Congress threatens America's future in space

By Phil Plait | July 14, 2011 6:30 am

One of the most aggravating things about having a representative government is dealing with the consequences of the choices they make.

We don’t get a direct vote on how money is spent, but we vote for the people who do. And sometimes they don’t make the best choices. Shocking I know, but just how bad these choices can be sometimes doesn’t hit home until those consequences come home to roost.

In a week, one of those choices is literally coming home: on July 21st, Atlantis will land for the last time, and the choices made for us over the past few years mean that we have no rocket system to take its place.

I’ll iterate once again that the Shuttle was canceled by Bush, and the followup rocket system, Constellation, was canceled by Obama when it was clearly over budget and behind schedule, and given the circumstances it was also very unclear it would perform as promised. I think both these decisions were correct.

Right now, the House of Representatives is making decisions about the future of NASA, and it’s looking like a 9% cut is in the works. That’s not written in stone; the Senate has to put together their version of the budget and then work with the House on compromises. That’ll be fun, given the Democratic-controlled Senate and the Republican House.

In the meantime, the House subcommittee in charge of NASA’s funds recommended totally cutting the budget for Hubble’s successor, the James Webb Space Telescope. The House committee above them approved it on Wednesday. So that decision to axe JWST will go into the House budget bill.

Fantastic.

Starving NASA of funds is a really bad idea. NASA money goes toward our future in space, toward the advancement of technology, toward breakthroughs in science, toward supporting smart people who literally are designing our future. NASA also pays off, with our investment of money coming back multiplied many times over in new technology and business opportunities (like private space companies).

Investing in space is investing in our future.

Steve D at Mad Art Lab points out that we spend $70 billion dollars a year on lottery tickets, with the overwhelming statistical likelihood that all you’ll win is a piece of paper to recycle. I like to point out that we as Americans spend five times as much on tobacco products every year as we do on NASA. That’s a fact, and it’s meant to point out the bad decisions we make – we spend 20% as much money on exploring the final frontier as we do on an addictive compound that causes cancer.

Now, I’ve had some people say that that’s an individual choice, not one imposed on us by Congress. OK, that’s fair enough. But what does the government spend money on?

I’ll let the one of my favorite satirical web comics, "The Pain – When Will It End", make that point for me:

Click to see the whole thing. I’m not saying we shouldn’t fight terrorists… but I suspect the money we spent doing it wasn’t used with 100% efficiency.

We as individuals make a lot of dumb choices, but Congress makes choices by our proxy. If we don’t tell them these are not the choices we want them to make, they will continue to make bad ones.

We can tell them through mail, through phone calls, and, most importantly, at the voting booth. And we have an election year coming up.

On July 21st, when Atlantis sets wheels down on Earth, it will be the anniversary to the very day that Neil Armstrong set foot on another world. I’m hoping that the short sightedness of Congress won’t trip up our next giant leap.


Related posts:

- Congress puts NASA and JWST on the chopping block
- Where now, NASA?
- What value space exploration?
- Why explore space?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: NASA, Piece of mind, Politics, Top Post

Comments (129)

  1. Carey

    Well, maybe you’re not saying we shouldn’t fight terrorists, but I will. It’s an enormous waste of resources and people. And you’re right that our presence in Afghanistan is a very inefficient way of fighting terrorists.

    Military spending is out of control in this country, and it needs to be cut way back, like at least by 70%. We outspend every single other nation in the world combined, and what do we get for it? Two quagmires in the Middle East? No thanks.

  2. Bryan D

    Honestly given the the general public a representative government is the best choice for science things. A direct vote on NASA by the public at large would be dodgy at best.

  3. Mike

    It’s worse than you write. That money cut from JWST just goes away; it does’t get put into new programs. Overall, this would be a 25% in funding for astronomy. And we *weren’t* one of the budget items that got run up ridiculously over the last ten years. We’re doing the time without having done the crime.

  4. Sebastian

    Honestly, I know space is your thing (and also ours to an extent, or we wouldnt be here).

    But the truth is that THIS is not a good example of Congress making bad choices.

    There is so much VASTLY MORE IMPORTANT LEGISLATION that congress has
    a) passed and it is hurting this county and killing (yes, killing) people
    b) hasnt passed that would prevent a lot of pain and death in this country

    NASA and other space related items are not even close to my pain threshold as far as the US Congress is concerned.

  5. PlanetaryGear

    Arguments about what we should spend NASA’s money on instead are not useful since it’s not an either or equation. The decision is not “health care” or NASA or even “military spending” or NASA. The only time you hear arguments like that are when politicians are trying to convince you to vote for them, it’s the false dichotomy fallacy.

    The criminal act going on right now is not even the cancellation of the programs but the firing of the most talented team of engineers every brought together in one place. They are leaving, just walking out into the city with no job, no project, nothing. Nowhere else is such a group of people just getting fired. I hope that some private industry can realize whats there and snap them up, but for NASA to loose them is so sad it makes me tear up. Does anybody think they can rebuild any of this infrastructure for a new system without these people?

    The new systems that have been cancelled have failed because of failed project management, not because of the people doing the work. In hindsight it should have been obvious that you cannot manage a human rated rocket project with the same checklist of objectives that are taught to keep expenses down when managing a thousand secretaries windows boxes to keep them running word for dictation. Managers should not provide the direction of the work, only the environment in which the work can be done.

  6. After the last shuttle launch, I saw a column in PopSci written as an open letter to Congress stating that space exploration should be above partisan politics and lawmakers need to think about our future as a species. My initial reaction was to darkly laugh on the inside and say to myself “silly writer, in Congress nothing is above partisan politics. Nothing is as sacred or as important to them as securing another term in office. Nothing.” And that’s the problem. We expend so much time and effort trying to explain why R&D is vital for our future and how much we’ve accomplished on meager funds, but the people in charge just don’t care and neither does the citizenry who put them there because much of that citizenry has lost the capacity to dream big. But that goes back to the WIIFM/GE thing I discussed in the comment on the last shuttle mission’s launch and I’ll spare you the repeat.

    “Military spending is out of control in this country, and it needs to be cut way back, like at least by 70%.”

    @Carey. That’s impossible. Cutting back defense spending by 70% would leave more than a million people unemployed and leave us with trillions of dollars in advanced military hardware that will either rot in place or pose a major security threat for the next half century. Let’s also keep in mind that NASA was spun off from the military’s research arm and the modern space program was spun off from efforts to build ICBMs. It’s also the only organization within the government which has the budget to tolerate mad scientists and dreamers, and it will be crucial to any long-term, significant, manned space exploration down the line. Not every dollar the military spends is used to shoot people. Far from it.

    “We outspend every single other nation in the world combined, and what do we get for it? Two quagmires in the Middle East? No thanks.”

    Also the technology for the modern space program, advanced prosthetics, prototypes for new AI systems, jet engine technology, advanced sensors and communication devices, and funding to hundreds of universities developing everything from stem cell therapy right out of sci-fi movies, to autonomous robots capable of complex tasks like we’d need from a probe on another world. Your hyperbolic statement is akin to people scoffing about spending billions on the space program so the U.S. could put a flag on the moon in 1969 and spend the next 40 years bouncing in orbit and sending tin cans to snap pictures of some rocks on Mars. It’s equally erroneous.

    Humans need militaries and while the U.S. spends immense amounts of money on its armed forces, it gets quite a bit for it in terms of R&D and political cache. In fact, I’ve been leaning more and more towards the opinion that in the wake of today’s crop of politicians and those likely to follow them, a great deal of cutting-edge research will fall squarely into the military realm. It’s a double-edged sword of course, but I’m just not seeing a House dominated by a Tea Party (or similar) reactionary, fantasist naivete, a Senate that’s too busy with partisan posturing, and lawmakers who care about nothing but their continuing employment and networking, doing something as altruistic and noble as to empower scientists and explorers with significant funding.

  7. Gus Snarp

    What’s the Pentagon budget up to these days? $700 billion or so? How many times the military budgets of everybody who might realistically threaten us combined? Simply put, spending that money on NASA would be far more productive and would create at least as many jobs right here in the U.S.

    And as someone pointed out on your previous thread about this, more than the cost of James Webb has been shipped to Iraq in cash and is now unaccounted for.

  8. Daniel J. Andrews

    NASA gets cut because their satellites and analysis keep telling us AGW is real so this is a version of killing the messenger–slandering scientists and claiming they’re all corrupt/incompetent/in on the ‘hoax’ is another tack taken by some Congress critters. NOAA is also seeing attempts to blind them too. I’m sure there’s more reasons than that, but given the amount of heated rhetorical stupidity emanating from the mouths of Inhofe and ilk about hoaxes, criminalizing scientists, socialist governments, and aforementioned critters ties to fossil fuel industry, etc, I’d be surprised if they weren’t trying to punish NASA or NOAA. Doesn’t much matter if critters believe what they say, or are just pandering to supporters and lobbyists–the result is still the same.

  9. Gus Snarp

    @Greg Fish – No country needs a military as big and bloated as ours in this day and age. We certainly don’t. I don’t accept that we must keep spending money on the military to employ people and do research. We would be better off spending that money on pure research, on NASA, on just about anything, and we’d get better and more useful research and create at least as many jobs. I acknowledge that this is politically unfeasible, but I’m not willing to stop asking for it. It’s still reasonable to shave a tiny fraction off the Pentagon budget to shore up NASA and basic scientific research.

    I really just wish Republicans would be honest about it. There is no one in Congress willing to cut military funding because it means jobs. Jobs often in their districts. That’s understandable, but why can’t they just admit that they’re in favor of the government playing a leading roll in job creation? Why do we have to hide the jobs behind fear mongering when we could be creating jobs that lead directly to infrastructure improvements and immediately useful technology?

  10. Gus Snarp

    @Daniel J. Andrew – I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that’s part of the reason for the cuts. I also think it has to do with NASA simply being something they think that people don’t really care about. But if you really want to be insidious, given the hold the religious right has on the Republican Party, it seems entirely possible that James Webb specifically is on the chopping block because it can reveal more about the earliest days of the universe, and they simply don’t want any further evidence that their religion is wrong.

  11. Dunc

    Why invest in the future if Jesus is coming back to end the world any day now?

  12. (psst… I think Armstrong walked on the moon on July 20, not July 21. Otherwise, a great post!)

  13. Brian

    If we have to fight terrorists, and I am not necessarily saying we should, we need to do it in a more mild climate.

    http://www.npr.org/2011/06/25/137414737/among-the-costs-of-war-20b-in-air-conditioning

  14. Todd

    Don’t worry, the Chinese are still on the path to space. Maybe they will let us come along with them.

  15. Tim

    Has there ever been an appetite for other countries to invest and buy time on the project? I’m in the UK and watching helplessly as JWST is being sentenced by bean counters. Surely other nations, and their subjects/citizens, have an interest in this exciting project? Could the UK hand over a few quid to help out? Yes, although more likely could ESA not front up some cash (Euro’s aren’t worth much these days, but every Euro-cent counts, I suppose).

    I simply think that JWST is too important to sack off now. Everyone, everywhere, will benefit and I believe that we all owe NASA a debt.

    That said, I have to congratulate the US for all of their efforts so far – many of humanities greatest achievements are attributable to US/NASA. And that shouldn’t be forgotten by the bean counters.

  16. Jeffrey Ellis: The Eagle landed on the 20th and they stepped out on the 21st. It gets messy due to time zones as well, but these dates are close enough.

  17. Dan I.

    What saddens me is how blaise a lot of ordinary people seem about this. I was wondering if you had seen this article Phil:

    http://www.cracked.com/blog/7-awesome-images-that-will-make-you-mourn-space-shuttle/

    It’s humorous but it also makes a lot of good points about how exciting the space program is. My favorite line, personally from it is:

    “At what point did we forget that the Space Shuttle was, essentially, a program that strapped human beings to an explosion and tried to stab through the sky with fire and math? How jaded do we have to be to lose collective interest in that?”

