Wait, how big is NASA's budget again?

By Phil Plait | February 16, 2010 7:52 am

I have mixed feelings about NASA, as is obvious if you’ve read my posts about it. But I think that they have done a simply fantastic and amazing job given how small their budget is. You might think NASA gets a huge amount of money — a lot of people do — but in fact they get only a tiny fraction of the federal budget.

The New York Times made this very very clear recently when they posted an interesting graphic depicting the national budget allocations. Take a peek:

fy2011graphic

[Click to enporkbarrelate.]

Can you find NASA on there? It’s actually listed under General Science, near the bottom right. That rectangle’s not very big, is it? And NASA is only a part of that section, so the space agency’s lion’s share is starting to look more like a kitten’s nibble.

Now, wanna have fun? Close your eyes and click randomly on the graphic. Did you click on NASA? No? Shocker. But this gives you another way to think of the amount of money NASA gets, compared to, say, the military*. Statistically speaking, your chance of randomly picking NASA’s footprint on that graphic are about 1 in 125.

I’m still working out what I think about Obama’s new plans for NASA. I’m happy about the increase he plans to give them, but we can easily afford to increase NASA’s budget by a lot more. We spend more on pet food every year in the US than we do on NASA. What we spend every year on tobacco products is five times NASA’s annual budget, so I’m thinking the money is out there.

It’s not a matter of finding the money. It never is, and never has been. It’s a matter of finding the money in a way that isn’t political suicide for a politician. And that, I suspect, is because those of us who support space exploration haven’t made it politically expedient for everyone else to support it, too.

I don’t have a remedy for that. I’m just a guy with a blog, so I blog about it, trying to show people that space is exciting, interesting, and worth a few more tax dollars a year. The more people who know that, really know that, the better off we are.

Tip o’ the change purse to Fark.


* Not to pick on the military, except to say that it gets a lot of money. I actually like to confuse my opponents by telling them truthfully that I support a strong military, since I know there are bad guys out there. Unlike political ideologues, I try to judge things on their merits, and make up my mind on a case-by-case basis. So you can try to peg me as a left-wing liberal on some issue if you want, but you’ll be wrong a lot of the time.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: NASA, Politics
MORE ABOUT: budget, New York Times

Comments (89)

  1. Robert E

    “I actually like to confuse my opponents…”

    Ferengi Rules of Acquisition #76: Every once in a while, declare peace. It confuses the hell out of your enemies.

  2. Tesselator

    Wait, how did they get all those amounts to fit into neat space-filling rectangles?

  3. I recently worked out that Americans spend 4 times as much on soda as they do on NASA so, yeah, there’s money out there that could be better spent.

  4. justcorbly

    Isn’t democracy supposed to be based on an informed citizenry?

  5. blitzio

    Imagine where we’d be if it was NASA/General Science with the 738 billion? Humans on mars? Closer to FTL tech?

  6. Scott B

    Not sure comparing what we spend on tobacco or soda has anything to do with NASA spending. I bet we spend more money on toilet paper too. Better to compare other aspects of the budget to NASA spending. The NYT’s layout is great to compare various parts of the budget to each other. I would love to see some European nations’ budgets displayed like this to show how ridiculous our military spending is compared to other countries that face the same boogeymen out there.

  7. Messier Tidy Upper

    I’m still working out what I think about Obama’s new plans for NASA.

    I know what *I* think about Obama’s budget and plans for NASA :

    I hate them & feel betrayed and saddened and very let down by Obama. This is NOT the change or vision for the future that I hoped for. :-(

    I wanted to see ‘Ares -Constellation’ fly gosh-durnnit to blazes!!! :-(

    @ 4. justcorbly Says:

    Isn’t democracy supposed to be based on an *informed* citizenry?

    (Emphasis there originally but done differently by moi because, y’know, italics in italics doesn’t quite work out contrast~wise! ;-) )

    Oh if *only.*

    If only the US electorate was informed instead of misinformed what a totally different & vastly better world we’d be living in today.

    @ 6. Scott B :

    I would love to see some European nations’ budgets displayed like this to show how ridiculous our military spending is compared to other countries that face the same boogeymen out there.

    Well, in fairness, the focus of those “boogeymen” who, sadly, are quite real is directed a lot more at what they consider to be the “great satan” that is the USA rather than the lesser “satans” of Europe.

    Like it or not, the United States of America is the leading Western power and the only global superpower in a way that Europe & everywhere else is not – & for what little difference this is coming from an Aussie living in Adelaide, South Oz.

    There *are* crazy jihadists out there and pretending otherwise & pretending that they don’t need to be taken care of somehow or worried about is .. suicidal really. :-(

  8. barcsb

    “I would love to see some European nations’ budgets displayed like this to show how ridiculous our military spending is compared to other countries that face the same boogeymen out there.”

    Ah, right. But no European nation makes any claim towards being the world police.

  9. RL

    Actually, it is a matter of finding the money unless we want to keep getting further into debt. And what people spend on pet food or soda is irrelevant unless you plan on taking people’s discretionary money away. Maybe you and others are making the comparison for illustrative purposes only and not making a tax recommendation. It’s not clear what you mean when you say the money is out there.

    @Scott B. The European military budgets are small because they are under our defense umbrella. People can and will have debates on what our role in the world should be, but its not a fair comparison.

