White House asks for brutal planetary NASA budget cuts

By Phil Plait | February 13, 2012 2:09 pm

The White House has released its Presidential budget request for fiscal year 2013 today, including the budget for NASA, and as usual there is some good news and some bad. But the good news is tepid, and the bad news is, well, pretty damn bad. I can lay some of this blame at NASA’s feet — a long history of being over budget and behind schedule looms large — but also at the President himself. Cutting NASA’s budget at all is, simply, dumb. I know we’re in an economic crisis (though there are indications it’s getting better), but there are hugely larger targets than NASA. If this budget goes through Congress as is, it will mean the end of a lot of NASA projects and future missions.


The budget

The President’s FY13 budget for NASA is $17.7 billion in total. This is marginally less than last year. In most cases, the budget for science is stable, with a lot of missions getting modest increases. After perusing the individual budgets, it looks to me that most missions that are getting reductions are either ones that have been up a while and are winding down, ones near launch that are built and ready to go and therefore costs are smaller than during development, or ones that have had launch delays (due to tech issues with the launch systems).

Overall, astrophysics, Earth science, and Heliophysics (Sun studies) did OK. Again, some individual missions got increases and some decreases, but in general the budgets are stable. Funding for commercial spaceflight got a massive increase, more than doubling last year’s $400M budget. I’m all for that, as of course is the Commercial Spaceflight Federation. I’ve been vocal about that, and I think handing off launch and other capabilities to commercial ventures is a good way for NASA to save money in the long run.

Some cuts didn’t make sense to me. Education, for example, drops from $136M to $100M. Why? That money funds a vast amount of educational outreach — and I should know; I was funded by this for several years when I was at Sonoma State University creating educational materials for various NASA satellites. That funding does a huge amount of good for schoolkids, and cutting it is a mistake.

And it gets worse. A lot worse.


The bad news for Mars

However, planetary exploration has gotten creamed. Its budget overall drops from $1.5 billion to $1.2, a very deep cut that doesn’t just threaten but destroys near-future Mars exploration as well as future big grand missions to the outer planets in the tradition of Voyager, Cassini, and others.

There’s no easy way to say this: these cuts are devastating. The President’s request for just Mars exploration is $361 million, a crippling $226M drop in funding over the FY12 estimate, a 38.5% cut.

Read that again: a 38.5% cut. This will effectively halt the new exploration of Mars. It means pulling out of planning the ExoMars mission with the European Space Agency — effectively cancelling the mission, which will not make the Europeans happy — and also halting planning on a 2016 mission. There is still funding for the MAVEN mission scheduled for launch next year, but at reduced levels.

In my opinion, part of this is the fault of NASA: Curiosity, the rover on its way to Mars right now, was well over budget. Even after all these years, NASA still has a hard time getting budgets right, which is frustrating. However, this particular cut in the budget is madness. It was fought mightily by NASA, but the Office of Management and Budget apparently ignored all the advice from scientists and managers at NASA, cutting the program anyway. Ed Weiler, who was the head of the NASA Science Mission directorate, quit in protest over these cuts. I’ve had my disagreements with Ed on budget specifics over the years, but he has been a big defender of NASA from government cuts. For him to quit over this is a pretty strong indicator of how bad it is. Read that link to get all the details; but it’s not a happy story.

Bill Nye, speaking on behalf of The Planetary Society, says it best:

The priorities reflected in this budget would take us down the wrong path. Science is the part of NASA that’s actually conducting interesting and scientifically important missions. Spacecraft sent to Mars, Saturn, Mercury, the Moon, comets, and asteroids have been making incredible discoveries, with more to come from recent launches to Jupiter, the Moon, and Mars. The country needs more of these robotic space exploration missions, not less.

He’s right. The US has had an incredibly strong Mars program which has returned amazing science, as well as garnered enthusiastic public support. No other country has been able to do as well getting to Mars as we have. Of all the pieces of NASA to cut, this should be the very last one to see a reduction! It’s maddening, bizarre, and simply dumb.


What cost JWST and Curiosity?

NASA chief Charles Bolden tried to spin all this positively, but I have a hard time seeing it that way. And it’s hard to see how James Webb Space Telescope did not have an impact here. JWST is getting a large $109M (21%) increase as it gets nearer to completion. My thoughts on this are on record, for example here, here, and here. Basically, this mission on its own is taking the lion’s share a big chunk of NASA’s science funding, and if NASA’s overall budget remains stable JWST must perforce siphon money from other missions. Administrator Bolden wouldn’t specify what part of the budget would get cut to accommodate JWST, but given the massive slashing of Mars funding, well. That seems clear enough. [Update: It has been pointed out to me that the increase in JWST’s budget is smaller than what was taken from Mars. True, but as I pointed out last year, an additional $500+ million was recently given to JWST. I was considering that as well when I wrote the above paragraph.]

At some level the Mars rover Curiosity, currently on its way to Mars, must have played a role here too. It was also overbudget, though by a smaller total amount than JWST. But its impact has been significant.

I’ll note that I think JWST is far enough along to make sure it gets finished and launched, but the funding for it should be added to NASA’s budget, not subtracted from other places. I’m not happy with the way JWST was handled (the amount it’s over budget is staggering to say the least) and NASA really needs to gets its head in the game when it comes to figuring this stuff out.