  18. Carey

    @Greg Fish

    Because we are spending more on our military than the rest of the world combined, theoretically, we should be able to take on the entire world at once, right? But with two dinky conflicts in the Middle East, we are at the breaking point. What I’m saying is we are way past the point of diminishing returns. With a vastly smaller military, we’d be getting a lot more bang (literally) for the buck.

    No bureaucracy should be as big as the Defense Department without a clear mission. I wouldn’t give that much money to NASA either, but at least NASA doesn’t kill people (on purpose) along with the huge benefits in research and employment we get out of their mission.

    Your response was good though, and it made me think without being insulting. Thank you. Too bad I have to thank people for being civil, but there you go :)

  19. As tempting as it is to compare NASA’s spending to other government programs and to point out how small the relative share is, it really doesn’t work. And it certainly doesn’t convince members of congress. You just don’t get more money by pointing how much others are getting. You get it by convincing the policymakers of the value of your efforts.

  20. Gus Snarp

    @Steve C – So a really good question, given that even the biggest deficit hawk conservative will admit that they don’t want to cut military spending because of jobs, is how much bang for the buck we get from NASA in terms of jobs compared to the Pentagon. I don’t know the answer to that, but I’d love to find out. There are two measures, I think, one is total jobs per dollar spent, the other is payroll per dollar spent, since an argument can be made that it’s better to create higher paying jobs.

  21. Gus Snarp

    Oh my, someone may have done my work for me. Can’t wait to read this and find out: The U.S. Employment Effects of Military and Domestic Spending Priorities(PDF link). A quick peruse of the introduction, while interesting, suggests it doesn’t address NASA as one of its spending alternatives, unfortunately.

  22. Calli Arcale

    Jeffrey — no, Armstrong and Aldrin *landed* on the 20th. They actually stepped out on the 21st. (The landing was late at night for controllers in North America, and it took a few hours to go through the postlanding activities and get ready to walk outside.)

    The comic linked to was cute, but there was an error in his comments for it that really bugs me. It’s something I’ve been seeing said a lot, but it’s not true. The author of the comic says:
    Not that I was ever all that excited about the shuttle, except for the time when I personally saw a launch, but after this one lands, for the first time since the fifties, America will be without a manned space program.

    This is a frequent but ridiculous claim. If he’s counting into the fifties, he’s either including rocketplanes that didn’t leave the atmosphere, or he’s saying that R&D without any actual spaceflight counts; development of Mercury started in 1959 and flew in 1962. But if you count R&D and such, then next year in the US will definitely count — NASA is developing an interplanetary vehicle (yeah, we can all act like it’s a joke, and that will REALLY help our congresscritters care about funding the damn thing), and it’s investing substantially in commercial development. Like it or lump it, there *is* manned spaceflight development going on now. And there’s a large, expensive manned space program with actual people going into actual space that will be continuing — NASA will continue operating the large US segment of the ISS, the biggest manned spacecraft ever built, and though we’ll *continue* buying seats on Soyuz as we have since 2000 (it’s amazing how few people have noticed that Shuttle hasn’t done a crew exchange in nine years), it will be crewing the thing as well. It may not be sexy, it may not be what we all wanted, but acting as if it’s nonexistent is not going to help matters.

    But I could sort of see saying that this doesn’t count as US spaceflight. We have to be launching people into space for it to count, right? Oh, well, then we’ve had an uninterrupted space program since 1962, right? Oh, we haven’t? Apollo was cancelled before Shuttle was ready? In fact, so dramatically much before that Skylab fell out of the sky while waiting for its rescue and crashed into Australia?

    Honestly, either we most certainly do have a manned space program after Atlantis lands, or we didn’t have a manned space program after ASTP in July, 1975. He can’t have it both ways. Alas, the comic writer doesn’t provide any way to contact him on his site that I can see (though one can contact his webmaster), so I’m settling for posting the correction here. I am very frustrated at how small our space program is in danger of becoming, but whenever I see people failing to notice what it’s actually doing and showing their grotesque ignorance of the program, I can see exactly *why* it is in danger of shrinking even more. If the average voter thinks it’s true that we don’t have a manned space program anymore, why will their representatives and senators approve additional funding for it? They won’t fight for something they don’t think their constituency cares about.

    People never really know what they have until it’s gone. The author of that webcomic admits Shuttle never really excited him. I have to wonder whether any post-moon spaceflight excited him, since he apparently isn’t aware that there were no US spaceflights between July 1975 (and that flight was a long shot itself) and April 1981. He didn’t appreciate it while it was here, and now that it’s gone, he is angry. He echoes what many people have been saying in the comment threads at Yahoo! News, which I frequent. It saddens me, because *this* is what is killing our space program. Not Congress. Oh, Congress is the proximal cause, but they kill it because they realize the general public doesn’t care about it, and they don’t want to spend money on things that the public doesn’t care about. In fact, they want to look good and noble for saving money and cutting “waste”, so their motivation is quite the opposite.

    Gus Snarp — JWST isn’t on the chopping block because it can reveal the origins of the universe. It’s on the chopping block because it can’t get people elected, but “balancing the budget” is.

  23. Gus Snarp

    From my link awaiting moderation above:

    Our first conclusion in assessing such relative employment impacts is straightforward: $1 billion spent on personal consumption, health care, education, mass transit, and construction for home weatherization and infrastructure will all create more jobs within the U.S. economy than would the same $1 billion spent on the military.

    But this conclusion raises an obvious question: do we create more jobs through these nonmilitary spending targets simply by substituting well-paying jobs associated with the military with poorly-paid jobs associated with the alternatives? In fact, spending on personal consumption does produce a preponderance of poorly-paid jobs, such that the total compensation flowing to workers will be lower than through $1 billion going to the military. However, the opposite is true with education as the spending target.

    If the Defense Department is a jobs program (and really, listen to what conservative, Republican Congresspersons say about it in their home districts and you must conclude that it is), then it’s not the best return on investment available. I really do wonder what the results would be with NASA.

  24. Beelzebud

    Dwight Eisenhower warned about the unwarranted power and influence that was being claimed by the “military industrial complex”. It’s a shame that his party (Republican) didn’t listen. Our defense budget is absolutely insane. All of that spending, and little to show for it.

  25. Gus Snarp

    In case anyone’s curious, I’ve found a few analyses of NASA economic impact, and the results are inconclusive. A study of NASA’s Glenn Research Center shows it creating somewhat fewer jobs and less payroll than per billion dollars than defense spending. Other studies don’t seem to have truly comparable measures of impact to the study I linked above. So I can’t find a good comparison of employment effects of NASA spending versus defense spending. An impact study for NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center shows that teasing out NASA spending from defense spending can also be a bit tricky, as some programs are funded by both.

  26. Matt

    That link to The Pain references an article from the Economist (and their cover page) from last week. I’m actually surprised that this site hasn’t addressed an article from a leading journalistic site, where they state the private sector will take care of “local” space and “outer” space will die away unless the Chinese or Indians take up the mantle. Here’s the link to the lead article, there’s a longer article as well. http://www.economist.com/node/18897425

  27. Ian

    This is the future of post-Shuttle NASA.

    Many in the space sciences have a begrudging tolerance of human spaceflight because it uses up so many resources. But I contend much of NASA’s funding is a result of human spaceflight. I saw a comparison a year or so back that compared human spaceflight to the university college football team. Yeah it takes a lot of resources, but it brings in more than it uses which helps provide for others. While not entirely accurate on resources, I think the point is true. Human spaceflight brought a lot of attention to NASA and all of it’s missions. And won’t be replaced anytime soon. Shuttle launches captured imaginations in a way ISS or robotics can not.

    The retirement of the shuttle was supposed to free up funds to build it’s successor. However as we can already see the House proposal has instead decided to simply not provide these funds to NASA. Without crewed launches putting NASA on the front pages of the news I fear this funding death spiral will only continue.

  28. I doubt that the draft budget is concerned with subtleties like global warming or JWST’s ability to probe the Big Bang. These people think that the most evil thing any human being can do is spend public money, and that no other knowledge is required to take decisions on the budget.

    Wait till Aug 2, when the GOP detonate the economy by refusing to pass an increase in the debt ceiling. You’ll be lucky to have NASA then, let alone JWST. You’ll be looking at cancelling current operations like MER, Dawn and Juno (not to mention social security, military pay, aid to States…).

  29. Comparing the DOD budget (not to mention the billions spent off-budget on “black” programs and agencies) to NASA’s meager helping will never lead to any meaningful budget compromises.

    Americans are in love with their military and seem perfectly happy using it whenever and however they wish. They will never give it up. They will strut around in their sharp uniforms, throwing parades for themselves and weeping over their fallen “heroes” all the way to the poorhouse. Of course, then they will storm the poorhouse walls with their enormous stockpile of weaponry and steal everything from inside. Repeat, ad infinitum et absurdum.

  30. “No country needs a military as big and bloated as ours in this day and age.”

    @Gus. There are currently some 40 armed conflicts all over the world in one stage or another and global politics have become very messy, entangled, and complex. You cannot simply declare with certainty what size of a military is needed and in what day and age. To make such a confident prediction you would have to be clairvoyant. And I can also argue that if we go out and explore space with plans to set up colonies, having a large military able to defend new territory would be crucial to making sure the colony survives.

    “Because we are spending more on our military than the rest of the world combined, theoretically, we should be able to take on the entire world at once, right?”

    @Carey. No, that’s not at all what it means. It means that the U.S. has more capabilities than anyone in the world and can strike faster and with more power than anyone else, but unlike some chickenhawks seem to assume, it cannot pick a fight with every country in the world and expect to win.

    “But with two dinky conflicts in the Middle East, we are at the breaking point.”

    How so? The reason why the military has been mired in Iraq and Afghanistan (which is in Central Asia by the way) is because it was designed to engage in massive conflicts around the globe in which the goal is to dismantle infrastructures and regimes. And it’s really, really good at it. What it’s not good at doing, and what it was never been intended to do, was to build nations, especially ones dominated by tribal loyalties and alliances based on money and marriages of convenience. It’s been ordered by politicians to turn quasi-feudal systems of autonomous groups under one banner into a modern nation state in years. Europe took over 200 years to do that. Congress expected the same result in a 20th of the time or less, which is absurd to say the least.

    If anything, it’s a testament to how massive the U.S. military really is that it could fight two major wars at the same time for 8 years and still have capacity left over. The big problem is that it’s being used to do things it was never designed to do in unrealistic and politically-charged timelines by politicians who simply don’t understand the sheer scope of what they’re asking the military to do.

    “No bureaucracy should be as big as the Defense Department without a clear mission.”

    The DoD’s mission is to defend the U.S. and its interests abroad. How politicians have used and misused this broad mission is a separate and very lengthy subject.

    “I wouldn’t give that much money to NASA either, but at least NASA doesn’t kill people (on purpose)…”

    Um… the military’s job is to kill people. This is why it exists. If there was no need to kill or threaten others with death, there would be no need for any military anywhere.

    Now all this said, scaling back and re-purposing the military for new breeds of conflicts is definitely a good idea and there are serious defense thinkers who have said loud and clear that it needs to happen and that we need to focus on smarter warfare, not bigger warfare and nation-building used as a policy tools for politicians who resort to threats of force whenever they face a complicated international obstacle. But my points were that a) we cannot have a 70% military cut, b) that a large military funds a lot of R&D needed for the future of space exploration, and c) that thanks to the current crop of politicians we’ll have to tolerate over the foreseeable future, it will be doing a lot of the heavy lifting in cutting-edge, curiosity-driven science.

  31. Astin

    Star Trek. We need more Star Trek.

    The original (and its contemporaries) inspired a generation of engineers, scientists, and dreamers to reach for the stars.