  10. While wondering on alternative ways to fund money one question arose:
    Many technologies are inspired by space research. Does nasa retains any royalties for them? Every time someone buys a digital camera that has any invention from the hubble, or a the US defense buys a kevlar vest, is Nasa getting any money? Should it get, or is the world better served if all research is public domain?

    @tesselator lookup treemap diagrams, there are algorithms that do this.

  11. JimmyDaGeek

    Maybe, we, as citizens, should be able to tell Congress exactly where we want our taxes to go. So if Phil wants to spend more money on NASA and less on defense, that’s where his money will go. It would be interesting to see where all the money ends up.

  12. JimmyDaGeek (11) I never said we should spend less on defense, and said clearly in the footnote that I understand why our military budget is so big.

    What I’d like to see is less waste in government, which I bet is on the same order of magnitude (if not greater than) NASA’s entire budget. But I also think we need to raise taxes (fairly), because that money is needed to fund important government expenses. I never understood the either-or attitude of Republicans and Democrats. We need to cut spending and waste, and raise more money to do what needs to be done. What is so hard to understand about that?

  13. Michel

    Darn, and here I was thinking Obama was ordered by space nazis to cut back.
    It was on the internets… http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1562/1

  14. Why not letting the people contribute voluntarily, why do you want to force them to give their money to NASA?

  15. NASA was easy to find compared to FDA’s budget.

  16. Ray

    @Alex #10,

    “Every time someone buys a digital camera that has any invention from the hubble, or a the US defense buys a kevlar vest, is Nasa getting any money?”

    Why would NASA get money for kevlar? A DuPont scientist invented the stuff, not NASA. And DuPont wasn’t even working on a space-related project when they invented it either.

  17. MikeS

    Re: deficits. We won’t balance the budget without cutting into Medicare/Social Security, which are apparently off the table permanently.

    My problem with the “NASA doesn’t spend much meme” is that it’s a really lousy line of argument in defense of the program. Partly because it’s not true: NASA does spend a lot of money. Billions of dollars worth. It’s not a lot compared to everything else, but it is a lot to the taxpayer. Let me put it this way; if you heard that an item the size of NASA’s budget was pure waste, would you say, “Well, it’s not that big a deal!” I mean, we got bent out of shape over the Bridge to Nowhere that cost less than a shuttle mission. Having done budgets myself, when I hear “this doesn’t cost much” as the first argument in defense, I immediately slash it.

    The point is not that NASA doesn’t cost much; the point is that we get a lot of bang for our buck. Spaceflight is mixed but NASA does science really really well. The Hubble Space Telescope, as far as I’m concerned, is an accomplishment I’d put up there with the Pyramids or the Great Wall of China. The discoveries its made are some of the highlights in the history of science. That’s more than worth a few billion.

  18. My only comment is you should take out medicare and social security because those are funded separately via payroll taxes whereas everything else is funded by income taxes.

    Something the spin doctors have done for years is include Soc Sec and Medicare as part of the ‘expenditures’ when showing where money goes. They have their own income streams and should be separated.

  19. fizixdood

    Great graphic- Was having this discussion with a General Astronomy class last week. The vast majority of students had the impression that NASA was a major part of the budget (on the order of the Defense Dept). Would have loved to have this graphic last week, but they will see it soon!

    Leo

  20. ZomZom

    What if we took what we’ve learned from building the ISS and began a new multi-national effort to build a space-only spacecraft to cycle between Earth and lunar orbit? Call it the International Space Ship ISS: Enterprise/whatever name you like. Send up a crew on a Soyuz, send it to lunar orbit, drop a lander. Lander returns to the orbiting ship which then returns to Earth orbit. Crew descends to Earth via capsule. Rinse and repeat. Shares costs, is an evolution of what we’ve learned from the space station and advances our abilities to explore.

  21. Cheyenne

    Wow I didn’t know that NASA was actually allocated that level of dough in the federal outlay. I knew it was a fair amount but I didn’t know they were up to $12.78 billion with a nice uptick from last year. And does the additional $4.8 billion in “Space Operations” get included as well?

    I really hope they spend that tax money in the best way possible. As a humble suggestion they should probably stop dropping $8-9 billion on programs like Ares/Constellation (oh correction, cancellation fees still to fork over to the defense contractors like ATK – more like $11-12 billion down the hole).

    And Phil, comparing it to dog food? How is that remotely relevant? Unless of course their new slogan is “We’re NASA, and we cost you less than dog food”.

  22. Scott B

    @Messier Tidy Upper:

    I appreciate the feedback and I’m going to try to keep my comment short so I don’t contribute too much more from taking the discussion away from NASA. Yes, they exist out there, but it will take a lot to convince me that much of that $738 billion is necessary. Part of it probably creates more people in the world that hate us than corrects the problem. I’m a sceptic in all areas and I can’t just trust my government to tell me they are looking out for me. I need them to show me clear evidence that every bit of that money is necessary to protect us and convince me why the rest of the world can’t pitch in more.

    @barcsb:

    In my opinion, it’s time for us to stop being policemen of the world. We’ve done enough to mess things up. At the very least, everyone needs to pay for their share of protection.

    @RI:

    I’m sure it’s not a fair comparison. I do think the visual contrast would wake a lot of people in the US up though.

