that one that failed to swing east and instead hit the Texas and Louisiana coast? That storm was tracked by weather satellite; there was ample warning for anyone who would heed it—plenty of time to evacuate not only wheelchair cases but bed patients.

    “A similar storm hit Bangladesh a while back; it too was tracked by satellite. But Bangladesh lacks means to warn its people; many thousands were killed. Here in the United States it would take real effort to miss a hurricane warning; even houses with no plumbing have television.

    “Weather satellites are not spinoff; they are space program. But they must be listed because bad weather of any sort is much rougher on the aged and the handicapped than it is on the young and able-bodied.

    “Portable kidney machine: If a person’s kidneys fail, he must ‘go on the machine’ or die. ‘The machine’ is a fate so grim that the suicide rate is high. Miniaturization has made it possible to build portable kidney machines. This not only lets the patient lead a fairly normal life, travel and so forth, but also his blood is cleaned steadily as with a normal kidney; he is no longer cumulatively poisoned by his own toxins between his assigned days or nights ‘on the machine.’

    “This is new. A few have already made the switch but all kidney victims can expect it soon. The suicide rate has dropped markedly—life is again worth living; hope has been restored.

    “Computerized-Axial Tomography, or CAT, or ‘brain scan’: They strap you to a table, fasten your skull firmly, duck behind a barrier, and punch a button—then an automatic x-ray machine takes endless pictures, a tiny slice at a time. A special computer synthesizes each series of slices into a picture; a couple of dozen such pictures show the brain in three-dimensional, fine detail, a layer at a time.

    “Doppler Ultrasound Stethoscope: another microminiaturization spinoff. This instrument is to an ordinary stethoscope as a Rolls- Royce is to a Model-T Ford.”

    Witness stands up, turns from side to side. “Look at me, please! I’ll never be Mr. America; I’ll never take part in the Olympics. I’ve climbed my last mountain.

    “But I’m here, I’m alive, I’m functioning.

    “Fourteen months ago my brain was dull-normal and getting worse, slipping toward ‘human vegetable.’ I slept 16 hours a day and wasn’t worth a hoot the other 8 hours.

    “Were it not for the skill of Dr. Norman Chater, plus certain spinoffs from the space program, today I would either be a human vegetable or, if lucky, dead of cerebral stroke.

    “My father was not lucky; from a similar disorder it took him years to die—miserable years. He died before the operation that saved me had been invented, long before there was medical spinoff from space technology.

    “Am I elderly? I’m 72. I suffered from a disorder typical of old age, almost never found in the young.

    “Am I handicapped? Yes, but my handicaps do not interfere with my work—or my joy in life. Over forty years ago the Navy handed me a piece of paper that pronounced me totally and permanently disabled. I never believed it. That piece of paper wore out; I did not.

    “Mrs. Heinlein and I spent 1976 and -77 on blood drives all over this nation. We crisscrossed the country so many times we lost track. It was worthwhile; we recruited several thousand new blood donors—but it was very strenuous. By the end of ’77 we badly needed a rest, so we took a sea voyage. She and I were walking the beach on Moorea, Tahiti, when I turned my head to look at a mountain peak—and something happened.

    “I balanced on my left leg and said, ‘Darling, I’m terribly sorry but I think I’ve had a stroke. Something happened inside my head and now I’m seeing double and my right side feels paralyzed.’

    “Mrs. Heinlein half carried me, half dragged me, back to the landing—got me back aboard.

    “A shipmate friend, Dr. Armando Fortuna, diagnosed what had happened: a transient ischemic attack, not a stroke. When we reached California, this was confirmed by tests. However a TIA is frequently a prelude to a stroke.

    “Remember that spinoff, computerized-axial tomography? That was done to me to rule out brain tumor. No tumor. The neurologist my physician had called in started me on medication to thin my blood as the clinical picture indicated constriction in blood flow to my brain. This treatment was to continue for six months.

    But in only two months I was failing so rapidly that I was shipped to the University of California Medical School at San Francisco for further diagnosis. Remember the image enhancer and that dog at the University of Arizona? I said that dog was not hurt. They did it to me, with no anesthesia; it did not hurt.

    “The catheter goes in down here”—witness points at his right groin—”and goes all the way up and into the aortal arch above the heart. There three very large arteries lead up toward the brain; the catheter was used to shoot x-ray-opaque dye into each, in succession. The procedure took over two hours . . . but I was never bored because the image enhancer included closed-circuit television of the fluoroscopy with the screen right up here”—witness indicates a spot just above and to the left of his head—”above me, where the radiologist and his team, and the patient—I—could see it.