    Star Wars contributed in its own way a decade later.

    TNG inspired the current generation.

    Popular sci-fi today is rarely about the joy of exploration and wonderment of space. It’s either rooted in reality with a touch of fantasy (super powers in the modern age), or set in a bleak future where the focus is on the people and their conflicts to keep budgets down.

    Great, I loved BSG, but nothing about it was going to inspire people to build a spaceship.

    Doctor Who would be a shining beacon, except that it’s so fantastical that it doesn’t connect as a potential reality.

    No, Trek was based on the evolution of existing and nascent technologies, put in a fantastic universe of hope and (mostly) peace and Utopian ideals. It created a rabid fanbase that strove to make that fantasy a reality, and inspired generations, and still does.

    Something needs to fill that void. Something needs to both entertain and inspire millions on a regular basis. It needs to be more than lasers and robots and battles and creative ways to swear. We need a new sci-fi touchstone full of hope with a dose of “I can make that happen.” For when we focus dreamers onto the possible, great things can be done. Let them become the voice to save the best space program we’ve got going.

  32. Keith Bowden

    We should cancel Homeland “Security” instead of JWST. ;)

    (Please note the winking smiley face. Not a serious proposal, though Homeland “Security” is a bit, shall we say, whacked.)

  33. sawall

    The problem with science funding in the US will cause more problems in the future. JWST is a joint program with ESA and the Canadian Space Agency. These entities have also invested a lot of cash, but now NASA may say: sorry, that was it from us. Since NASA is in charge of the telescope hull and mirror, it will be difficult (although, not impossible) to continue without them. The point is the world will see NASA as an unreliable partner. I mean, will you buy a car jointly with a roommate who keeps “forgetting” to pay their share of the rent, and asking you to pay it instead? This, combined with the fact that EU budget for science is growing by something like 20% over the next 5 years and the fact that Chinese scientific papers are proliferating exponentially, will mean that the US will be given a run for its money for world science leadership…

  34. Chip

    Primitive minds in Congress won’t be moved until China lands a crew on the moon and soon after sends the first wave of specially designed low-gravity robotic construction equipment to excavate their first moon base.
    Meanwhile France will discover an earth-like planet within 20 light years and the Russians, though poorer than the USA will still be able to budget funds for development of their accelerating laser-powered solar-sail, which the Planetary Society also supports. Of course, we’ll contribute as we will still have a lot of great technical minds who might travel to other countries. Maybe one of them will invite us to help – we could also serve the coffee.

  35. CB

    So… does the new budget still mandate the Shuttle-Derived Heavy Lift Vehicle, aka the Pork Rocket, with the flagrant porcine nature covered up with the flimsy logic that the DoD can’t afford to keep the SRB manufacturer around in case it needs to build some new ICBMs, so NASA has to spend it’s ample budget keeping them in business with a make-work project?

    If so, JWST is just going to be the first of the casualties as NASA loses the funding to do anything but make the Pork Launcher.

    We’ve already lost LISA which could have opened up an entire new universe of observations.

    Next we’ll probably lose all the in-orbit tech development that would have made something like Pork Launcher obsolete.

    Sucks. :(

  36. Steve

    Yeah it’s too bad we feel the need to fund social welfare programs and the war department. If we could cut those, there’d be plenty for science. But those have hefty lobbying efforts to keep them intact, and science programs have few advocates. Sadly the entire structure will have to collapse first before any changes to those bloated programs will be made.

  37. Jeffersonian

    World’s largest military for no pragmatic-statistical reason. Pork.

    (Tobacco is a poor analogy unless you compare subsidies – fed doesn’t buy all that tobacco with taxes. Same w/lottery)

    Steve; which social-welfare program? Not a $ opposition to NASA.

  38. Mike

    Congress is just bolting another piece on the vehicle they’re constructing to carry us to third world status.

  39. Gus Snarp

    @Greg Fish – And yet every other country on earth has decided that they don’t need military spending even close to ours, in spite of the fact that they actually have major threats near to their borders, while we are geographically isolated from anyone with any intention of hurting us. We didn’t need this much military spending when we were threatened by the Soviet Union, it’s absurd to think we need it now to stop terrorists who are mostly defeated by the FBI and local law enforcement. There’s no evidence of any real threat being reduced by any of our current military adventures.

  40. Christopher

    Sure, let’s not spend money on building democracies around the world and getting rid of psychopatic criminals ruining entire nations.

    They’re so far anyway.

  41. “And yet every other country on earth has decided that they don’t need military spending even close to ours…”

    @Gus. Methinks you’re ignoring a little thing known as the Cold War during which most of the nations which could afford to build a massive military instead relied on protection from the U.S. and the USSR. Let’s not forget that the USSR used to spend just as much the U.S. on its military and placed its weapons across the Middle East, North Africa, Eastern Europe, the Koreas, and China. Why did they have to spend money on their own militaries when the two superpowers were moving theirs in free of charge?

    “We didn’t need this much military spending when we were threatened by the Soviet Union…”

    Yes, yes you did. As someone who was born and lived in the Soviet Union, I can tell you that it was more than a threat to the U.S. It had more nuclear missiles, an immense army, an advanced air force, a powerful navy, and a vast territory that swallowed many an invading swarm over the centuries. Your broad statements about military history seem absurdly categorical and confident despite desperately missing the context of what want on during the second half of the last century.

  42. PB

    NASA will get more money if we start spreading the word that there is terrorists in the moon.

    That will do the work. Promise.

  43. Gus Snarp

    @Greg Fish – I’m sorry, I’m taking certain things for granted as being understood and so not explaining them. When I say “We didn’t need this much military spending when we were threatened by the Soviet Union”, I am not saying we didn’t need to spend what we did during that time, I’m saying we spend more now than we did then. That in spite of a massive reduction in the threat that we face, there has been no massive reduction in military spending. It has increased instead.

    As to your first point, I’m not ignoring the Cold War, it’s just that it’s been over for twenty years, it really shouldn’t be defining our current military expenditures anymore.

  44. Kevin

    What do you expect from Republicans. They are so anti-science that they would be happy if this was the 11th century.

    There’s not a forward thinking person in Congress. And besides, these idiots don’t make their own decisions – they are being manipulated by the lobbyists and PACs. They just do whatever they are told.

  45. Grand Lunar

    From all these events, it seems clear to me that govt and space exploration simply do not mix.

    Too many dinosaurs with their heads in their tails are making bad choices regarding it.

    The track record for the past decade hasn’t been encouraging; they put in Griffin, who discarded an affordable method that, AFAIK, made use of EELVs in favor of a bloated infrastructure that sucked a great deal of funds.

    Then, after that was canceled, the House decides to order NASA to use something only a little less bloated that will still suck in a lot of funds, and likely leave us with nothing.

    Now they want to reduce funds, thus making things more difficult.

    If Congress doesn’t want NASA to get a lot of funding, then maybe they ought to rewrite their law and get rid of SLS and get on board with EELVs. Maybe even the Falcons.

    “I’m not saying we shouldn’t fight terrorists… but I suspect the money we spent doing it wasn’t used with 100% efficiency.”

    I wish people like my aunt could see it like that.
    She seems to think that such spending is always right and takes precidence over a future in space. She’s one of those that appearently have been duped by Bush league thinking.

  46. The ad that showed up below this post in my reader feed was “vote Ron Paul for real spending cuts”. I found that kinda funny.

  47. DennyMo

    I like to point out that we as Americans spend five times as much on tobacco products every year as we do on NASA.

    The solution is self-evident: have the tobacco companies fund NASA. :)

    Implying that cutting DoD by 70% is the cure for our ills is inaccurate wishful thinking. Let’s use easy round numbers, and say the DoD budget is $600B. Cut 70% of that, great you’ve reduced the federal budget by $420B. Only $1.2T left to go to get rid of the deficit…

    Because we are spending more on our military than the rest of the world combined, theoretically, we should be able to take on the entire world at once, right?

    Technically, we could. We have enough weaponry that we could wipe out most of the world within a few hours. If those were the kind of wars we were fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, they would have been over long ago. Fighting a war where you care about not killing folks who aren’t bad guys is something very different and far more complicated. The discussion of whether our military or intelligence and law enforcement bodies are the better weapon with which to root out terrorists is certainly a valid one.

    …massive reduction in the threat that we face…

    No “reduction”, but a “mutation”. Our current adversaries have killed far more civilians on US soil than the USSR ever did, so calling it a reduced threat is highly inaccurate. We won’t have hordes of tanks rolling through the Fulda gap or fleets of bombers coming over the North Pole, but that doesn’t mean we still aren’t under significant threat.

  48. “I am not saying we didn’t need to spend what we did during that time, I’m saying we spend more now than we did then.”

    @Gus. I guess it depends who’s counting.

    According to the CDI (the Center for Defense Information), the total cost of the Cold War was $13.1 trillion in 1996 dollars. Adjusted for inflation, this is $18.87 trillion today ($410.2 billion per year in 2011 dollars for 46 years between 1945 and 1991). The widely accepted cost of the last decade of wars is $1.2 trillion which works out to $120 billion a year. But that’s part of the ~$650 billion spent on the DoD per year over the last few years and without a lot more numbers and a lot more research I can’t tell you for a fact if the U.S. is really spending more than it did on the Cold War nowadays.

    Also keep in mind that without the USSR present, there’s been very significant scope creep and almost paradoxically, lawmakers expanded U.S. missions and strategic reach since the Cold War ended and continue to do so. Much of these expenses goes back to the whole “trying to build nations from scratch in a 2oth of the time” thing I mentioned previously in response to Carey.

    “… it’s been over for twenty years [since the Cold War], it really shouldn’t be defining our current military expenditures anymore.”

    Ah but it does. You can’t suddenly undo 46 years of military buildups, careers, R&D, infrastructures, and legacy costs including the healthcare and welfare of veterans, and political commitments. The Cold War will continue to define our world for many more decades. In fact, today’s conflicts are actually part of its aftermath.

  49. frankenstein monster

    The congress can not threaten your future in space, because you have none to begin with. Your future is following your former archenemy USSR down the same slippery slope of decay, collapse, and finally, dissolution.

  50. @ Greg Fish:

    The Cold War will continue to define our world for many more decades. In fact, today’s conflicts are actually part of its aftermath.

    Well stated, so long as it’s understood that it’s the policies and actions of BOTH sides of that war that are the foundations of today’s world. In that regard, Gus Sharp is absolutely right: it’s over. Time to accept that and move on.

  51. “In that regard, Gus Sharp is absolutely right: it’s over. Time to accept that and move on.”

    I’m glad you and Gus are ready to move on. Most of the world is not, hence the many political problems we suffer today.

  52. TerryEmberson

    Sorry, I generally agree that the military needs to be downsized and restructured to face a more diverse threat, so I’ve been staying out of this discussion, but this point right here doesn’t match the world we face today geo-politically.

    38. Gus Snarp Says:

    That in spite of a massive reduction in the threat that we face, there has been no massive reduction in military spending. It has increased instead.

    There isn’t a massive reduction in the threat we face. The situation now is that the military threat has changed from being “That bad guy over there” to “Anyone who seeks to upset the international economic, legal, and political systems”. The problem has diversified, but the threat has not gotten smaller by much. Look at it this way, it is unlikely that any nation is going to “lose” a nuke anytime soon, but when one does and that nuke becomes the first salvo of nuclear terrorism… well, I guess the threat just went up for those victims.

    It is akin to facing an asteroid. One big asteroid is a significant threat, but many small asteroids are much more of a threat. When the Soviet Union was the only threat, few American’s died in the conflict. When Global terrorist groups are the threat, thousands have died. Politics led us here, especially interventionist politics inspired by the Cold War, but we are hear and have to deal with it and that means we face a bunch of much smaller threats

    As to your first point, I’m not ignoring the Cold War, it’s just that it’s been over for twenty years, it really shouldn’t be defining our current military expenditures anymore.