  23. Ravely

    There’s a similar diagram for UK spending:
    http://image.guardian.co.uk/sys-files/Guardian/documents/2009/09/16/Public_spending_160909.pdf

    I’m sure I’ve seen a square based diagram somewhere, but this allows a bit of comparison. Try and find the space spending in there, I dare you! It’s under “Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills”, we spend £286 million (~$450 mil) a year, which would be a pretty small circle…

    For comparative defence spending we manage to spend only 7% on the MoD, and yes, I know, the comment about being under the US’s umbrella is true, but we still manage to be fairly capable and a bit “world policey”! We even manage free healthcare for <20 % of the budget…

    Space is severely underfunded by all western contries (except perhaps France…), but I do work in the industry, and so am a bit biased!

  24. Adam

    Actually Phil I think you’re taking Jimmy’s comment out of context. It looks like a “for instance” he could have just as easily picked medicaid.

  25. Beachmaster

    Yeah the money is out there …. it belongs to someone. The US needs to find a way to live within its means. That means, reduced spending, increasing taxes, converting Social Security to a means based payout (think welfare for those who failed to save enough for their golden years) and restricting NASA to robotic exploration. The private sector is the best bet for getting humans into space at a lower cost. No country can live long by borrowing more than 3% of the GDP, we’re over 10% now. We are on a path blazed by Iceland and Greece.

  26. MikeS

    “Something the spin doctors have done for years is include Soc Sec and Medicare as part of the ‘expenditures’ when showing where money goes. They have their own income streams and should be separated.”

    Except that both programs were in surplus and being raided. And soon both will be in deficit and drawing on general revenues. The “lockbox” is an accounting gimick, nothing more.

  27. Gary Ansorge

    25. Beachmaster

    “(think welfare for those who failed to save enough for their golden years)”

    In the old days(prior to social security), people “invested” for their so called golden years by breeding enough children to support them when they were unable to support themselves. The advent of social support systems is the single biggest contributor to the decrease in population growth the industrialized nations are seeing today. Do you really think social security is just for those too lazy to save money for themselves? (PErsonally, I invested most of my money ensuring my kids would be better educated, healthier and sophisticated than the general population).
    Money is not really a productive asset. Farm land (and the children to work that land) IS!

    Investing in space is a win win for the future. It’s so long term however, that few people are truly able to comprehend the importance of large expenditures in that arena. It’s somewhat like investing more money in fewer children to improve their odds of survival. Very long term, doncha know?

    GAry 7

  28. Elmar_M

    I like Obamas plan for NASA. I have to say that it has been among the best decisions that this administration has made so far.

  29. Chris

    I remember being on a HS trip to Fermilab and one person asked how much money do they burn through. I don’t remember the exact number, but in relative terms they get a few crumbs of the pie. It’s really amazing how much we scientists are able to get done with so few resources.

  30. amphiox

    Imagine where we’d be if it was NASA/General Science with the 738 billion? Humans on mars? Closer to FTL tech?

    My guess is, circa 1975, we’d have had a United States of Mars.

    And a Union of Soviet Socialist Republics of North America.

    But in the longest view I can’t say if that would have been a good or bad thing, because in all likelihood, circa 1989 the Cold War would still have ended, and the same side would still have won.

  31. Lukester

    The stupidest block on there (and we have both Republicans and Democrats to blame for this) is the “Net Interest at $251 Billion”

  32. Scott B

    @ Lukester:

    No, we have voters that refuse to have their taxes raised and yet want all of the services they receive today unchanged or improved to blame for that. The politicians simply do what they need to do to get votes.

  33. justcorbly

    @ #7 Messier Tidy Uppe:

    Well, in fairness, the focus of those “boogeymen” who, sadly, are quite real is directed a lot more at what they consider to be the “great satan” that is the USA rather than the lesser “satans” of Europe.
    Like it or not, the United States of America is the leading Western power and the only global superpower in a way that Europe & everywhere else is not…

    Valid points. But, the nature of the threat differs dramatically from the Cold War threat. Terrorists and rogue states pose a very real threat to Westerners and Western interests, but they do not pose the same existential threat that the West and the Soviets posed to each other. The physical existence of a nation is not threatened by terrorists.

    Then isn’t it worthwhile to ask if the U.S. defense budget needs to be maintained at Cold War levels? Does fighting Bin Laden and dealing with the DPRK and Iran really cost as much as preparing to fight and win a nuclear war against the USSR?

  34. I support a strong military, since I know there are bad guys out there.

    For what it’s worth, Phil, this loses you a lot of credibility in my book. We spend a crapton of money on our military, for what exactly? No one in this country, including people who call themselves liberal, ever has the courage to say that the first budget cuts should come from military spending, not Social Security or Medicare.

    Give the congresspeople all the (non-military) pork they want. Fully fund SS, and expand Medicare to all citizens. You can do it if you cut the military budget by 75%, and let the Bush tax cuts expire next year (which is already happening anyway). It’s just that simple, but no one ever has the courage to say that our tax money is better spent on helping people than on killing them.

    And before some twit comes on here and calls me naive for thinking we can just ignore “terrorists” and they’ll go away, I’m fully aware they will not go away. It’s just not worth spending a trillion dollars a year on something that has killed maybe 4000 Americans in the last 60 years. The fact is, no one is about to invade this country, so there’s no reason to have a huge standing army, and there’s no reason to buy them the latest gewgaws that let them kill in the most efficient way. We are capable of defending ourselves – that’s what the 2nd Amendment is for. Anything beyond that is a waste of money, time, and life.