    “How many people ever get a chance to watch their own hearts beat? Utterly fascinating! I could see my heart beating, see my diaphragm rise and fall, see my lungs expand and contract, see the dye go up into my brain . . . see the network of blood vessels in my brain suddenly spring into sharp relief. It was worth the trip!

    “They spotted what was wrong; my left internal carotid was totally blocked. So the left half of my brain was starved for oxygen, as it was receiving only what leaked over from the right side or from the vertebrals where the network interconnected, principally at the Circle of Willis under the brain.

    “But this is your speech center”—witness touches left side of skull above ear—”your word processor, the place where a writer does all his work. No wonder I was dopey—could not write, could not study, could not read anything difficult.

    “My left internal carotid is still blocked; the stoppage is too high up for surgery. So they sent me to Dr. Chater at Franklin Hospital, who moved my left superficial temporal artery to feed the left side of my brain. This operation is pictured on pages 62 and 63 of the April 1978 Scientific American, so I will omit grisly details; if surgery interests you, you can look them up there.

    “The procedure is this: Scalp the patient from the left eyebrow, going high and curving down to a spot behind the left ear back of the mastoid. Cut away from the scalp the temporal artery. Saw a circular hole in the skull above the ear. Go inside the brain into the Sylvian fissure, find its main artery, join the two arteries, end to side. The left anterior lobe of my brain is now served by the left external carotid via this roundabout bypass. Dr. Chater did the hookup under a microscope with sutures so fine the naked eye can’t see them.

    “Check by Doppler ultrasound to make sure the bypass works, then close the hole in the skull with a plate that has a groove in it for the moved artery. Sew back the scalp—go to lunch. The surgeon has been operating for four hours; he’s hungry. (The patient is not.)

    “They placed me in a cardiac intensive-care room. When I woke, I found in my room a big screen with dancing lights all over it. Those curves meant nothing to me but were clear as print to the I.C. nurses and to my doctors—such things as EKG, blood pressure, respiration, temperature, brain waves, I don’t know what all. The thing was so sensitive that my slightest movement caused one of the curves to spike.

    “I mention this gadget because I was not wired to it.

    “Another space-technology spinoff: This is the way Dr. Berry monitored our astronauts whenever they were out in space.

    “Colonel Berry had to have remote monitoring for his astronaut patients. For me it may not have been utterly necessary. But it did mean that I was not cluttered with dozens of wires like a fly caught in a web; the microminiaturized sensors were so small and unobtrusive that I never noticed them—yet the nurses had the full picture every minute, every second.

    “Another advantage of telemetered remote monitoring is that more than one terminal can display the signals. My wife tells me that there was one at the nursing supervisor’s station. Dr. Chater may have had a terminal in his offices—I don’t know. But there can’t be any difficulty in remoting a hundred yards or so when the technology was developed for remoting from Luna to Houston, almost a quarter of a million miles.

    “Space spinoff in postoperative care: a Doppler ultrasound stethoscope is an impressive example of microminiaturization. It is enormously more sensitive than an acoustic stethoscope; the gain can be controlled, and, because of its Doppler nature, fluid flow volume and direction can be inferred by a skilled operator. Being ultrasound at extremely high frequency, it is highly directional; an acoustic stethoscope is not.

    “It generates a tight beam of ultrasound beyond the range of the human ear. This beam strikes something and bounces back, causing interference beats in the audible range. It behaves much like Doppler radar save that the radiation is ultrasound rather than electromagnetic. Thus it is a noninvasive way to explore inside the body without the dangers of x-ray . . . and is able to ‘see’ soft tissues that x-ray can’t see.

    “Both characteristics make it especially useful for protecting pregnant mothers and unborn babies. I am not departing from the call; babies unborn and newly born, and mothers at term must be classed as ‘temporarily but severely handicapped.’

    “Doppler ultrasound was used on me before, during, and after surgery.

    “After my convalescence I was again examined by computerized axial tomography. No abnormalities—other than the new plate in my skull.

    “This brain surgery is not itself a spinoff from space technology . . . but note how repeatedly space spinoffs were used on me before, during, and after surgery. This operation is very touchy; in the whole world only a handful of surgical teams dare attempt it. Of the thousand-odd of these operations to date, worldwide, Dr. Chater has performed more than 300. His mortality rate is far lower than that of any other team anywhere. This is a tribute to his skill but part of it comes from his attitude: he always uses the latest, most sophisticated tools available.

    “I was far gone; I needed every edge possible. Several things that tipped the odds in my favor are spinoffs from space technology.

    “Was it worthwhile? Yes, even if I had died at one of the four critical points—because sinking into senility while one is still bright enough to realize that one’s mental powers are steadily failing is a miserable, no-good way to live. Early last year I was just smart enough to realize that I had nothing left to look forward to, nothing whatever. This caused me to be quite willing to ‘Go-for-Broke’—get well or die.