    I absolutely agree with this. We need a cadre of military forces capable of taking on any potential state-level enemy in the world, but the rest of the funding should be provided toward building small units capable of training local forces in dealing with terrorism or capable of going to take out terrorist targets as necessary. And intelligence. We need lots of intelligence units operating everywhere. It probably should cut budget too, by closing bases and removing unnecessary personnel or equipment.

  53. MT-LA

    I would just like to point out that Greg Fish has just dropped a bomb of facts in support of an argument, while still being able to acknowledge that there may be a rebuttal based on numbers that he hasn’t researched.

    What a welcome change from the typical “I heard X say Y, so I’m going to parrot it” kind of argument that we all see on the intertubes.

    I think we could all take a lesson from how he participates in an argument. Well played!

  54. Gus Snarp

    For the record, $410.2 billion < $650 billion. There are a couple of graphs on Wikipedia that show inflation adjusted defense spending and inflation adjusted defense spending per capita. We spend more now, yearly, than we did then. There is a possibility that in defense spending per GDP we spend less now, but that’s the only question.

  55. QuietDesperation

    I love how military spending is depicted as purely “Republican.” Locally we had Jane Harmon, who has retired, who was a big military advocate because of all the aerospace contractors in her district. Oh, look at that, she was a democrat. A “blue dog” democrat, as they say.

    Representatives advocate for whatever is in their district. I know. Minds officially blown!

    But, as I always say, keep up with the Party based cheerleading and demonizing. It’s working REALLY REALLY well!

  56. Darokthar

    The Stupid, It Burns

  57. Grand Lunar

    @48 DennyMo
    “The solution is self-evident: have the tobacco companies fund NASA”

    Might not be a bad idea, though we’d probably see rockets with their logos on them. :)

  58. QuietDesperation

    Personally, I dream of a much more efficient and agile military geared toward quick strikes. I don’t honestly see big boys like China as a big threat. They aren’t going to destroy their biggest customer.

    If I were in charge of things, the USSTRATCOM would have some real nice toys up there, like kinetic energy weapon platforms. Project Thor, baby! Hey! There’s a terrorist training camp. Less than 15 minutes later it’s hit by a rain of telephone pole sized projectiles traveling at 9km/sec.

  59. QuietDesperation

    Might not be a bad idea, though we’d probably see rockets with their logos on them.

    This rocket strike brought to you by Electronic Arts Medal Of Honor series.

    Maybe I can get my orbital battlestars sponsored by Mass Effect 3. :-)

  60. DennyMo

    QD: I love how military spending is depicted as purely “Republican.”

    Thanks for making that point: the late John Murtha was the biggest (and vilest…) defense pork barreler out there, and he had the big “D” next to his name.

    BA:…the followup rocket system, Constellation, was canceled by Obama when it was clearly over budget and behind schedule, and given the circumstances it was also very unclear it would perform as promised.

    JWST is by your own admission over budget and behind schedule. Is it clear that it will perform as promised? Is it really difficult to justify cancelling it for the same reasons that Constellation was? I’d love to see Hubble’s successor go up and be successful. But if it gets off to the same kind of start Hubble did, can we really afford it in our current fiscal environment?

    I found this suggestion in the comments on one of BA’s links in the article:

    what we should be doing here, is instating a NASA lottery.

    Brilliant! Implement a national lottery, make the prize a ride in space (or boring old cash if you must), then sell tickets. We’d be sure to raise enough to pay for JWST, no problem! “Astronomical Odds” would take on a whole new meaing. :)

  61. “Babylon 5” actually did a lot more to promote space, but for some reason, our Phil seems to live in a parallel universe where “Babylon 5” never happened.

    As to the JWST, let’s face it; as long as the House of Representatives is controlled by fundamentalists, you can kiss goodbye any research with a public Big-Bang connection. Maybe you can sell it with Nabiru; fundies love Nabiru.

  62. @ MT-LA:

    I would just like to point out that Greg Fish has just dropped a bomb of facts in support of an argument, while still being able to acknowledge that there may be a rebuttal based on numbers that he hasn’t researched.

    True, MT, but as with most arguments from numbers, it’s the interpretation that keeps one in hot water…or long-gone cold wars.

    @ Greg:

    I’m glad you and Gus are ready to move on. Most of the world is not, hence the many political problems we suffer today.

    So can I presume that you are not ready either? Would you prefer to apply outdated “solutions” to those political problems, just because the U.S.’s military spending allows such to occur? By your own analysis, those solutions aren’t exactly well-suited to the issues of the day.

  63. CB

    @ Greg:
    Saying that many current problems in the globe are the legacy of the Cold War is true, but doesn’t justify Cold War level spending. And you can’t “undo” 46 years of military buildup and R&D, but you can not continue to spend as much on these things. And we could cut a ton of such spending before even touching veteran’s benefits. In reality, the military adventures — and thus expenditures — of today are what are going to cause the veteran health care costs of tomorrow. So, we could be saving doubly.

    The Cold War is still relevant. Therefore our military spending is justified is a non-sequitor.

    @ DennyMo:

    Scale and degree matter in reality. Constellation was behind on producing anything of note and it wasn’t clear it was ever going to. JWST is well along in development and has already developed all the necessary new technology, which is the most expensive and difficult part. The main costs now are going into making sure it doesn’t have any problems like Hubble.

    Do not act like Congress and restrict yourself to sound-bite or bullet-point levels of understanding; that never results in optimal decision making.

    Oh and about the threat of the U.S.S.R during the Cold War and terrorists… talking about the actual number killed as if that represents the threat is ludicrous. The threat of the U.S.S.R. was an existential threat. They didn’t kill anyone on U.S. soil because if they had that would have started WWIII. So of course terrorists have actually killed more. Slippery bathtubs have killed more; are they more of a threat?

    @ John W Kennedy:
    Or he never watched it, or just didn’t like it. Geeze. Oh and I love the series, but no way did it do more to promote interest in space than Star Trek. Sorry.

  64. @Phil: D’oh! I stand corrected. Thanks for dealing with this pedant gently. ;-)

  65. Here is another article that adds more details about the SLS “super rocket to nowhere” versus Commercial Crew:
    http://bit.ly/ousZFM

    Also, for some time now porker politicians behind the SLS have been trying to use the Chinese and excuse for it:
    http://bit.ly/peQTYd

  66. Jim Howard

    My understanding is that the James Webb Space Telescope is running more than 6X of its initial budget. Can you really blame Congress for lack of enthusiasm for this program?

    Meanwhile, our President would rather see the U.S. default on its debt payments rather than cut a dime from high speed rail and green energy boondoggles.

  67. Chris

    I wonder in a worse case scenario the JWST is cancelled, could it be possible to sell it to the European Space Agency? They could finish it up. Granted that would be a big blow to the US scientific ego, but it seems to be a better alternative than putting the nearly complete telescope in mothballs.

  68. @ Jim Howard:

    Please note it is the Republicans in Congress who are attempting to block raising the debt ceiling and hence trigger a default.

    Nice try, troll.

  69. gdave

    …we spend $70 billion dollars a year on lottery tickets, with the overwhelming statistical likelihood that all you’ll win is a piece of paper to recycle. I like to point out that we as Americans spend five times as much on tobacco products every year as we do on NASA.

    Comparing aggregate consumer spending to federal budget outlays on a specific agency is comparing apples to triangles. We don’t have a command economy or a centralized planning agency deciding how much of our collective income we should spend on lottery tickets or tobacco products. These just aren’t useful comparisons.

    If we want to discuss aggregate spending, by the way, the NSF estimates for total U.S. r&d spending in FY07 (the most recent I could find in a brief search) was $368.1 billion. So, a lot more than we spent on lottery tickets. Of that, 17.5% (or $64.4 billion) was on basic scientific research. Of course, we could, in aggregate, spend even more, and a higher proportion on basic science. But that’s different than saying the federal government should spend more on a specific federal agency, because consumers in aggregate spend more on certain product categories.

    I have a serious question for BA and others who think these are useful comparisons. Out of your own disposable income, how do you spend on

    a) scientific research (whether your own projects, or donations to scientific organizations, or whatever), and

    b) personal luxuries (backyard telescopes, family vacations, dinners out, movies, TARDIS toys, upkeep for your pets, etc., etc.)?

    I suspect for most everyone, including BA and the commentors here, b) is considerably larger than a). It may, of course, be different for a few people, and you may not spend much if anything on lottery tickets or tobacco, but by large I’d bet that the aggregate spending choices of BA and commentors on this site favor (in total spending) personal comfort and enjoyment over basic science.

  70. “For the record, $410.2 billion < $650 billion."

    @Gus. I’m well aware of that, but my point was that I don’t know if that $410 billion figure included the DoD outlays for the entire year or how exactly those numbers were calculated because the accounting for these things can get really, really messy and tricky. Anyway, I wouldn’t be surprised if you were right.

    “So can I presume that you are not ready either? “

    @kuhnigget. Why would you want to presume that, especially when you note that… “by your own analysis, those solutions aren’t exactly well-suited to the issues of the day?” I’m actually arguing the same point as you are, that a Cold War approach to warfare needs to go away, and that Cold War thinking keeps getting the world into constant, convoluted messes, both during and after the conflict. Hey, I moved to the U.S. from the former Soviet Union and set up a life here with my family, so as far as Cold War mentalities are concerned, I moved on a long time ago…

    “The Cold War is still relevant. Therefore our military spending is justified is a non-sequitor.”

    @CB. Right. This is why I never made that argument. I only noted that winding down after the Cold War is a non-trivial task, not that it can’t or shouldn’t be done. Today, the talk in military circles is that the Pentagon is long overdue for a major overhaul in how it sees and executes warfare and that a budget cut is not going to be the end of the world.

  71. gdave

    @Carey (#1):

    We outspend [on the military] every single other nation in the world combined…

    You may simply be exaggerating for rhetorical effect here, but for the record, the most widely cited estimate (from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) is that U.S. military spending is slightly more than the next 20 countries combined. Of course, that’s still a huge amount.

    A few additional points I haven’t seen addressed here regarding U.S. military spending:

    A large proportion of our military budget goes to personnel costs. It’s a lot cheaper to pay for a poorly trained conscript (the bulk of “threat nation” forces), or a terrorist or insurgent, than a highly skilled professional. For example, the fastest growing segment of the defense budget is actually medical costs – and the bulk of that is being driven, not by treating combat injuries, but providing routine health care and insurance to active duty personnel, retirees, and their dependents.

    Ok, even granting that, we still spend hugely more on our military than any other country. Outspending the next 20 countries combined does look ridiculous. Except that we have more military responsibilities and commitments than the next 20 countries combined. We are a (the) global power, with global interests.

    It is less expensive to maintain a large standing army of conscripts, in your own country, concentrated along your sole militarily contested border, than it is to maintain a sizable standing force of professional volunteers in a foreign country 6000 miles away. It is far less expensive to threaten freedom of the seas in a narrow strait off of your coast than it is to defend freedom of the seas in waters 6500 miles from your shores. And it is enormously less expensive to wage a campaign of insurgency than it is to wage a counter-insurgency campaign, much less one in a country 6000 miles away, much less one in a landlocked country, with no reliable bordering allies, 7000 miles away.

    It’s popular for politicians to say “We are not the world’s policeman.” It’s also disingenuous. The fact is, in many important ways, we are the world’s policeman. With great power comes great responsibility, and all that.

    All of which is not to say that we cannot safely reduce our military spending, or that we should not do so. Personally, I fully support a careful, considered reduction in our defense budget. I just don’t think “we spend a lot” is by itself a useful guide to how we should go about doing that.

  72. Michael Simmons

    @Chris
    >I wonder in a worse case scenario the JWST is cancelled, could it be possible to sell it to
    >the European Space Agency? They could finish it up.