  35. I understand why our military budget is so big.

    What I’d like to see is less waste in government

    Well, as long as you’re not precluding the possibility that some military expenditure (I’d suggest a long hard look at the ‘Operations and Maintenance’ box at the far left – contractors’ traditional way of making good losses on the Procurement part) may be wasteful.

    In general, one would expect the most politically popular parts of the budget to be the most wastefully spent, because scrutiny is least.

    Oh, and haven’t Democrats been traditionally strong on defense? How are you confusing your opponents?

  36. Jon

    >I’m happy about the increase he plans to give them, but we can easily afford to increase NASA’s budget by a lot more.

    Consider the big picture and weight the benefits of manned travel vs other investments. For example, the National Science Foundation gets by on 1/4 of NASA’s budget.

  37. Miko

    @7: “Well, in fairness, the focus of those “boogeymen” who, sadly, are quite real is directed a lot more at what they consider to be the “great satan” that is the USA rather than the lesser “satans” of Europe.”

    Right, because no one in Europe had even heard of terrorism until 11/9/01.

    @9: “The European military budgets are small because they are under our defense umbrella. ”

    Getting closer. Replace the phrase “under our defense umbrella” with “occupied states” and you’ll have a better picture of current U.S. policy. And, of course, unless you are an employee of either the U.S. military or U.S. government, the use of the word ‘our’ is grammatically incorrect in your sentence.

    @12: “But I also think we need to raise taxes (fairly), because that money is needed to fund important government expenses.”

    But ‘we’ (which is to say, the government) won’t–or at least won’t fairly. Instead, we’ll raise corporate taxes that encourage the reinvestment of profits as machines and so are passed along to workers in the forms of lower salaries and pink slips, we’ll raise consumption taxes which are passed along to the poor in the form of higher prices for staples, we’ll raise payroll taxes which discourage hiring and so are passed along to the poor in the form of lower wages, and we’ll play with the income tax in unpredictable ways which will nonetheless achieve nothing other that increasing the rental price of low-income housing (unfortunately, the economic argument for the last one is too complex to summarize here; cf. George, _Progress and Poverty_ for a very rudimentary start).

    Now,personally, I’d say that the only fair tax is a voluntary one, but even if you want to define “fair” as meaning “the rich should pay for everything,” where “rich” is defined as a function of your own income so as to exclude yourself no matter what you make, you aren’t going to be successful. All taxes (except for those on the ground rent of the unimproved land value) can and are shifted off of their intended targets and sent down the chain until they reach those at the bottom, and there isn’t enough ground rent around to pay for the kind of government you want.

  38. Kullat Nunu

    I support a strong military, since I know there are bad guys out there.

    Rather sad comment. Do you *really* need to spend as much money to military as all others combined? Terrorist kooks cannot be defeated using a large military, it is always counter-productive. It is worse than ridiculous to think the so-called “rogue states” could seriously threaten you. Russia could nuke you from the face of the Earth, huge military spending is not answer even to that threat. Consider also mistakes, only nuclear disarmament can make you safe.

    If you have a big army, you’re more eager to invade other countries, no matter if you believed it was right or not. For instance, invading Iraq or Afghanistan have only deteriorated the situation there. And I’m not saying Saddam or Taliban are not “bad guys”. With a considerable smaller army you could be still safe from any potential invaders. And to be sure that your education system and infrastructure is not rotting away.

    But looking at NASA funding, yeah, pathetic. Especially considering that it is the best space agency we have on this planet… We’re so doomed.

  39. Ferris Valyn

    I know what *I* think about Obama’s budget and plans for NASA :

    Yea, We know, you’ve mentioned it more than a few times (BTW, I did respond to you ultimately in the Earth Sky Interview thread, but it was substantially later than I intended)

    I hate them & feel betrayed and saddened and very let down by Obama. This is NOT the change or vision for the future that I hoped for. :-(

    Well, its exactly the chage I wanted. It finally puts us on a path to becoming spacefaring, and gets us away from the dead-end that is Constellation.

    I wanted to see ‘Ares -Constellation’ fly gosh-durnnit to blazes!!!

    You were gonna half to wait until 2019 to see it fly (and thats just to earth orbit – lunar flight wasn’t gonna happen until after 2030)

    Now, compare that to the Falcon 9, which is about to have its first launch, sometime in the next 2 months. Or the Atlas V, which is already flying.

    And then there are the cool capsules, like Dragon (that is gonna be tested if the Falcon 9 launch is successful), or Orion-lite, or the Dreamchaser.

    And just to be nice to my friends at OSC, I’ll mention the Taurus II & Cygnus, which has a little bit further, but is expected to have its first flight next year.

  40. @Phil Plait (#12):

    What I’d like to see is less waste in government, which I bet is on the same order of magnitude (if not greater than) NASA’s entire budget.But I also think we need to raise taxes (fairly), because that money is needed to fund important government expenses. I never understood the either-or attitude of Republicans and Democrats. We need to cut spending and waste, and raise more money to do what needs to be done. What is so hard to understand about that?

    Are you serious, Phil? You’ve just called—in the same sentence—for less spending and higher taxes. And aside from a method for reducing waste in a system that encourages it (and where all previous attempts have failed), what’s hard to understand is how you intend to “fairly” take away money that your neighbors earned.