    “Did it work? I have been out of convalescence about one year, during which I’ve caught up on two years of technical journals, resumed studying—I have long been convinced that life-long learning helps to keep one young and happy. True or not, both my wife and I do this. At present I am reviewing symbolic logic, going on into more advanced n-dimensional, non-Euclidean geometries, plus another subject quite new to me: Chinese history.

    “But I am working, too; I have completed writing a very long novel and am about halfway through another book.

    “I feel that I have proved one of two things: either I have fully recovered . . . or a hole in the head is no handicap to a science-fiction author.
    * * *

    “I must note one spinoff especially important to the aged and the handicapped: spiritual spinoff.

    “‘Man does not live by bread alone.’ Any physician will tell you that the most important factor in getting well is the will to live—contrariwise, a terminal patient dies when he gives up the fight.

    “I have been in death row three times. The unfailing support of my wife sustained my will to live . . . so here I am. In addition I have believed firmly in space flight for the past sixty-odd years; this has been a permanent incentive to hang on, hang on! My wife shares this; she decided years back to die on the Moon, not here in the smog and the crowds. Now that I am well again I intend to hang in there, lead a disciplined life, stay alive until we can buy commercial tickets to the Moon . . . and spend our last days in low-gravity comfort in the Luna Hilton, six levels down in Luna City.

    “Foolishness? Everyone in this room is old enough to know by direct experience that today’s foolishness is tomorrow’s wisdom. I can remember when ‘Get a horse!’ was considered the height of wit. As may be, anything that gives one a strong incentive to live can’t be entirely foolish.

    “I get a flood of mail from my readers; a disproportionate part of it is from the very old and the handicapped. It is impossible to be a fan of my fiction and not be enthusiastic for space travel. Besides, they tell me so, explicitly, in writing.


    “A college professor, blind from birth. He’s never seen the the stars; he’s never seen the Moon. The books he reads and rereads—has read to him by his secretary—are about space travel. He went to a lot of trouble to look me up . . . to discuss our space program.

    “A teenage boy, tied to a wheelchair, who wrote to ask me whether or not he could become an astronautical engineer—some ‘friend’ had told him that it was a silly ambition for a cripple. I assured him that an engineer did not need legs even on Earth’s surface, advised him in what courses to take, and referred him to a story by Arthur C. Clarke in which a double amputee, both legs, commands a space station.

    “A housewife with epilepsy, grand mal, who doesn’t expect ever to be able to go out into space . . . but finds her greatest interest in life, her major relief from the tedious routine she must follow, in our space program.

    “A very large number of elderly people who wrote to me immediately after the first landing on the Moon, all saying, in effect, that they thanked the Lord that they had been spared long enough to see this great day.

    “I could add examples endlessly. Just let me state flatly that my files hold proof that the aged retired, the shut-ins and the disabled of all ages get more spiritual lift out of space flight than does any other definable group of our citizens. For many of them the television screen is their only window on the world; something great and shining and wonderful went out of their lives when the Apollo Moon program ended.

    “Even if a space program had no other spinoff, isn’t that sort worth 5¢ a day?”
    -Robert Heinlein.

  49. jay

    Your rejection of the Parade comments is a little weak. Their stance seems to be, “We shouldn’t fund space exploration when other underfunded areas that have a much greater impact on peoples’ daily lives.” Your repsonse is, “Well, we’re not spending *very much* on space exploration in a relative sense, so you’re wrong.”

    That doesn’t follow. The obvious response is, “I don’t care that we’re only spending 1% on space exploration; when people are starving, that’s too much.” That’s what you need to answer. One answer is to ask whether the person supports *any* government funding of scientific research, of which space exploration is but one example. If they say no, then that’s the end of the discussion. If they say yes, then the question becomes, “Why do you support funding those other areas of research but not space exploration?”

    The likely response will be, “those other areas yield advances that actually improve peoples’ lives; space exploration does not.” At this point you can point out the various terrestrial technologies that developed out of the challenge of exploring space. However, you’re still not off the hook. Their final response might be, “While I cede that space exploration yields some useful terrestrial technologies, it’s still not the area of research likely to yield the highest *return on investment*”.

    THAT argument is somewhat harder to counter, since you have to demonstrate that space exploration generates technologies that “help people” at a higher rate than, pharmacological research, genetic research, et. al.

  50. Gary Ansorge

    Space, the final frontier,,,that’s all that need be said.

    GAry 7

  51. I am entirely disappointed how the ignorance of a few jeopardizes the fate of the human race. Not only does space exploration take an insignificant amount of money but the pay offs are literally astronomical through scientific research advancements. Have you guys ever played the game Civilization? The most technologically advanced race always wins, whether we are talking about war, social stability, or business dominance. Having the proper infrastructure is important but scientific exploration most be made a priority or we will pay dearly for it in the future.