    I hope the Chinese buy it and finish it up.

  73. @ Greg Fish:

    “So can I presume that you are not ready either? “

    @kuhnigget. Why would you want to presume that, especially when you note that…

    My apologies, Greg. I wasn’t catching the drift of your argument.

    I suspect, however, that the post-cold war stand down (or lack thereof) is due less to military inertia and more to the benefits of hidden welfare. Military jobs are an “entitlement” that people in and out of government rarely mention, let alone complain about.

    Personally, I’d rather see a good chunk of those jobs redefined, and the manpower redeployed toward fixing our infrastructure, setting the stage for a transfer away from petroleum based energy, and generally speaking contributing something a little more tangible to our health and well being.

  74. “… the manpower redeployed toward fixing our infrastructure,”

    That would be one of the benefits of space travel and exploration. If we can create a colony on another world, we can scale up the same gadgets to rebuild our cities into self-reliant hubs.

    “… setting the stage for a transfer away from petroleum based energy,”

    The military is actually already trying to move away from petroleum because it’s just too damn expensive. The Navy wants a major chunk of its fuels to be renewable and the Army wants many of its bases running on solar, thorium nuclear reactors, and whatever else DARPA can think of in the next decade. If Congress ever stops giving out billions in oil subsidies, we’ll see a change in a similar direction in the civilian world.

    “… and generally speaking contributing something a little more tangible to our health and well being.”

    Enter the regenerative medicine and prosthetics currently being developed by DARPA and funded by the Pentagon.

  75. If I had to choose between axing NASA’s manned space program, and axing JWST, I’d rather axe the manned space program.

  76. @ Greg Fish:

    Enter the regenerative medicine and prosthetics currently being developed by DARPA and funded by the Pentagon.

    A 3.7 million grant to the U of Pitt? Let’s not go into parade mode just yet.

    I’m talking about a major shift in priorities. 50 or more percent of all resources moved away from military operations and redefined as civilian projects. Doesn’t have to be high tech, either. Bridges need rebuilding, roads repaving, cities revitalized. The strongest armies in the world won’t protect us if our country falls apart from within.

  77. andisa

    I would also choose JWST over the manned space program.

    People keep saying that only astronauts will properly excite people about space, but growing up, the space shuttle program never inspired me at all. It’s just some people in low Earth orbit. Maybe it’s different for those who first saw people walk on the Moon, but I wasn’t around then.

    The HST, on the other hand, and its amazing pictures have always mesmerized me. And it’s helped us understand so much about our Universe. I’d rather have more of that. I’ve been looking forward to JWST and this current situation is just depressing.

    Besides, if people have some weird deep-seated emotional need to see humans in space to care about it, then I’m sure China will be providing that shortly enough.

  78. TyChi

    The bickering about politics on this comment thread is a microcosm of what goes on in Capital Hill. Instead of offering loose analogies to complex problems, maybe we should be a bit more constructive in our debate. The JWST is not dead as long as we all support what it represents – to further our exploration and understanding of the cosmos.

    Perhaps space exploration should not be funded by government because it will alway be enslaved by its inefficiencies. Maybe it’s time it goes to the private sector. However, science would then have to take a back seat to economics and profitability. Next comes planned development communties on the Moon with 2 Starbucks, McDonalds and WalMart at every crater.

    There has to be other solutions to ensure we will continue to push the boundaries of our last unexplored frontier (in this lifetime). America’s democratic republic is too dysfunctional to regulate our country’s financial and healthcare systems. Why would we expect them to understand the importance of scientific progress?

    Maybe NASA just needs some better lobbyists. Figure it out brainiacs…

  79. Tired, Angry, Bitter Grad Student

    I just want to say I support the complete dismantling of our space programs. Maybe I’m tired, angry or bitter, but right now, I think we deserve to be stuck on this rock arguing back and forth about our immediate needs. I’m all for that. Sincerely, a 4 am misanthropic troll-like individual.

  80. Tom

    Preachin’ to the choir, Phil.

    I keep writing to my congressman (man, in this case is a misnomer, it should be robot) and he keeps sending me form letter responses that sound irritatingly similar to the GOP party line. Everything the Democrats or President Obama says or does is “job-killing”. We must “reduce our debt”. Etc. etc. yada yada. There is no thought behind what he is saying, just rote repetition. I only wish I had a congressman who would think on his own.

  81. Fantastic.

    NO it isn’t! Well at least I don’t think so. [Glum.] :-(

    I look at the future of the US – and Western generally – space programs and I get a real sinking depressing feeling in my guts.

    I hope spaceX and the other private companies really take off because they’re going to *have to.* NASA doesn’t seem to be going anywhere fast now – and I’m a huge NASA fan.

    Frankly, I don’t know or trust the private space companies because I haven’t really seen enough of them and they haven’t got NASA’s record of success. Yes, I know they’ve done a few things and I sure *hope* they can do what they promise but .. I don’t know. :-S

    NASA being grounded, Apollo-less, Space Shuttle-less, hitching a lift with the Russians for who knows how long just seems totally pathetic and wrong to me. I hate that we’re in that situation. :-(

    And we have an election year coming up.

    How could we possibly forget?

    I’m still politicked out from the last ones.

    Plural : 2010 saw Australian federal, state – incl. my state, council and US congressional ones. Still getting over all the web hype & fever from the 2008 US Presidential campaign. There seems to be almost a permanent campiagn for president and congress over in the States now. Sadly, whoever you vote for you get a politician.

    I get so sick of politics and politicians and it seems we’re just swimming in a sludge of them all the time. Not impressed by either side. Wish we had better options from both than what’s on offer. :-(

  82. This item via Pharnygula & Rachel Maddow on some aspiring US politicians is scary :

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/07/rachel_maddow_will_give_me_nig.php

    Except that I really think such extreme wingnuts as Michelle Bachman & Rick Perry & Sarah Palin just cannot be considered electable surely?

    Even if they manage to win Republican nominations – which I doubt – then, surely to flipping goodness, the US public has more sense than to elect them into the Presidency – however bad the economy is.

    My prediction, For What Little Its Worth, (coming from someone overseas with some passing interest but perhaps not-so-much understanding of US politics & from a very long time out still) is that I think Obama will be up against Mitt Romney in 2012 – and Obama will probably win. Not that I’m a fan or supporter of either individual at all. I don’t think either are great choices but those are just the lesser and likelier of a set of possible bad alternatives. :-(

  83. @Messier Tidy Upper

    There seems to be almost a permanent campiagn for president and congress over in the States now. Sadly, whoever you vote for you get a politician.
    I get so sick of politics and politicians and it seems we’re just swimming in a sludge of them all the time. Not impressed by either side. Wish we had better options from both than what’s on offer.

    I recently commented that we’d be better off electing super-villains than politicians. Sure they might be highly evil, but it would still be a step up. Plus, I can’t imagine any super villain worth his salt who *wouldn’t* want to fund NASA. Lex Luthor would want the James Webb Telescope in place… if only to keep an eye out for evil aliens trying to invade his turf. ;-) Elect a Super-Villain in 2011!

  84. @ ^ TechyDad : Yup. Y’know that’s not a bad idea! ;-)

  85. don gisselbeck

    Since nobody else has said it, I will; “Raise taxes”. I am a bicycle/ ski mechanic and mine are ridiculously low. (No, I am not altruistic enough to contribute if no one else will.)

  86. Peter Davey

    With regard to the question of military spending, your readers might like to read Alvin Toffler’s “War and Anti-War”, or David Shukman’s “The Sorceror’s Challenge “, both of which point out that, one of the consequences of the various technological revolutions through which we have passed/are passing, is that smaller states, and even non-governmental groups, now find it much easier to amass arsenals of a size and type previously only possible to large states, this including Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical weapons.

    The more stable states may need to keep constant watch over the rest of the globe, searching for clandestine NBW facilities – not always successfully.

    We may have to accustom ourselves to the “occasional” nuclear detonation, or the release of something capable of devastating half a continent.

    If it does nothing else of a positive nature, it might at least increase people’s interest in space travel.

    As Larry Niven once commented: “Sometimes the only defence against something is to be somewhere else when it happen”.

    Don’t all form a queue.

  87. @31. Astin :

    Star Trek. We need more Star Trek. The original (and its contemporaries) inspired a generation of engineers, scientists, and dreamers to reach for the stars. Star Wars contributed in its own way a decade later. TNG inspired the current generation. Popular sci-fi today is rarely about the joy of exploration and wonderment of space. It’s either rooted in reality with a touch of fantasy (super powers in the modern age), or set in a bleak future where the focus is on the people and their conflicts to keep budgets down. Great, I loved BSG, but nothing about it was going to inspire people to build a spaceship. Doctor Who would be a shining beacon, except that it’s so fantastical that it doesn’t connect as a potential reality. No, Trek was based on the evolution of existing and nascent technologies, put in a fantastic universe of hope and (mostly) peace and Utopian ideals. It created a rabid fanbase that strove to make that fantasy a reality, and inspired generations, and still does.
    Something needs to fill that void. Something needs to both entertain and inspire millions on a regular basis. It needs to be more than lasers and robots and battles and creative ways to swear. We need a new sci-fi touchstone full of hope with a dose of “I can make that happen.” For when we focus dreamers onto the possible, great things can be done. Let them become the voice to save the best space program we’ve got going.

    Agreed – but you left out ‘Babylon 5′ my personal nomination for best SF show ever seen! ;-)

    (As #62. John W. Kennedy has pointed out. BTW 50 years ago now your near namesake and perhaps the last truly great US president JFK gave that speech that got America to the Moon. I reckon he’d be spinning in his grave about now if he could know what was happening today. :-( )

    Also you forgot ‘Firefly which had a distinctive US flavour to it with just a hint of Chinese! ;-)

    @69. Chris :

    I wonder in a worse case scenario the JWST is cancelled, could it be possible to sell it to the European Space Agency? They could finish it up. Granted that would be a big blow to the US scientific ego, but it seems to be a better alternative than putting the nearly complete telescope in mothballs.

    Agreed and seconded.

    Better still? Perhaps an international consortium of Europe – which is in deep economic doodoo, Japan (ditto), us here in Oz, Canada and a few other places plus the US of A could work together on seing the Jame sWebb Space telescope or something very like it still flies?

    @@58. Grand Lunar :

    @48 DennyMo : “The solution is self-evident: have the tobacco companies fund NASA”
    Might not be a bad idea, though we’d probably see rockets with their logos on them.

    Hey, if that’s what it takes, I’ll accept that – and I hate advertising and don’t smoke.

    If NASA needs sponsership and the rocket goes up looking as well labelled as an F1, Indycar or NASCAR vehicle, then I don’t mind – as long as we get it to fly and to explore and acheive these wonderful things that we *can* achieve given enough money and drive and focus.

    If the first words spoken by an astronaut on Mars are :

    “This landing brought to you by brand X cola and buy rugs cheap at wharehouse Z!” then I’ll groan and sigh but still be happy to put up with it if that’s the only way we can afford it.

    In fact WHY the blazes isn’t NASA doing accepting sponsorship already?!? Is it currently illegal or something?

  88. @78. tracer : “If I had to choose between axing NASA’s manned space program, and axing JWST, I’d rather axe the manned space program.”

    Tough decision methinks. But it’s irrelevant as its NOT a choice on offer.

    We can have also have both in a best case world – or *neither* ina worse case one. I’m afraid we’re going to see the latter not the former of those options the way we’re heading presently.

    False dichotomy there.

    As is NASA or defending the USA and wider Western world against terrorism & rogue totalitarian dictatorships and Jihadistans.

    NASA is, I think, necessary. Space exploration and travel is an investment.

    But we also simply have to survive as a civilisation and fight the barbarians who would destroy us and our whole way of life too.