  41. P

    If the US didn’t send their army, marines, navy, texans, whatever, all around the place uppsetting people, the number of crazy jihadists or whatever you want to call them would be siginificantly less. In fact, its just plane naivity to think that an army your (as in you americans) size actually protect you against anything. Instead it just provokes the opposite. Deep inside you know that, or perhaps not you, but the people pulling the strings do. So perhaps one should ask, if they know, then what is the purpose of such an enormous defense budget? Reading behind the lines is not conspiracy theory, its intelligence.

    Sceptics are just a fancy word of saying – I refuse to believe anything that does not come directly from established authority (whatever that might be)

    Love.

  42. Katharine

    I think the defense budget could be halved by spending a tenth as much money of what it’s spending on new shiny things to kill people utilizing on things to figure out psychological ways to head them off at the pass. It’s cheaper.

    Most terrorists are idiots.

  43. Miko @ #38: “WAH! WAH! WON’T SOMEONE THINK OF THE POOR RICH PEOPLE! WAAAAAAAAH!”

    They make more, they should pay more. You want “fair” taxes and a break because you don’t want to hold up your end of the social contract? Get the hell out of my country and move to Somalia.

    Same for gibson042 @ #41: Cry some more. You don’t want to contribute, you can get the hell out too.

    P @ #42: …WUT? Seriously, I can’t make heads or tails of that screed.

  44. I somehow thought their budget was bigger relative to the rest. Thanks for posting this. Very interesting.

  45. Chris Peterson

    Wow, some of the comments here are needlessly vitriolic, but what can I expect from the Interwebs?

    Anyway, what Phil is saying is that a small cut of another part of the budget could mean a large increase in Nasa’s budget. How could anybody disagree with that? It’s just a fact that he’s found a good way of illustrating.

    Personally, I think canceling Constilation outright is a mistake because it’s going to resulte in spending a bunch of money just to cancel it, plus it’s a waste of all of the money that’s been spent on it so far. Modifying Constilation is probably a good idea, and would save a lot more money than canceling it.

    Eliminating the $700 toilet seats the military buys would also be a good idea, and would probably do a lot just in itself.

    The thing is, people automatically assume that budget cuts will mean program cuts, and budget increases will mean tax increases when, in reality, budget cuts often do a great deal to force government agencies to eliminate wasteful beurocracy and I’d say that would actually improve some programs like Social Security.

    The really sad thing is that Nasa seems to need a recommendation from the president in order to get its house in order when program heads should be rewarded for finding ways to meaningfully do more with less, and by that I mean cutting waste and, by waste I mean things that serve no useful function at all or in some cases make it harder for people to do their jobs.

    I think Nasa has done a good job at what it’s been asked to do. I also think that what it’s been asked to do has sometimes been rediculous. Just think about how much money was needlessly wasted by letting all of the Apollo hardware run out, and by letting the designs and engineering know-how get lost? How much more money was wasted by letting Skylab fall out of the sky? And how much more money was wasted on designing, then redesigning, then reredesigning what eventually became the ISS, just to save money? Oh, and how much money was wasted on the camel that became the Space shuttle? At least Constilation was trying to make use of already existing designs, rather than starting over from scratch. Personally I think that’s a pretty good thing and, if we’d tried to do that with the Appollo hardware, we probably would’ve saved even more money.

    Nasa has really done a very good job with very little money and 536 politicians trying to pull them in different directions.

  46. Joey Joe Joe

    What do you have against pet food? I can’t let my unembiggennated puppy starve.

  47. justcorbly

    @gibson042 (#42):

    Are you serious, Phil? You’ve just called—in the same sentence—for less spending and higher taxes. And aside from a method for reducing waste in a system that encourages it (and where all previous attempts have failed), what’s hard to understand is how you intend to “fairly” take away money that your neighbors earned.

    Can’t speak for Phil, but I’m serious about it. A future that doesn’t involve reduced spending and increased taxes is a future most of us don’t want to live in. Certainly not an ideal world, nor the world we might have hoped for, but definitely a better world than one in which government is excoriated, reduced to an impotent shell, and we are left to fend for ourselves against the interests of our neighbors.

  48. Carey (35): You said,

    “The fact is, no one is about to invade this country, so there’s no reason to have a huge standing army”

    … and you don’t see any irony in that statement at all? Why do you think no one has invaded us?

  49. Lawrence

    The biggest problem I have with our Defense Budget over the last couple of decades (after the Cold War ended) is the preoccupation with weapons with price tags that are so high that we can’t actually afford to use them in combat (using million dollar cruise missiles to kill a handful of guys carrying AK-47s).

    Unfortunately, our enemies will continue to find low-cost defenses against our high-tech weapons (or just keep recruiting teenagers to fight for them) unless we address the underlying causes of a lot of the unrest in the world.

    If even a fraction of the many we’ve spent on defense was put into international development efforts, more than a few of the current problems could have been “headed off at the pass.”

    Agreed Phil – we want everything, all the time, but don’t want to pay for it. Then we complain when the government has to borrow money to pay for it without raising taxes. It is insanity.

  50. Folks, the point I made about pet food is that we as Americans choose where to spend our money, and if you spend that much on just pet food, why not that same amount on exploring the Universe?

    I’m not sure how people can fail to see this very simple point.