    On a note about bridges, the technology behind the majority of American bridges is based on old technology and materials. Ever think that scientific advancement might be of a little help there? The US government of today relies much to heavily on corporate America to do all the research while they place their money in bad investments such as the Iraq war.

  52. Christopher

    I agree completely!

    Side note though… The whole Iraq spending equations are a bit flawed in that most of them contain money that would be spent on defense regardless of a war or not… (not to argue the immense cost of the mission there… just saying alot of those numbers aren’t exactly accurate).

  53. John Krehbiel


    researching the spinoffs directly is less productive than pure research.

    And to Joe Pulcinella,
    I’ll be willing to let people keep what they earn when employers pay workers what they earn. The real value of a workers output has been steadily rising, while the pay they get remains stagnant or falls.

  54. Ken

    >> Of course, it was the Space *Race* back then, and the U.S. *had* to outperform the Russians. I guess the best thing would be for China to get really serious about getting to the moon and staking a claim. *Then* there would suddenly by plenty of funding available. Cynic? Moi?

    Actually, I think any Islamic country starting a space program would make plenty of funding available here.

    On second thought, it’d probably just end up with us invading them and destroying the launch facilities instead. :-(

  55. Ken

    >> Um, how about giving the money back to the folks it came from? After all, it’s not the government’s money as it produces nothing.

    So, what will you do with your $50 “NASA refund”?

  56. Jan

    NASA is a text file on the hard drive of the government? Then Iraq must be the porn! :)

  57. SCR

    … Unless itwas Saudi Arabai maybe? 😉

    19 of the 911 bombers came from there. Osama Bin laden – probably now tehlate much exxagerated poor Osdama bin Laden has striong family ties there. They’ve got a truly abysmal human rights, oppresss women ad nauseam and have stacks more oil than anywhere but which countrie sddsi we go and invade and conquer and oppress – Afghanisatnm and Iraq.

    Now * Theres * your waste of money!

    Actually, politically speaking, the greatest waste of US gov’t cash is surely all the foreign aid and arming of Israel – a nation that creates half the Wests troubles * and probably shoudl never been created in the first place.


    * Ie. why are our relations with the Muslim esp. Arab muslim world so bad in the first place – because after WWII the West specifically the UK but US too and later more so the USA gave away another people’s land (the Palestineans) to a group of politico-religious extremists (Jewish Zionist movement) seeking to create a racial-religious nation that excluded the people and culture whose land it actually was ie the Palestineans.

    Ironically enough this has helped Hitler’s goals of exterminating the Jews in a few key ways –

    1) Its helped keep tehJewishs expelled from Europe from returning totheir homes in Germany, Poland etc .. as rightfullyshoudl have occurred.

    2) Its gathered a lot of the Jews together into a self-made ghetto surrouned by (justificably) furious and hostile neighbours.

    3) Its cost them a lot of their natural sympathy and traditional cultural values and transformed them from peaceful, intellectual people into vicious nationalist militartistic theocrats who view “the Styranger” not (as Rabbi Hillel said) as to be welcomed but rather extermined, feared and persecuted as well anti-Semites have previously viewed them.

    For the record, I don’t want Isreal destroyed now – alas its proabably toolate and too hard to evacutate it and reseettle it, say, in New York but it must at least recognise the legitimacy of the Palestineans claims for some of the land and the grave injustice done them. Palestien should comprise of the lands captured in 1967 incl. E.Jerusalem and all its national, political and most importabtly human righst need tobe respected. (Course in exchange the Palestineans need to _then_ recognise the same for Israel’s. But as stronger party Israel should set theexample and make a reasonable peace now. )

    That, ladies and gentleman, is how we can really “win” the so-called war on Terror!” Or, as Islamic people see it more another US “War _of_ terror ” Maybe we’ll compromise and accept the best label is just : ‘the terrible war!’ 😉

  58. John Phillips

    Hi Phil, ironic this thread as I just saw you on BBC2 on the OU program, The Cosmos: A Beginners Guide. The first episode of 6 was looking at SETI and allied projects. Interesting, but like a lot of these programs, way too lite on details. Still, better than nothing considering how little science there is on TV.

  59. SCR

    Sorry, it makes more sense to quote this by Ken earlier :

    “>> Of course, it was the Space *Race* back then, and the U.S. *had* to outperform the Russians. I guess the best thing would be for China to get really serious about getting to the moon and staking a claim. *Then* there would suddenly by plenty of funding available. Cynic? Moi?

    Actually, I think any Islamic country starting a space program would make plenty of funding available here.

    On second thought, it’d probably just end up with us invading them and destroying the launch facilities instead.”