    It’s a grim possibility that us, Westerners, will be brought down by our tragic flaw being too nice , too generous and understanding and holding back too much. The USA has far superior firepower. It has Daisy-Cutter bombs and nuclear weaponry. If we don’t use these first while we have these technological advantages I fear others will not be so restrained. The USA has a lot of scruples and pays a lot of respect to innocent civilian lives whereas the West’s and esp. America’s Jihadist enemies don’t share that view and would willingly sacrifice their lives -and their childrens, their whole nations even and more to destroy us out of their own messed up hatreds. I hate to say this but perhaps when it comes to warfare our side needs to be a lot more ruthless?

    That’s an incredibly hard and depressing line of thought but it’s one I sometimes really fear is just the sad truth. :-(

  89. /Star Trek/ gave us:

    “Space—the final frontier.”

    /Babylon 5/ gave us:

    “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?”

    “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-Tzu and Einstein and Morobuto and Buddy Holly and Aristophanes… and all of this—all of this was for nothing, unless we go to the stars.”

    To which I might add, JPL gave us:
    “Never apply a /Star Trek/ solution to a /Babylon 5/ problem.”

  90. Jon

    If I could personally contribute money to NASA through PayPal on their website, I would. If I could direct my money to specific projects, I would do that too.

  91. Austin

    @kuhnigget

    “They will strut around in their sharp uniforms, throwing parades for themselves and weeping over their fallen ‘heroes’ all the way to the poorhouse.”

    Say what you will about your opinions of the defense budget and the size of the military, but please keep comments like this to yourself. Whatever your feelings about current conflicts over seas, there’s nothing more disgusting and cowardly than sitting safely behind your computer to slander soldiers who died trying to defend your country. It’s also ironic that you would do so in defense of NASA, when so many astronauts have been veterans.

  92. Nigel Depledge

    Greg Fish (30) said:

    @Gus. There are currently some 40 armed conflicts all over the world in one stage or another and global politics have become very messy, entangled, and complex. You cannot simply declare with certainty what size of a military is needed and in what day and age. To make such a confident prediction you would have to be clairvoyant. And I can also argue that if we go out and explore space with plans to set up colonies, having a large military able to defend new territory would be crucial to making sure the colony survives.

    Well, so?

    How many of those armed conflicts worldwide actually threaten the USA’s borders? Pretty much none at all, right? The USA has a huge standing army / navy / air-force but does not need so much for its own defence. It uses this military muscle as a threat on the international stage.

    Considering your point about defending colonies in space: from whom will they need defending? And how? How could you ever, in principle, defend a facility that needs to remain air-tight to be habitable? I’m assuming here, of course, that colonies in space will be places such as the moon, or the asteroids, or on Mars.

    If you colonise an exoplanet, all bets are off.

  93. Nigel Depledge

    Austin (96) said:

    Whatever your feelings about current conflicts over seas, there’s nothing more disgusting and cowardly than sitting safely behind your computer to slander soldiers who died trying to defend your country.

    Erm … was kuhnigget doing this? It did not seem so to me. Sure, the USA helped us win WWII, but all of its subsequent engagements have not really been defending anyone (although the first Gulf War is arguable). Also, I’m rather hazy about the details of the Korean war.

    It’s also ironic that you would do so in defense of NASA, when so many astronauts have been veterans.

    So what? Many of them have been civilians, too. The strong presence of military veterans as astronauts in NASA is probably because the navy and air force has more fast planes than anyone else.

    This does not change the fact that the nation with the largest military presence on the planet has never faced a credible threat of invasion. Not even before their military presence was so clearly so much larger than anyone else’s.

    Even during the Cold War, there was never a credible threat of invasion to the USA (the threat of nuclear war was one of destruction, not invasion). I do accept that this could have been because of deterrence, but if it was then it would make more sense, not less, to reduce the size of the USA’s forces now that there is no longer an opposing superpower.

  94. Nigel Depledge

    MTU (93) said:

    As is NASA or defending the USA and wider Western world against terrorism & rogue totalitarian dictatorships and Jihadistans.

    True.

    NASA is, I think, necessary. Space exploration and travel is an investment.

    Agreed.

    But we also simply have to survive as a civilisation and fight the barbarians who would destroy us and our whole way of life too.

    Eh?

    What barbarians? It’s been over 1500 years since Rome was sacked by the Vandals.

    It’s a grim possibility that us, Westerners, will be brought down by our tragic flaw being too nice , too generous and understanding and holding back too much.

    What, like Switzerland?

    Oh, wait, no-one has ever destroyed their way of life. (And neither have the Swiss ever had an enormous army, nor been allied to a nation that has an enormous army). Notice that nations that never harboured imperial ambition don’t get much attention from the terrorists.

    AFAICT, your supposition is mere speculation, and not very realistic speculation at that.

    The USA has far superior firepower. It has Daisy-Cutter bombs and nuclear weaponry. If we don’t use these first while we have these technological advantages I fear others will not be so restrained.

    And the USA uses them in the same way an Edwardian schoolmaster used the cane – primarily as a threat to ensure “good” behaviour.

    The USA has a lot of scruples

    Since when? Grenada?

    and pays a lot of respect to innocent civilian lives

    For which read “public opinion”.

    whereas the West’s and esp. America’s Jihadist enemies don’t share that view and would willingly sacrifice their lives -and their childrens, their whole nations even and more to destroy us out of their own messed up hatreds.

    But what exactly do those people hate?

    I’m pretty sure it’s not western liberal democratic ideals. I’m pretty sure it was our imperialistic behaviour in decades gone by. And the aggressive spread of “western” multinationals.

    And don’t forget – the fact that we started it is still relevant.

    I hate to say this but perhaps when it comes to warfare our side needs to be a lot more ruthless?

    Erm … Abu Graib (sp?) anyone? Is that ruthless enough for you? We have the Geneva convention, but the USA seems quite happy to ignore it when it suits them to do so. And what has the rest of the “civilised” world done about that? Not much at all, really.

    It seems to me that the tactics employed by Islamist extremists are those of desperation. Whereas the USA’s tactics are those of the playground bully. Or are you going to tell me that the second Gulf War was justified (yes, of course Saddam had WMDs – we sold them to him)?

  95. Nigel Depledge

    @ TechyDad (87) -
    Careful, you might end up with something . . . Sinister.

  96. @ Austin:

    Whatever your feelings about current conflicts over seas, there’s nothing more disgusting and cowardly than sitting safely behind your computer to slander soldiers who died trying to defend your country. It’s also ironic that you would do so in defense of NASA, when so many astronauts have been veterans.

    Since you do not know me, you have no idea where I am sitting now nor where I have sat in the past. And you certainly have no clue as to what sort of uniform I’ve worn. So kindly refrain from such idiotic speculation in the future.

    Furthermore, and as Mr. Depledge noted, please identify where I have slandered a soldier dying to defend my country.

    Let me suggest something to YOU, Austin: putting a uniform on does not automatically make you a hero. Heroes must earn their respect. That goes for internet commenters, too.

    Have a nice day.

  97. @99. Nigel Depledge :

    MTU : But we also simply have to survive as a civilisation and fight the barbarians who would destroy us and our whole way of life too.
    Eh?
    What barbarians? It’s been over 1500 years since Rome was sacked by the Vandals.

    Those who behave barbarically in the Middle East. The sort that still chop people’s heads off, force women to be covered head-to-toe in burkas and trtaeted as second class citizens unable to go outsdie without male enforcers, who idol worship the homicide-suicide bombers who blow themselves and innocent civilians up in crowded shopping malls and marketplaces and bar mitzvah ceremonies and on buses and who fly hijacked aircraft into buildings. All for the mad dream of exterminating the “Great Satan” of the USA and the “lesser Satan” of Israel and turning the whole world into one giant brutal Muslim Khaliphate.

    Those barbarians.

    The Jihadist Islamofascist barbarians arranged in bands of thugs and murderers and whackjobs such as Al Quaida, Hamas, the Taliban, Jemmah Islamiyya, Hizbollah, Islamic Jihad, AQ in the Arabian peninusla, Fatah, Laska-e-Toiba and far too many others.

    They wanted this conflict – their whole existence is this conflict that they started, their crazy hatred and resentment of us because our ways aren’t theirs. They started this -not us. But we need to finish the war they started -and we need to finish victorious with their unconditional surrender and /or complete destruction. Because they will accept nothing less from us.

    MTU : “It’s a grim possibility that us, Westerners, will be brought down by our tragic flaw being too nice , too generous and understanding and holding back too much.”
    What, like Switzerland?

    No, like the United States of America, Australia, England, Canada, New Zealand and most if not all other Western nations. Our values include tolerance and respect for innocent lives and others. Muslim values -largely – do not.

    Oh, wait, no-one has ever destroyed their way of life. (And neither have the Swiss ever had an enormous army, nor been allied to a nation that has an enormous army). Notice that nations that never harboured imperial ambition don’t get much attention from the terrorists. AFAICT, your supposition is mere speculation, and not very realistic speculation at that.

    Ahem, Denmark ring any bells for you? When was the last time Denmark harboured imperial ambitions – but draw one cartoon making fun of their religious figure and KA-boom! Same goes for Holland and Spain -nations that haven’t been imperial powers for a very long time.

    MTU : “The USA has far superior firepower. It has Daisy-Cutter bombs and nuclear weaponry. If we don’t use these first while we have these technological advantages I fear others will not be so restrained.”
    ND : And the USA uses them in the same way an Edwardian schoolmaster used the cane – primarily as a threat to ensure “good” behaviour.

    No, we haven;t actually. We used them as a deterrent in the Mututally Assured Destruction of the Cold War. We used them to save allied soldiers lives in the battle against Japan in World War II preventing the need for aland invasionof tehmain islands of Japan and ensuring Japan’s unconditional surrender. Otherwise we haven’t really used them at all.

    MTU: “The USA has a lot of scruples
    Since when? Grenada?
    MTU : “and pays a lot of respect to innocent civilian lives.”
    For which read “public opinion”.

    Yes – our public, our culture our values, reject killing innocent people and mourn when this happens. OTOH, Muslim culture seems to rejoice in and celebrate the same.

    Sinc ethe USA began it has generally behaved in a fiarly scruple-ous way. Notalways, notwithout imperfections and episodes thatdon’t reflect well upon us I’ll grant you but generally speaking.

    But what exactly do those people hate?

    Our culture, our values, the fact that we aren’t fellow bvelivers intheir barbaric religious ideology. The fact that we -and Israel just exist.

    I’m pretty sure it’s not western liberal democratic ideals. I’m pretty sure it was our imperialistic behaviour in decades gone by. And the aggressive spread of “western” multinationals.

    I disgaree there.

    And don’t forget – the fact that we started it is still relevant.

    Acvtually *they *started it. Not us. 9-11 and earlier Muslim declarations of war.

    ***
    I hate to say this but perhaps when it comes to warfare our side needs to be a lot more ruthless?

    Erm … Abu Graib (sp?) anyone? Is that ruthless enough for you? We have the Geneva convention, but the USA seems quite happy to ignore it when it suits them to do so. And what has the rest of the “civilised” world done about that? Not much at all, really.

    It seems to me that the tactics employed by Islamist extremists are those of desperation. Whereas the USA’s tactics are those of the playground bully. Or are you going to tell me that the second Gulf War was justified (yes, of course Saddam had WMDs – we sold them to him)?

  98. @99. Nigel Depledge : Part II CONTINUED

    (Hoping I could finish this before editing time expired. Alas I couldn’t.)

    MTU: “The USA has a lot of scruples
    Since when? Grenada?
    MTU : “and pays a lot of respect to innocent civilian lives.”
    For which read “public opinion”.

    Yes – our public, our culture our values, reject killing innocent people and mourn when this happens. OTOH, Muslim culture, Muslim barbarians seem to rejoice in and celebrate the same loss of innocent life -providing its non-Muslim.