    Also, gibson042 (41): we spend too much on some things, not enough on others, and all on a budget that starves everything. For a small increase in taxes we can afford to do everything we need to do. People want services but refuse to pay for them if it means taxes, and then complain when these services get suspended. It’s insanity.

  51. Harald

    ” and all on a budget that starves everything. For a small increase in taxes we can afford to do everything we need to do.”

    Too bad it just doesn’t work that way. We have some of the highest taxes in the world in Sweden and waaay higher than you do and a lot of politicians are still arguing for slightly higher taxes so we can do everything properly.

    More money just means more half-assed services and more wasted money.

  52. Cory

    I have the planetoids to suggest that we should spend less on defense. We just spent untold amounts of money putting a giant LASER on a jumbo jet, for a project that was technically unfeasible from its outset!

    What pains me most is that the budget is so unbelievably enormous in the first place. Imagine what Americans could do if we spent and invested this money ourselves, rather than giving it to corrupt fatcats to spend on pork.

  53. To quote Neil Tyson:

    “To the interested scientist, these ongoing chemical mysteries are no less seductive than questions related to black holes, quasars, and the early universe. But you will hardly ever read about them. Why? Because once again, the media has predetermined what is not worthy of coverage, even when the news item is something as uninteresting as the cosmic origin of every element in your body.” ~ Death by Black Hole (p. 198)

    The media, and by extension the general public, are woefully uninterested in scientific endeavor. This is reflected in the budget.

    Phil Plait: People want services but refuse to pay for them if it means taxes, and then complain when these services get suspended. It’s insanity.

    That mode of thought has come on strong in Northern VA with all of this snow. Moaning and complaining about the city not being able to completely clear the streets is at an all-time high, yet individuals generally won’t pick up where the city falls short. They want these necessary services provided free of cost.

  54. amphiox

    I’d just like to point out that a strong military and a ginormous amount of military spending are not necessarily the same thing.

    History has many examples of big, expensive military forces proving to the rather inadequate when the hammer hits the fan, and many examples of tiny, bare-bones operations turning out to be terrifyingly effective badasses when called upon.

    People want services but refuse to pay for them if it means taxes, and then complain when these services get suspended. It’s insanity.

    And that, to quote Homer Simpson, is why democracy doesn’t work! It just happens to be (to paraphrase another famous fat man) considerably better than all the other alternatives that have been tried.

  55. Derek

    All programs need to be cut. Period. We are already taxed enough.

    We should remove a few Carrier battle groups from the Navy (our last two presidents like to move them around but don’t use their incredible fire power) since they are nothing more than show-and-tell.

    Airforce spending needs to be dipped as well because again, shiny new toys that don’t get used and never will for various reason, yet incur incredible expenses.

    Rid ourselves of the department of education. Its useless and unneeded (but what about our children’s future…..wah wah wah)

    No more payments to SS. Its off budget but in reality its not. There are more babyboomers than people today restructuring is good, elimination is best.

    While we are at it, restructure the pay scheme for all federal employees.

    Boom, problem solved. Glad to help

  56. @Phil: “The fact is, no one is about to invade this country, so there’s no reason to have a huge standing army”
    … and you don’t see any irony in that statement at all? Why do you think no one has invaded us?

    Come on Phil, you know better. I know I’m the one that first brought it up, but do you honestly think anyone would even consider invading the US? Besides the ginormous oceans on either side of us, news flash: invading a country with a stable, comfortable (relatively), and armed citizenry is suicide. You may have noticed that we’ve tried invading unstable, poor and downtrodden countries in Asia for 50 years, and with the most well equipped military in the world, and we’ve profoundly sucked at it. People don’t like to be invaded even when their country is in the crapper. If you live in fear of an invading force capable of making it past the beach bars, I feel sorry for you.

    Our military has done two very useful things over the last 60 years. It’s given multiple generations of volunteers free education and free healthcare. The rest has been wasted. Sure would be nice for everyone to get the free education and healthcare and just ditch the guns and bombs.

  57. John Paradox

    While checking out my RSS feeds, I found this article on C-NET, with possible savings of billions of dollars for trucking.

    http://news.cnet.com/8301-13772_3-10454489-52.html?part=rss&subj=news&tag=2547-1_3-0-20

    J/P=?

  58. James

    @Carey: “Our military has done two very useful things over the last 60 years. It’s given multiple generations of volunteers free education and free healthcare. The rest has been wasted. Sure would be nice for everyone to get the free education and healthcare and just ditch the guns and bombs.”

    yeah, the military had absolutely nothing to with the space program (no astronaut has ever served in the military, nor has military training helped them, right Carey?). Not only that, the military has had absolutely nothing to with the invention of the internet, gps, satellites, life saving medical procedures, and faster and safer airplanes.

    THEY ONLY MAKE GUNS AND BOMBS.

  59. gopher65

    @57 Carey:

    1) It’s nice to know that you think that both the old Soviets (when they existed) and the Islamic fundamentalists are so stupid and pathetic that they’ve never bothered to invent boats. Damn those giant oceans surrounding the US! They’re impenetrable!