    Before adding my own litlle aside about :

    … Unless that Islamic country was Saudi Arabia maybe?

    Amazing what we’ll put up with form them. 19 of the 911 bombers came from there. Osama Bin laden – probably now the late OBL, that much over-hyped & exaggerated former CIA agent whose been such a good poor excuse for so-much evil – had strong family ties there. The Saudi’s have got a truly abysmal human rights, oppresss women ad nauseam and have stacks more oil than anywhere but which countries did we go invade conquer and oppress – Afghanistan and Iraq instead.

    Now _there’s_ awaste of money! 😉

    Spaceexploration should get all the money that’s wasted on the neo-cons faded and failed dreams of remaking SW Asia in the USA’s image. Abandon another unaffordable war with Iran – offer them a non-aggression treaty and peaceful nuclear aid and then get the hell outta that region. Stop funding Israel and giving it such biased, unthinking support in its wars of occupation. That’ll end the BS “Terrible war” OBL started and (“Dubya”) George the Second made worse.

    Start working co-operatively with the rest of this planet -and refocus your money, effort and energy on space exploration, science generally and tackling the numerous social, environmental & educational crisis here too.

    Its not zero-sum -we can help the poor and have space too if we’re smart.

    As for private enterprise when they’ve done as much as NASA, as well as NASA then they can talk. Right now, best they’ve done is flown a few sub-orbital missions. NASA has been to the Moon, ran hundreds of shuttle, Gemini missions and sent robots past Neptune, etc … Private funding is so far behind its where the govt was back in the 1950’s .. Bseidse private = elite profit and not everybody gaisn, govt = all taxpayers invest, alltaxpayers (& indeed non-taxpayers , allAmercians and infact allthe planet) gains.


    – With apologies to Lisa Simpson & whoever she was quoting!

    PS. Also apolgies for any inevitable bleedin’ typos! :-(

  60. SCR

    Ayah-yii-a-yi-a! These *&@#@#@$(***!! typos. :-(

    Please BA, please I’m begging you -next time you upgrade this forum-y thingy please, oh please give us an editing capability!

    Pretty please with a ‘Voyager’ spaceprobe on top …

    I’m sure I’m not the only one who really wants this. (Sigh)

  61. The real issue is that NASA is wasting much of that 7/10ths of one percent, burning rocket fuel to put men into space again and again in a stupid way (shuttle and space station). They should be spending the money on robotic exploration, and a better way to get to Earth orbit (such as a space elevator). They should terminate the manned space program NOW.

  62. Lurchgs

    As I have said elsewhere, man IS going to space. We will live in habitats – whether orbiting or ground based. We will adapt ourselves and our environments to suit. Right now, we’re at the canoe stage of ship development. The difference is that A) we have some vague concept of aircraft carriers and container ships, and B) we KNOW there’s a new world out there over the horizon.

    Without space, how much would we know about global warming? (or any other significant weather or climatological information) The food on your table right now owes a huge debt to the space program, just for its very existence – not to mention the low cost.

    (I should point out to the technology spin-off buffs that Velcro is not a space spin-off. It was invented in 1941 by George de Mestral.) However, in fairness, the space industry DID bring it to the common market.

    The space industry didn’t invent the computer, but it certainly was a leader in the drive to make them smaller and more capable. I doubt you’d be reading my tirade if you were restricted to a batch processing mainframe.

    One of my favorite examples of spin-off research is the microwave oven. Researchers were working on radar systems for the detection of aircraft and communications. They discovered that the energies and frequencies used were also suitable for cooking. They weren’t engaged in a project to look for the next great oven – it was happenstance. Yet today, virtually everybody has at least one microwave oven in his home.

    On the other hand, I think it’s essentially impossible to write up a comprehensive list of the technologies which we use on a daily basis that have their roots in space exploration. From medicine to air bags to polycarbonate lenses, the list is huge.

    I hadn’t intended to bring up politics, but upon reflection, this IS a political issue…

    I agree with those who … object.. to the government misusing the money it steals from us. I disagree that NASA is a particularly egregious case in point, however. Others have brought up welfare, and other government programs, which I consider particularly wasteful examples. (Right up there with the Department of Homeland Security). For the homeless and others who NEED welfare, that’s what the church and families are for.

    Government has two roles: the protection of its people, and enforcement of contracts. I submit that space *exploration* falls into that second category, at least from fallout. Space exploration provides fallout in the form of adapted technologies (such as the imaging mentioned in the article) – as an example. The research base behind a space exploration effort is huge – much larger than any other project.

    I hold that it provides more direct protection of future citizens by discovering ways and means to deal with the hazards of a very hazardous environment.

    I also hold that it should not be a monopoly owned by the government. If I want to spend my money (and that of other investors) on building a space-based hockey team, I should be able to do it without pointless interference.