    Since the USA began it has generally behaved in a fiarly scruple-ous way. Not always, not without imperfections and episodes that don’t reflect well upon us I’ll grant you but generally speaking.

    But what exactly do those people hate?

    Our culture, our values, the fact that we aren’t fellow bvelivers intheir barbaric religious ideology. The fact that we – and Israel – just exist is enough cause for suicidal hatred from them.

    I’m pretty sure it’s not western liberal democratic ideals. I’m pretty sure it was our imperialistic behaviour in decades gone by. And the aggressive spread of “western” multinationals.

    I disagree there.

    And don’t forget – the fact that we started it is still relevant.

    Actually *they* started it. Not us. Recall 9-11 and earlier Muslim declarations of war on the civilised world?

    Do you not recall that the attacks on the Pentagon and New York on the 11th Sept. 2001 were preceded by earlier attacks on the US incl. an eralier bombing of the WTC, the attack against the USS Cole/, the beheading of cpatured journalists, thebombingof embassies in Kenya and so forth? Do somereserach if you have forgotten this.

    Look at how the all the Arabs Jihadistans have never accepted the world’s one, only and tiny Jewish state. They started umpteen wars with the openly declared goal of complete genocide -and lost every one. Stupidly they keep doing this, keep launching wars and then have the gall to blame Israel for their own self-inflicted problems – and, frequently, they get away with it! They put their own children on the front line throwing stones at people with machine guns, fire rockets into Israel at innocent civilians then expect the rest of the world to save them from the consequences and restrain and punish Israel and even collectively punish the global Jewish community when Israel has the guts to defend itself.

    Israel has tried making peace with its genocidal Jihadist enemies, tired that repeatedly but without success. Israel gave them back land and offered them their own state in return for them giving up terrorism. They wouldn’t and seemingly couldn’t. They took the land Israel gave them and used it to fire rockets into the Jewish state. They held one election and chose Hamas and war over the slightly more moderate alternatives and possible cold peace. So what should Israel do? Allow its enemies to keep starting wars they can’t win that cost all too many innocent people’s lives on *both* sides? Allow Ahmadinejad (or Hizbollah or Hamas) to get their hands on nuclera weapons? Go meekly to their national doom or fight back for their lives? Put yourself in Israel’s shoes – what would *you* do? How would *you* respond to Hamas and Hizbollah and Iran?

    Just be realistic. Understand that whatever you do,whatever concessions you make the brain-washed fundsamentalist hatred Israel’s enemies harbour will never abate and never be satisfied.

    Same applies to the Muslim barbarians and the West, methinks. That’s just the terrible, depressing, harsh, stark truth.

    The West didn’t want this war. This clash of civilisations. Or rather this clash of Western civilisation and Muslim barbarity. They did. We have offered them peace and respect if they’d just leave us alone. They keep refusing to do so. If peace isn’t possible, if we’re at war – then we simply have to win that war for our own collective survival.

    Erm … Abu Graib (sp?) anyone? Is that ruthless enough for you? We have the Geneva convention, but the USA seems quite happy to ignore it when it suits them to do so. And what has the rest of the “civilised” world done about that? Not much at all, really.

    Abu Ghraib was awful I agree – and the soldiers who committed some of the acts there were arrested, punished and jailed. Probably unfair on them given they were most likely acting on instructions from above. Yeah, that hsouldn’t have happened even to the terrorist scum being held there. Abu Graib was wrong.

    But should we treat these worst of the worst terrorists who want to kill us with kid gloves, make them a nice cup of tea and try to be their friends? When all they want to do is wipe us all off the map? I don’t think so. Sometimes playing nice and friendly just cannot work.

    It seems to me that the tactics employed by Islamist extremists are those of desperation. Whereas the USA’s tactics are those of the playground bully.

    It doesn’t seem that way to me.

    Pretty much the exact opposite in fact appears to be the case.

    The Islamist extremists are the ones who want to bully – to terrorise quite luterally in fact – the rest of the planet into convertng to their religious ideology and submitting to their will.

    The USA is talking of rebuilding and reshaping their nations into ones that no longer menace the rest of the planet, the USA is handing power back to the Iraqi people, the good Afghani people and supporting the majority of the Libyan people in the popular rebellion against their dictators cruel regime.

    I’d say that makes the United States and West more broadly the good guys here.

    Or are you going to tell me that the second Gulf War was justified (B) (yes, of course Saddam had WMDs – we sold them to him)?

    Iraq & the war to topple Saddam is a whole complex story that is well off-topic here.

    Everyone on the political Left seems to blame George W. Bush for it all but allow Saddam to escape any and all accountability and responsibility.

    Saddam could have avoided war if he’d left and gone into voluntary exile. He could be living in a Saudi mansion today. He chose otherwise. He bluffed that he had WMDs when he didn’t and he paid the price.

    Hindsight makes the simplistic black-and-white view the Lefties hold today look obvious and easy. It ain’t that simple. Wasn’t at the time. Still isn’t if you look more closely at the history. Its allmoot now. Allhistry,. can’t be changed.

    We’ve in the mess we’re in as always.

    And going wa-aay off topic here into whole other discussions. Sigh.

    We’ll have to agree to disagree I think.

  99. Austin

    @kuhnigget

    Those who have died in defense of this country HAVE earned respect.

  100. @ Austin:

    Those who have died in defense of this country HAVE earned respect.

    Indeed, and nobody here has said otherwise. You continue to utterly miss the point.

    Name one war, post WWII in which American soldiers were “defending” this country, as opposed to being used for political reasons having NOTHING to do with a threat to our country.

    The fact of the matter is, this country has NEVER been threatened by the military of another country, save for the Cold War, and in that case all the soldiers in all the world would not have made a difference if that conflict had gone hot.

    The U.S. wields its military might like a schoolyard bully, “policing” the world selectively – VERY selectively – to serve its own interests, which is to say the interests of the rich and powerful. To think otherwise is naive at best, foolish at worst.

    So go back and read all these comments again. Try to understand what they’re really talking about instead of what you think they’re talking about and save the huffing and puffing for some other forum.

  101. Nigel Depledge

    MTU (103) said:

    Those who behave barbarically in the Middle East. The sort that still chop people’s heads off, force women to be covered head-to-toe in burkas and trtaeted as second class citizens unable to go outsdie without male enforcers, who idol worship the homicide-suicide bombers who blow themselves and innocent civilians up in crowded shopping malls and marketplaces and bar mitzvah ceremonies and on buses and who fly hijacked aircraft into buildings. All for the mad dream of exterminating the “Great Satan” of the USA and the “lesser Satan” of Israel and turning the whole world into one giant brutal Muslim Khaliphate.

    Those barbarians.

    Two points here.

    First, you are generalising and being bigoted. Just because some muslim countries have Sharia law does not mean all muslim countries have Sharia law. Just because some people in those countries idolise the terrorists does not mean that all muslims idolise those terrorists. Never forget that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.

    (As an aside, do you reckon that the USA is likely any time soon to give Texas, New Mexico and California back to Mexico? Or the vast majority of the continental US back to the Native Americans? No, I guess not. The USA became what it is through slaughter and conquest)

    Second, none of what you mention is substantially worse than our invasion of Iraq or Afghanistan, nor than the way that black people were – ’til but recently – treated in the USA.

    It’s still less than 50 years since segregation was officially ended in the US. True, they have a black president now, but there are large areas of the American South where those attitudes (and, to some extent, that kind of treatment) remain entrenched.

    Hell, it’s only almost 100 years since women were given the vote in the UK. And how are the Aborigines treated in Australia these days? How about 30 years ago?

    The UK, Australia and the USA are in no position to condemn other nations for treating some of their citizens as second-class. At least, not without being immensely hypocritical.

  102. Nigel Depledge

    MTU (103) said:

    They started this -not us.

    What utter rubbish.

    The UK has been interfering in the politics of the Middle East for over 100 years. The USA for over 50 years, and very substantially during the Cold War. We have no innate right to dictate to the citizens of that region how they should or should not live their lives. It is true that our nations – now – value such things as democracy and freedom of speech, but we betray the very values we hold dear when we try to impose them on other nations.

    We created the environment in which those organisations you mentioned could find willing recruits. Without us, and our history of imperialism, they would have amounted to nothing.

  103. Nigel Depledge

    MTU (103) said:

    No, like the United States of America, Australia, England, Canada, New Zealand and most if not all other Western nations. Our values include tolerance and respect for innocent lives and others.

    I think you’ll find that the facts betray you. Certainly some of the nations you mention – the USA in particular – have no tolerance for any way of life that isn’t western consumerism. And if we had respect for life (never mind whether we decide it is “innocent” or not, as that’s a whole minefiled of subjective interpretation), why have we been so eager to go to war?

    How many tens of thousands died when we invaded Iraq? How does this square with your allegation that we (as nations) respect lives?

    Muslim values -largely – do not.

    I’d be interested to see if you have any evidence to support this assertion. Certainly there are a few muslim extremists who fit your generalisation, but that’s my point – you are generalising based on the prominent actions of a few.

    But, by and large, I think you’ll find that muslims are far more like you and I than you imagine. Certainly, all the muslims I know (OK, it’s only about half-a-dozen, but if that’s more than you then I still have more first-hand experience than you) have as much respect for life as anyone else I know.

  104. Nigel Depledge

    MTU (103) said:

    Ahem, Denmark ring any bells for you? When was the last time Denmark harboured imperial ambitions – but draw one cartoon making fun of their religious figure and KA-boom! Same goes for Holland and Spain -nations that haven’t been imperial powers for a very long time.

    Yes, that’s why I didn’t say “none”.

    Those nations really don’t get much attention from the muslim extremists, but they do get some.

  105. Nigel Depledge

    MTU (103) said:

    No, we haven;t actually. We used them as a deterrent in the Mututally Assured Destruction of the Cold War. We used them to save allied soldiers lives in the battle against Japan in World War II preventing the need for aland invasionof tehmain islands of Japan and ensuring Japan’s unconditional surrender. Otherwise we haven’t really used them at all.

    You seem to be referring to nukes. I was not, I was referring (based on your mention of some of the munitions that the US forces seem so pleased to trot out at every opportunity) to the advanced but non-nuclear weaponry.

    Both Gulf Wars, the bombing of Tripoli by US planes in the ’80s, the operations in Afghanistan, and there’s probably more. These are all examples of the USA flexing its military might. The threat is implicit, but clear nonetheless.

  106. Nigel Depledge

    MTU (103) said:

    Yes – our public, our culture our values, reject killing innocent people and mourn when this happens.

    Again, our track record says otherwise.

    We (especially the USA) seem ready to go to war without what many people would consider genuine justification.

    OTOH, Muslim culture seems to rejoice in and celebrate the same.

    What do you mean “muslim culture”? Are you sure you’re not merely regurgitating some propaganda here? because it seems to me that the citizens of muslim countries have a range of opinions, from the extreme (the terrorists and their most ardent supporters) to the moderate, to the downright socialist.

    I am not aware of any evidence to support your assertion that muslim culture rejoices in killing.

    Sinc ethe USA began it has generally behaved in a fiarly scruple-ous way. Notalways, notwithout imperfections and episodes thatdon’t reflect well upon us I’ll grant you but generally speaking.

    Wrong.

    The American-Mexican war. The treatment of the Native Americans. The treatment of black citizens (until fairly recently). The fact that the USA is ready to intervene with military might rather than diplomacy anywhere in the world, despite never being under threat of invasion.

    Basically, the USA is in the late 20th and early 21st centuries what the British Empire was in the late 19th century. It boils down to economics, and the use of “gunboat diplomacy” to create favourable commercial conditions (either in your markets or in your suppliers).

  107. Nigel Depledge

    MTU (103) said:

    But what exactly do those people hate?

    Our culture, our values, the fact that we aren’t fellow bvelivers intheir barbaric religious ideology. The fact that we -and Israel just exist.