    2) There is a reason why the US sucks at invading those disordered, poverty stricken Asian countries: it makes at least some minor effort not to kill civilians. When you remove that requirement it becomes *very* easy for even a small army to utterly destroy a country that is without a large, well trained, well equipped standing military. You really think your little handgun can defend you against a cruise missile, a long range artillery shell, a Mig-35, or a nuke? Riiiiight. Good luck with that! I’ll be over here, standing as far away from you as possible, surrounded by heavy (expensive) military equipment. And, preferably, a laser based anti-missile system:P.

    That is of course also the reason why the second amendment is utter crap. In the olden days civilian military technology wasn’t that far behind government military technology (they both used different types of muskets, pretty much;)), but now the gap is so ENORMOUS that it is almost unfathomable. If the US government (or a foreign power) really decided that they didn’t like the people of the US, there is nothing, *nothing* that you could do to stop them.

    History is full of US-like armies that failed to occupy countries because they’re softies who mostly leave civilians alone, but it’s also full of Taliban-like armies that are incredibly successful because they terrorize and mass murder their way across nations.

  60. JC

    I’ve seen many reports that nasa returns $7 for every dollar they get (their patents are given to the treasury.) With that alone how can someone claim nasa is over funded? Maybe NASA should just get to keep their patents and do their own thing?

  61. T_U_T

    There are several reasons why americans choose to spend more money on pets than on NASA
    Pets, as opposed to space travel,
    -offer INSTANT GRATIFICATION,
    -don’t require much thinking
    -don’t challenge your ignorance and delusions
    -are private=good,efficient as opposed to NASA which is government=bad,wasteful

    I am sorry your country descended to that level, but you know what to do to make an U turn.
    Prediction : shooting the messenger has the same advantages above doing something to actually solve the problem

  62. Kullat Nunu

    @gopher65: It’s nice to know that you think that both the old Soviets (when they existed) and the Islamic fundamentalists are so stupid and pathetic that they’ve never bothered to invent boats. Damn those giant oceans surrounding the US! They’re impenetrable!

    Oh, come on. Nobody’s saying you couldn’t have an army large enough to make invading too costly. But that army doesn’t have to be a huge one. Most Islamist fundamentalist (like Taliban) are purely regional, the number of terrorists who might actually want to strike the US is in frakking hundreds. And now you’re spending more on military than during the Cold War!

    Also, if you have a huge army, your adversaries think they need them too. Arms races don’t make people safe.

    History is full of US-like armies that failed to occupy countries because they’re softies who mostly leave civilians alone, but it’s also full of Taliban-like armies that are incredibly successful because they terrorize and mass murder their way across nations.

    The number of civilians killed by NATO troops is comparable to that of Taliban. Is it that one is doing mass murdering and other is merely causing “collateral damage”. And don’t forget that in some cases mass murdering or ethnic cleansing (Iraq, Cambodia, Kosovo) began after US bombs started to fall!

    The reason why small guerilla forces are so successful against big armies is that they are locals, and local population supports them. They may not like them, but at least they’re not foreign invaders with an alien culture and language. Nobody likes foreigners who come to kill. No matter how nice you try to be.

    @James: yeah, the military had absolutely nothing to with the space program (no astronaut has ever served in the military, nor has military training helped them, right Carey?). Not only that, the military has had absolutely nothing to with the invention of the internet, gps, satellites, life saving medical procedures, and faster and safer airplanes.

    It is true that wars speed up technology development on the short term. One wonders what kind of technologies we might have if more of the money spend in military went directly to technology development… Consider also how many clever minds are lost in wars. I could mention one from my own family.

  63. Cory

    The idea that war somehow magically creates technological development is a painful and oft-repeated example of the “broken window fallacy”. Look it up.

    Money and resources are invested by people regardless of the situation. War is one such situation — but it also destroys money, resources and people at prodigious rates. Peace is preferable for actual development. The only reason war seems greater is because human endeavor is for a time sharply focused on one particular cause.

  64. Kris

    @Mike #17:

    Spaceflight is mixed but NASA does science really really well.

    There is a small problem with this thinking. Space exploration only makes sense for two reasons: (1) providing access to raw resources or (2) providing a military advantage. Human spaceflight is a requirement for both of these goals. In contrast, the robotic science missions provide no practical advantage whatsoever. As a result, they can be cut from the budget with little loss. The decision to give up on human spaceflight basically signals the Asian powers that the US is no longer seriously interested in space exploration. It would be extremely foolish for them not to use the occasion to assert their power.

    It gets worse. It is known that once a technological chain shuts down, it can never be restarted and a given technology is lost (at least without basically redeveloping or repurchasing it at a substantial cost). That means that even if the US decides that it wants to send people to space again in the future, the cost of redeveloping the needed technology will be prohibitive — and made worse by the fact that the countries which did not shut down their manned programs will have a clear starting advantage.

    The stupidity of Obama’s decision will become apparent in the 2020-2030 time frame, but at that time, the US will be unable to do anything about this anyway. In the mean time, enjoy these pretty HST pictures.

  65. Kris

    @RL, #9:

    The European military budgets are small because they are under our defense umbrella. People can and will have debates on what our role in the world should be, but its not a fair comparison.

    Well, let me introduce you to your old friend, the U.S. dollar. The U.S. dollar is used for trading various commodities on the international market. This allows the U.S. to buy these commodities at a lower cost than the rest of the world, by the virtue of controlling the U.S. dollar. So, the actual job of the U.S. army is ensuring that the world commodities are traded in the U.S. dollar. Should the world stop trading in the U.S. dollar, the U.S economy (which now has practically no manufacturing base) would simply crash.