    I *profoundly* disagree with the individual above who suggested that man has no inherent curiosity, no drive to explore. It’s self-evident that man does. If this were not the case, there would be no growth at all. Cave man wouldn’t even enter the picture because we’d not have been curious enough to FIND the cave, much less explore them. Baseball would never have been invented, nobody would know what a book is, and he’d never know what a mistake he’s making in his judgment.

    That individual is confusing laziness with lack of curiosity. He’s confusing individuals with the whole. He’s confusing the shiftless with the working man.

    On the other hand, he’s reading BA – there’s some hope for him. As for the rest of the ostriches, you are welcome to live with your parents for the rest of your life. Me, I’m taking the first opportunity to move out.

  63. Sergeant Zim

    It is more productive to give talented scientists money to play with and tell them to have fun. I can’t give explicit examples,

    I can think of one off the top of my head: Teflon. Teflon was invented/discovered purely by accident, and it was months before the Chemists at Dow were able to figure out any use for the stuff.

    If you consider accidental discoveries/inventions, then you have to call up Pennicillin, galvanized rubber, microwave ovens, and our knowledge of the Cosmic Background Radiation that has allowed us to confirm several of the predictions of Cosmology (just to name a very few).

    As far as NASA spinoffs are concerned, a few spring to mind quite easily:
    CAT scans, Scratch-resistant lenses, Cool Suits for firefighters, vastly improved composite materials, cordless tools, laser angioplasty, excimer laser eye surgery, and of course, the computer you are currently traces its ‘parentage’ directly to NASA contracts.

  64. Whenever I give a talk on space exploration and space development, my answer to the “why are we wasting money in space” question is usually: “What? You think we put the money in a rocket and fire it into space? No, it gets spent here on Earth, buying from terrestrial companies, paying salaires, and generally getting plowed right back into the economy.”

  65. Patrick

    I love science and exploration and think it should be highly funded. Unfortunately, and I haven’t seen it pointed out here yet, much of NASA’s program is cover for a military space race. I grew up on the Space Coast and could see launches. Unannounced (or at least unpublicized) launches of military and surveillance satellites happen all the time.

    Also, it’s worth pointing out that 1 percent is still a very large part of the budget. I have a 300-gig hard drive. That 3 gig video is 1 percent of my space. The U.S. government budget is comparably big.

    Clearly the military budget is the first place to start cutting (over 500,000,000,000 this year), but some of NASA feeds into that.

  66. I have to agree with everyone that hates it when the government wastes the money we give it. I have to agree that is true even if the money is wasted at NASA. And that’s about where I stop agreeing with them. I don’t believe every dollar spent at NASA is wasted.

    I don’t know which programs are a waste, but I can point out thousands of NASA projects that are not. Unfortunately, I don’t have the space here (oh, bad pun) to list them, and those who disagree aren’t likely to read that list. Let the detractors list those they would eliminate – but they best be careful, and here’s why:

    Use the money to feed the poor? Then don’t eliminate the programs that support weather and earth science satellites. We grow more food with less land and less money than any other time in history because of these programs – without them we couldn’t possibly feed the hungry.

    Use the money to cure diseases? Then don’t eliminate manned space exploration! The science discovered and being discovered, and the technology developed and being developed to keep people healthy in space has led and will lead to technologies for diagnosing diseases earlier in people with these diseases. Yes, you could still do the research anyway, but with the impetus to do so gone, so goes the drive for such research. It’s hard to know when what you have isn’t enough until you actually have to use it where it isn’t enough. The side effects of developing space medicine has led to better Earth medicine we could not have discovered any other way.

    Use the money to rebuild places destroyed by natural disaster? With the science and technology at hand, we can avert these disasters. It isn’t a failing of science per se that the people haven’t taken advantage of the technology or continue to live where we’ve proven it isn’t safe. Katrina alone caused $25,000,000,000. That’s one disaster. NASA’s entire annual budget, including the parts that got much of the city evacuated before hand, will not cover the cost of repairs. The cost in terms of human lives with out the direct science (not including the spin offs) NASA performs far exceeds that budget.

    Let private industry take over? Um, O.K., and which companies are up to the task? Boeing? Lockheed? Aérospatiale? Aeroflot? Airbus? Pick the one or two, or three or four, that could do the job… and convince their stock holders to pony up $15,000,000,000 a year for space exploration. I’m all for private enterprise making money in space. I cheer the successes of companies like Scaled Composites and mourn their failures. But no one is ready to step up to that plate just yet. And when they do, we’ll need NASA or the FAA (who might have to become the Federal Aviation and Space Administration….) to provide “Space Traffic Control.” One thought to remember, the companies that provide the vehicles to get to space now, don’t have the resources to provide that service with out the government backing and oversight, and no one entity puts it all together other than the various national space agencies around the world. That farmer astronaut of the movie does not exist.