    How do you know? Have you asked them?

    I agree about Israel, mostly. It was imposed on the people who lived in that region by our western “civilised” societies, displacing the people who had lived there for generations. And the evidentiary basis for doing this? The bible. And possibly the torah. I think if that kind of thing happened to my parents or grandparents, I’d be pretty darn ticked off about it.

    However, on the rest I disagree. I don’t think there is any substantive evidence to suggest that muslim nations are on any kind of new crusade. The attitude to which you refer seems to me to belong only to a minority among muslims. I do not believe it is typical, and therefore it would be bigoted to judge all muslims based on such behaviour or standards.

  108. Nigel Depledge

    MTU (104) said:

    Actually *they* started it. Not us. Recall 9-11 and earlier Muslim declarations of war on the civilised world?

    Do you really think this started as recently as the 1990s?

    That is deeply naive.

    The US and its allies put Saddam in power in Iraq in the first place. And supported the dictatorial Shah in Iran (before his regime was toppled by Khomeni). And supplied Saddam’s armies during the Iran-Iraq war. And imposed the state of Israel on the people who already lived in that area.

    Go back further and you’ll see the fingerprints of the British Empire over the whole region.

    Do you not recall that the attacks on the Pentagon and New York on the 11th Sept. 2001 were preceded by earlier attacks on the US incl. an eralier bombing of the WTC, the attack against the USS Cole/, the beheading of cpatured journalists, thebombingof embassies in Kenya and so forth? Do somereserach if you have forgotten this.

    Yes, so what? Those attacks were not the start of it – they were the outcome of decades of preceding interference by the USA and its allies.

  109. Nigel Depledge

    MTU (104) said:

    Look at how the all the Arabs Jihadistans have never accepted the world’s one, only and tiny Jewish state. They started umpteen wars with the openly declared goal of complete genocide -and lost every one.

    From what I recall at the time, it seems that Israel started at least half of those wars. Israel still occupies territory that was never part of its original plot. And try to imagine how the people who lived there in 1947 felt when they found a new theocracy (yes, even if it is not officially a theocracy, it may as well be) imposed on them, where the people who were put into power did not give a tinker’s cuss for the indigenes.

    Also, Israel may be tiny compared with Australia, but its area is of the same order of magnitude as the UK.

  110. Nigel Depledge

    MTU (104) said:

    Abu Ghraib was awful I agree – and the soldiers who committed some of the acts there were arrested, punished and jailed. Probably unfair on them given they were most likely acting on instructions from above. Yeah, that hsouldn’t have happened even to the terrorist scum being held there. Abu Graib was wrong.

    But should we treat these worst of the worst terrorists who want to kill us with kid gloves, make them a nice cup of tea and try to be their friends? When all they want to do is wipe us all off the map? I don’t think so. Sometimes playing nice and friendly just cannot work.

    I cited Abu Graib specifucally in reference to your call that we should be more ruthless, not to make any general point. Personally, I think we should show more respect for our own laws and values, rather than change them whenever it seems expedient.

    If violence is the answer, then how can it ever end? Or are you suggesting it’s “us or them”? No, I don’t buy that, it is a false dichotomy.

    Until the disaffected are given a voice, violence is their only tool to get noticed. Look at Northern Ireland as an example. It’s not perfect, because the Catholics and Protestants who live there are so provincial and tribal, but it was a whole lot worse before we pulled the troops out and gave both sides a seat at the table.

  111. Nigel Depledge

    MTU (104) said:

    Everyone on the political Left seems to blame George W. Bush for it all but allow Saddam to escape any and all accountability and responsibility.

    Well, if by “Left” you mean not a rabid Conservative, then maybe so. What you have not done here is justify the initial threat of war that GWB made. I’m sure he was quite happy to leave most of his constituents in the mistaken belief that the invasion of Iraq had something to do with 11/9. But to threaten actual war because Saddam refused to allow UN weapons inspectors full access to relevant facilities? No.

    Saddam had made himself annoying to the US. He was no actual threat, but he was a figurehead of defiance. AFAICT, the invasion of Iraq was about getting rid of Saddam, not for any specific crime, but in order simply to save face.

  112. Nigel, I suspect you are waging a pointless battle, but nonetheless you missed a couple of whoppers:

    But should we treat these worst of the worst terrorists who want to kill us with kid gloves, make them a nice cup of tea and try to be their friends?

    Which, yet again, lumps all Iraqis in with the generic “terrorists,” I guess because they speak Arabic, or they’re Muslims, or…something. By Stevo’s reasoning, why not slaughter a few tens of thousands of people in Kansas? After all, isn’t that where the mastermind behind the second-worst mass murder in U.S. history did his planning? Guilt by association and all.

    Everyone on the political Left seems to blame George W. Bush for it all but allow Saddam to escape any and all accountability and responsibility.

    The key here being, responsible for what? Accountable to whom? As you noted, Nigel, Saddam Hussein posed no threat to the U.S. It is not a crime to hate us and call us names. If he committed atrocities against the Iraqi people, then it was a matter for the Iraqi people to deal with. Perhaps we could have aided them, or helped to organize a resistance, but to invade the country wholesale and kill tens of thousands of people is…well, the thought of it still makes me ill and hang my head in shame.

  113. realta fuar

    Wow, you would think such a huge advocate of human spaceflight as the B.A. could at least get the basic facts of the first moon landing correct. Armstrong set foot on the lunar surface at 10:56pm EDT on July 20; nowhere in the in any of the 50 states of the U.S. can that be construed to be on July 21 (unless Plait lives in an alternate universe, who seems more and more like a viable possibility) .
    JWST (isn’t that the most HORRIBLE name for a Great Observatory?) funding will probably be restored. One suspects the Republicans in the U.S. House cut it just to show that they COULD. I HOPE the funding is restored, but face it, the project management has been bungled from the start. Total funding for the project’s lifetime, if it’s completed, will be on the order of 15-20 Kepler or Dawn missions, just for reference.
    As to various and sundry wars, it’s hard to argue that Gulf War II hasn’t been a tragedy for all concerned. On the other hand, ANY American president who didn’t help to overthrow the Taliban and their terroist cohorts in Afghanistan after 9/11 wouldn have been driven from office at the next election, at the very latest. The biggest mistake the completely incompetent American president made at the time made was to NOT put ENOUGH boots on the ground, early enough, to do the job properly. The U.S. and it’s allies (and the Afghan people) have been paying for that ever since.

  114. Tony

    This is a great discussion and it thrills me to see acknowledged how important it is for us to be active space-minded citizens.

    However, as a new member of the National Space Society who has attended the last two Legislative Blitzs on Capitol to lobby for continued NASA funding and support, I have been disappointed at the discrepancy between the number of commenters here (not to mention the lurkers) and those who turn out the one time of year when we should all be in Washington, DC.

    Of course, I realize not everyone of us can afford the expense or time to get to DC, but the difference is just so apparent. If I could get even 1/3 of you to attend next year’s Blitz in February, we might be able to start to wake up our Representatives.

    (You don’t even have to be a NSS member to participate!)

    Phil — A casual search on your blog turned up only a couple of posts other than this one about citizens appealing to their elected representatives for NASA funding (on 9/28/2010 and 7/11/2011). Given your interest in attending and popularity at conferences, you could inspire an entire corps of new Space Grassroots Lobbyists by covering next year’s Blitz when the appropriations numbers are being decided.

    How about joining us? Pretty Please?

  115. Ike Nutone

    Webb is grossly over budget and will continue to do so. It’s giant bite out of the science budget forces many other projects to not get funded. The fact that you support it signifies your adherence to the old boy network way of doing things and not the new way of doing things. FAIL.

  116. What’s the new way of doing things?

    Not to do them?

  117. Scott Hedrick

    From a project management perspective, this telescope has been exceptionally poorly managed. This project represents the lifetime taxes of several thousand people, if not more. It’s the equivalent of thousands of lifetimes of work. The taxpayers deserve better.

    At this point, I want to see the careers of some upper management, both management for this specific project and people higher up on the food chain crushed. As a taxpayer, I’m tired of the game (and it’s not just NASA, it’s pretty much every government project): under price it in order to get the cost-plus contract, then hope you can string it along enough and in enough Congressional districts so that Congress can be convinced using the “sunk cost fallacy” that so much money has been spent that it would be wrong to waste it by not providing more money. NASA has had more than enough experience that these problems should have been accounted for in the initial budget. NASA has even managed to accumulate enough experience to reasonably account for changes in funding. It is absolutely inexcusable for this project to be more than 10-15% over budget, and instead it’s likely to be double. This is tolerable if the project is a few thousand dollars, but we are talking about the equivalent lifetime earnings of thousands of people spent on a project that is asking for the lifetime earnings of thousands of more people.

    I’m tired of the game. This applies to Defense contracts and most Federal construction contracts as well. Sometimes it’s time to stop pouring money down a hole. If I were in Congress, I would vote to kill this project unless some senior heads rolled. I mean fired, cashiered out of government service altogether, not merely transferred, and I am also not talking about some scapegoat low-level engineer. This has been happening for so long because nobody has taken spending seriously- it’s not like it’s their money. Maybe if the same people who insist that all they need is a little more were told that not only would that be all they get, if the project were cancelled or needed their money they would lose their jobs and forfeit their pensions, they would start to present real project plans and budgets. A realistic budget might mean a project doesn’t get funding. This particular project isn’t particularly cutting edge as far as technology goes; that is, it’s not like, say, the Saturn V rocket, in which new materials had to be developed and we lacked the experience. This telescope needs some innovation but it is derived from well-known principles. That means the problems should be reasonably anticipated and reflected in the project plan. The fact that it is so far over budget shows that middle and upper management needs to be fired. I want it to fly- but I don’t think the cost can be justified at the moment. The cost is not only money- it represents the lifetimes of tens of thousands of people. That seems to be ignored when it comes to spending.

  118. Grimoire

    How do you know? Have you asked them?

    Books. TV. Internet. Stuff like that. They’re pretty vocal about it. There’s this whole informaiton age thing going on. You may have heard about it.

  119. Abhiroop

    Sad but true. I wish, India or China would “hire” NASA for the sake of science. What a waste of decades of R&D. US, I think will be busy paying off their bankers for quite a few centuries, humanity cannot wait that long.

  120. Austin

    “The fact of the matter is, this country has NEVER been threatened by the military of another country”

    Thanks to…. That’s right; our military. (But never mind the USS Cole, the US embassy bombings, and 9/11.)

    “The U.S. wields its military might like a schoolyard bully, ‘policing’ the world selectively – VERY selectively – to serve its own interests, which is to say the interests of the rich and powerful. To think otherwise is naive at best, foolish at worst.”

    Do you know how much aid to the third world comes from the US military? Did you know there was a Naval ship full of medical supplies and personnel that travels the world, providing aid at every stop? Was the US being a schoolyard bully when we essentially “invaded” Haiti in the wake of the earthquakes there? What about the SEALs that saved the ship captain from pirates? What about when the military reinstated elections in Iraq? When they set up clinics, schools, and wells in Iraq and Afghanistan? Or when the National Guard fight wildfires here in the US?

    Naive and foolish is thinking that the American military at its absolute worst even comes close to being anywhere near as bad as the enemy we are fighting. Out of the tens of thousands of US soldiers that have spent months in Iraq and Afghanistan, only a rare few have committed atrocities. And guess what? Those that were caught have served/are serving jail sentences. Compare that to the Islamofascists everyday tactics of intimidation, the murder of civilians, stonings/beheadings, torture (not to mention the heroin trade that funds so much of it).

    I’m glad you live a life so comfortable that you don’t even know who to thank for it.

  121. Harry Kuheim

    Are you kidding?…Obama actually said NASA’s priority should be making Muslims feel good!!!…and now two weeks before the Election almost half the country is ready to vote for him AGAIN!!!

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