    Which is why the U.S. has such an immense defense budget: it is needed to safeguard the economical basis of its existence. It works like with that Iraqi guy, who started selling oil for Euros, and then we learned that he had the WMDs, except that none where later found. But that didn’t matter much, because the guys who replaced him promptly switched the trade back to the U.S. dollars.

  66. Kullat Nunu

    @Cory The idea that war somehow magically creates technological development is a painful and oft-repeated example of the “broken window fallacy”. Look it up.

    If you’re referring to me, that was exactly what I tried to say. Sorry for being unclear.

  67. MaDeR

    @JC:
    “With that alone how can someone claim nasa is over funded?”
    Because NASA did not seen any cent from these mythical 7 dollars?

    @Carey:
    You better be trollin’. If not, I lost faith in humanity. Again. In this week. And I think I filled this month quota of losing faith in humanity long ago (around 2 feb).

  68. Robert

    Whoa,

    NASA+space is about 50% of the entire science budget? And you think that’s not enough?

    Could you leave some scraps for us non-space scientists?

  69. doofus

    What the hell is “income security”?

  70. Ferris Valyn

    @ Krisv#66
    Are you honestly telling me that there is no place for science as pure science? I am sorry, but I find that quite quite short-sighted.

    Second, we have NOT given up on human spaceflight. In fact, we are going to have multiple US providers of human spaceflight, I have no doubt, by 2014. We have Orion-lite, Dragon, and Dreamchaser, and possibly Cygnus, all quite likely, and I am entirely sure we will get more than one.

    Finally, Constellation was never gonna deliver. Its time to acknowledge that, and move on. Obama has finally given us a real mission for human spaceflight

  71. Kris, exploration frightens you, doesn’t it?

  72. “It’s not a matter of finding the money. It never is, and never has been. It’s a matter of finding the money in a way that isn’t political suicide for a politician. And that, I suspect, is because those of us who support space exploration haven’t made it politically expedient for everyone else to support it, too.
    I don’t have a remedy for that. I’m just a guy with a blog, so I blog about it, trying to show people that space is exciting, interesting, and worth a few more tax dollars a year.”

    I have a suggestion: be less politically partisan. Lots of people who differ from you in their political views are excited by astronomy and would like to see NASA funded properly. Why alienate them and split them off from you on these issues?

  73. Not sure what the issue is with the comparison to pet food. The point is valid. In 2009 the public “willingly” spent $455 Billion on alcohol and about $45 Billion on pets. (thats HALF A TRILLION DOLLARS). To say that $18 Billion for NASA is a waste, is just ignorant.

    You wait, one big asteroid heading for Earth and people will be throwing a whole lot more than $18 Billion at NASA. But you see we care more about instant gratification. Telling someone that someday their money may help find natural resources on another planet that could help Earth is a hard sell. I get that. This is why the NASA budget is set my the Gov and not by you and me.

    This does bring up an interesting idea though. What if the Gov set the amount of taxes we pay, but we each individually get to decide on what it gets spent. Very curious to see how our country would look!

    But I digress. I’m not blind to the sufferings in this country and know that people are losing jobs and home every day. I respect their struggle. I just don’t like it when generalizations are made about the whole of NASA. I’m all for efficiency and reducing unnecessary spending. If that means no Constellation then I’m very happy with that, AS LONG AS, there is a well defined and properly funded plan in place to replace it.

  74. @justcorbly (#48): I feel really bad that you fear your neighbors so much. Maybe you should move. But note that neither you, nor Phil, nor any other would-be Robin Hood has proposed a plan for “fairly” taking others’ wealth—though all the we this and our that show quite an eagerness to include the unwilling.

  75. Lorena

    wow! 738 billion$ in national defense!!! right, this is the USA we’re talking about….

  76. red7124

    the reason other people should be concerned with space exploration is that sooner or later the earth is going to become uninhabitable. no space exploration= no alternative place to live. it’s very easy to understand. it’s simply a matter of political will, and long-term planning vs. right-now thinking.

  77. renier

    America feeds the world with there nasa project,if it wasnt for nasa we would not know anything.Killing and guarding people far away what is the point of it?Just cut military budget and send nasa the money it is a investment in our future,and creates a lot more jobs.The American person can work again on something that makes a difference to mankind,and to its people..

  78. woody

    We should have a box on tax returns that gives tax payers the option of donating $3 to NASA.

  79. How much of the $12.78 billion that is characterized as “Science, Exploration, and NASA Supporting Activities” (the largest box in the “General science, space, and technology” bin) is effectively NASA funding that’s characterized differently because it goes to NASA contractors? If any significant portion of that goes to NASA programs (presumably it does, since NASA is specifically called out in the category’s title), that puts NASA’s supposed $0.18 billion 2011 budget into a VERY different light, doesn’t it?

    I’m all for increasing NASA’s funding, but I can’t help but wonder how much of the idea that NASA gets only about 0.5% of our tax dollars is true, and how much is an application of creative accounting.

  80. Revisiting my old comment… Major math failure on my part. Taking both of those (0.18+12.78 billion) as NASA’s budget only accounts for 0.35% of the federal budget… so I guess my real question goes in the opposite direction. I keep hearing 0.45% – where’s the other 0.1% that goes to NASA coming from?

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