    Let other countries take the risks? Then they will reap the rewards. That simple.

    Oh, and you want back that $100 (if you paid $10000) we took from your taxes and sent to NASA? Well, expect about $700 to missing from your paycheck in return, because that’s what the estimates are for Return On Investment for your money spent by NASA.

  67. Walabio

    I submitted this comment to parade:

    Nasa consumes only .7% of the federal budget and pays dividends.

    By Walabio on 8/7/2007 9:11:PM

    Those saying that we should rechannel the budget of Nasa into social programs on Earth are, to be quite blunt, idiots. The budget of Nasa is only .7% of the federal budget. We could not start a social program on so little money.

    The spaceprogram is an investment. It has paid for itself many times over with things like weathersatellites, communicationsatellites, computers, the Internet, medical imaging, WD40, et cetera. Nasa is such a good investment that it would be a good idea to increase its budget to a nice round 1% of the federal budget.

    I agree that we need universal healthcare, but we cannot get it by diverting the budget of a small agency like Nasa. That would be like trying to use the change from the couch for buying a brand new car. To fund universal healthcare, we need to divert money from something expensive and wasteful. I recommend defunding the Iraqi War and using the money to fund universal healthcare. Doing so would not only fund universal healthcare, but we would have plenty of money left over for other things.

  68. i’d still like to see the statistics of the claim “expenditure on the space is only 1% of the tax”. then i’ll be more than happy to continue my support on space exploration.

  69. KaiYeves

    I really don’t have much to say that hasn’t already been said, but I do have strong feelings about this issue. My motto has always been: The question isn’t “How can you send x to space when soldiers are fighting and dying?”, the REAL question is “How can you squander money on death and destruction when this big, beautiful Universe is waiting right over your stinking heads!”
    First: A few days ago, I was in a discussion with some friends about all of the terrible things that the United States government has done for most of our short lives, when I added “But we’re also the ones who sent Spirit and Op. to Mars.” They looked at me and said “How does that matter?” “Well, someday, an asteroid the size of the dino killer will hit Earth again, and we gotta know about other places to live, because if there are humans living there, they won’t be affected.” The conversation took a much more upbeat tone after that, I recall.
    Second: I think that Dr. Tyson is a good guy. A bit wierd, maybe, and he edged Zahi Hawass out of the Time 100 this year, but a good guy all the same. People have been too hard on him over the Pluto matter, but the very nature of science is change. To whine about Pluto is kindergarten-ish. On a recent transcontinental plane ride, I read Pale Blue Dot, and in Chapter 16, Carl Sagan (Whose name some of you seem to have trouble spelling) makes almost this same arguement. Great guy. Too bad he died before I even knew the word “astronomy”. Sometimes I think that Dr. Tyson tries a bit too hard to be like him, in kind of a pod person way, instead of carrying on the legacy while being himself. But that may be just what he’s doing in order to get our praise and attentions now, and later he’ll be himself more.

  70. McCorvic

    Don’t feel to bad. Go to any of the major cable news websites that allow users to comment on stories and you’ll find that the vast majority of replies are from people who obviously didn’t read more than the headline or seriously lack any reading comprehension skills. I mean, cable news is ALREADY dumbed down to a third grade level and people still can’t figure it out.

  71. Blime

    “we don’t fund these avenues because of serendipitous results; we fund them because it’s the right thing to do. Knowledge always benefits us. Always.”

    Thank you.

  72. K

    Look, stupid people aren’t going to READ an ARTICLE. Too much work. Convert the article to a pretty graph with bright colors. Show how much Iraq costs, bridges cost, NASA costs. Put it up where the dim-witted will see it. But read? Not gonna happen. Hell, KSC used to have a display that tried to show why space exploration was useful. You know, examples of microwaves and velcro. It was utterly lame AND the only people who would see it would be people already there, supporting KSC. I swear, NASA needs new PR people. They need to come out of the 60s and embrace the current society, hire some damn spin-doctors, promote the hell out of KSC, put in some rides, and put up some decent displays with flashy blinky lights and noises. Why not get more people to visit KSC and accidently learn something while they’re there? As it is, the place has a quasi-sacred government feel to it. Sort of an uncomfortable-we’re being watched but aren’t we having fun-taint to it. NASA is never going to win a popularity contest as long as it sits in it’s ivory tower thinking it’s too good to compete.

  73. Mike

    I really get tired of everyone saying we spend too much on space and other research. I think we spend too little. This country has become “fat, dumb, and happy”. We forget that the reason we were the most advanced and affluent society was our scientific advancement. Now, we sit back and let everyone else take care of us. Most jobs in this country are service oriented, we need to get more science and research funding to generate jobs that bring money into our economy.

  74. morry

    Most anti-nasa people fail miserably to make their point. They talk about the money as if that’s the issue – it isn’t. It’s the value. They see no VALUE in going into space, or in the space program. You can argue to the moon (pun intended), but essentially they’re right. Spending even $1 for something that is worthless is a waste.

    If you consider the war in Iraq worthless or worse – counter productive, any money spent there is a waste. Same argument, different topic.

    We have to keep vocal and remind them a lot of us consider Nasa, and Space, a very valuable and worthwhile endeavor (another pun intended).

  75. Professor Whiney

    Knowledge “always” benefits us? Unfortunately, since we are such foolish apes, imperial ambitions have made tremendous use of science for the purposes of killing people. Millions and millions of people. And not just killing them: torturing them, manipulating them, squeezing labor out of them.

    This objection is not theoretical, nor does it only pertain to the Tuskegee Experiments. The space program has its origins in the Cold War, and has provided a crucial role in enabling one of the most frightening aspects of modern human existence: having nuclear warheads pointed at us by all manner of lunatic. Lockheed Martin and Raytheon steal gargantuan piles of tax dollars every year via NASA & friends, and spend the little crumbs left over after the shareholders get their fill to build flying death robots and infrastructure dismantling equipment. We’re crazy, belligerent apes and we’re constantly trying to kill each other.

    I feel there is something to the suggestion that it’s criminal to spend so much money on space exploration when so many worthy causes exist here on planet Earth. Take molecular biology, for example. Or linguistics. Or poetry. Wouldn’t it be great if our resources could be put into all sorts of knowledge production — not just the stuff that can be used to kill people? Then maybe the worlds’ various cultural workers (composers, bloggers, History professors, etc.) could do more to expose tyrannical behavior, so space enthusiasts can focus their energies on doing really nifty projects instead of having to stuff shareholders’ pockets and politicians’ coffers at every turn. Like building giant interferometric telescopes, finding a feasible way to make space elevators, putting probes under the crust of Europa, or terraforming Mars.

    But, then again, maybe it’s better to spend all our money whipping up intervention opportunities in oil-rich parts of the world.

  76. “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance” — Derek Bok

  77. Ordinary American

    > The short version: space exploration costs us very little. Need I remind you that we are basically setting fire to $11,000,000 per hour in Iraq?

    Yes, sadly, it seems you must.

    We are not “setting fire” to money in Iraq. We are defending this nation, a nation that many of us feel is worth defending, even if you don’t.

    The military is maintaining thousands of troops in Iraq and protecting millions of Americans at home. American servicemen and women fight and die in places like Iraq so that you can have the freedom to publish “Bad Astronomy” and badmouth the military.

    If you want to make inane comparisons between military budgets and NASA budgets, at least get your numbers right. How many astronauts is NASA maintaining on the Space Station? How many Americans does it protect? How much does the US spend per astronaut? How much per soldier? How many terrorists has the military killed this year? How many has NASA killed?

    If you can’t answer those questions, your comparison doesn’t hold water. Instead of just trashing the military out of ideological bias, why don’t you tell us what your agency is doing that’s worth $16 billion? If you can’t do that, you don’t deserve the money, no matter how much the big, bad, nasty military gets.

  78. Slicker

    I thoroughly agree with lots of the comments on this board, and indeed with Tyson’s report. But, save for creating a ‘new Earth’ when, billions of years in the future, our sun dies out, what really do we need from space? What benefits does society get from knowing that man can walk on space? A lot of people have said that space research has benefits. I say this: What are they?

  79. Sam

    Bias slants objectivity. It’s hard to shake off. Nothing new there.

    I’ve been on both sides but quite honestly space exploration has a notable credibility problem among some who aren’t in fact guilty of “woeful pig-headery…”

    It’s an incredibly expensive outworking of a somewhat flawed philosophy we’ve had dumped on us for many decades now. Fund much of it yourselves, space scientists, and many on planet earth will wish you well, along with many more spin-offs, but please… put your hands in our pockets only when it’s actually directly beneficial.


  80. arcblast

    @ #85 Ordinary American : All we ask is that you think. Just stop and think for just one second. forget all that crap your government is telling you. think for yourself, just this once. your argument is invalid because it has no basis in reality. You thought that the war in Iraq was about protecting America? really? you don’t think that maybe it has something to do with maintaining the military-industrial weapons manufacturers that power the American economy? Let’s ask what’s more logical: Protect ourselves from a country on the other side of the planet that has no air force or comparable armed forces? OR Maintain a steady flow of war and death so that politicians can justify the money poured into the military industrial economy? which seems more logical to you???


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