But the thing is, we shouldn’t even have to make these choices. We shouldn’t have to choose between one ground-breaking scientific mission and another. The reason we do is because NASA’s budget is so small in the first place. It really speaks volumes about where science and exploration stand as an American value.


The next step

Mind you, this budget is not set in stone. This is simply the President’s request, which then goes to Congress. Over the past few years, Obama’s request has been for increases, with Congress threatening to cut it. Now, however, this budget comes pre-cut to Congress. The news isn’t all bad, though: some members of Congress have said this budget is not satisfactory (like Adam Schiff (D-Pasadena), whose district includes JPL), and will fight to make it better. The Planetary Society will be rallying its members to talk to their Congress critters and increase NASA’s slice for science from 27.5% to a solid 30%, enough to re-fund Mars exploration.

My opinion hasn’t really changed in years. NASA is a tiny, tiny part of the federal budget, far less than 1%. There are other places where money can be found, other places where cuts make more sense.

I’ve made this analogy before: if you have a hard drive full of 4 Gb movie files, you don’t make room by deleting 100kB text files! You go after the big targets, which is far more efficient. Reducing NASA’s budget for Mars exploration frees up 0.01% of the federal budget. That’s it. One ten-thousandth of what we spend overall, a hundredth of a penny for every dollar.

What does that mean in more understandable terms? Over the past few years, the rate of money spent in Afghanistan and Iraq is about 20 million dollars per hour. In other words, the amount of money being cut from Mars exploration is equal to what we were spending on the War on Terror in just 15 hours.

You might want to read that again. For the cost of less than a single day on the War on Terror, we could have a robust and far-reaching program to explore Mars, look for signs of life on another planet, increase our overall science knowledge, and inspire a future generation of kids.

Our priorities on national spending could use some major overhauling. Science is the future. Our economy depends on many things, but science, engineering, and technology represent a huge portion of its support.

It’s simple: cutting back on science is cutting our future’s throat. And this budget is reaching for the knife.

So I’m reaching for my keyboard. I’ll be contacting my Senators and Representative. If you’re an American citizen, I suggest you do the same.


Related posts:

What value space exploration?
Debating space
Wait, how big is NASA’s budget again?
Whence NASA

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

Comments (123)

  1. tm

    These are just budget games. The president knows that the republican house likes planetary science, and won’t want to cut it.

  2. truly anomalous

    Well said Phil, thank you. I just contacted my representatives in the Senate and House.

  3. Calli Arcale

    I really wish I could say I was surprised. We’ve all got to write our congresspeople, stat. And the White House. It’s been too many years of either a flat budget (which, adjusted for inflation, is a decrease) or an actual decrease. This ain’t good.

  4. DigitalAxis

    As a galactic astronomer, if I had to do it again I’d pick JWST again. But damn you, Congress, for making me choose between JWST and The Solar System.

    I love the planets, I’m fascinated by the planets, I got into astronomy because of the planets, and my damn paycheck will probably eventually depend on JWST flying at some point in time. That sentence looks contradictory, but it shouldn’t be. This is just another example of divide and conquer. Make scientists fight each other, and you’ll get enough ammunition and dirt on both sides to kill them BOTH off. If the Planetary Society and the Solar System people get their way, Education will probably suffer next, and then the next round of Congress will lambaste NASA for failing to fulfil their educational directives and penalize NASA by taking away even more funding.

    And yes, I did write my congresspeople back in October- a save JWST letter that made its point by reminding them of all the things NASA does.

  5. Chris

    So quick Google searches

    Americans spend $41 billion on their pets every year (2007)
    $17.9 Billion on coffee every year (1999)
    $15 Billion on bottled water (2007)
    $9.94 Billion spent advertising tobacco
    Cigarettes cost $97 billion in lost productivity
    Cigarettes cost $96 billion in health care costs
    $13 Billion dollars on porn (hey use the free stuff)

    Really? We waste so much money on nothing (OK pets aren’t nothing, but some do get a bit excessive) and suddenly a billion dollars is too much for expanding our knowledge of the universe.

  6. Karl

    It’s meaningless to keep saying that NASA’s budget is a small part of the overall budget. There are thousands of similar items that have passionate followers saying the same thing. For NASA to be funded it needs to be perceived to be doing projects the general population can understand and see the benefit for. People see projects like Mar’s exploration as grandoise but useless projects because it does not connect with them emotionally if they do not share a general love of science and exploration. Part of the problem is that the science community still does not know how market NASA’s missions or projects in ways that emotionally engages society at large. For instance…The War on Terror has a bigger advertising budget and people understand the concept of feeling safe or feel that cutting money to that is cutting money to the troops. It’s the wrong kind of tradeoff to ask people to make. Stop making that analogy. Talk about how it will create jobs, opportunity, technologies….not how it compares to the emotional equivalent of and IED.

  7. Tony Mach

    Space isn’t going anywhere – if they don’t slash Earth Science and Heliophysics, all is fine. Less shiny rockets and space toys means less CO2, if I may remind you.

    And the main problem you have with the Afghan war is that the US should spend a little less on it? Oh my. They call Afghanistan the “Graveyard of Empires” and by the looks of it this is still a significant trend. By the way, the Soviets fought terrorists in Afghanistan too, and see how the Afghan war broke their neck. Well, maybe the deindustrialization of the USA will help bring down CO2 emissions – after all, it worked for Russia and the east-bloc.

  8. frankenstein monster

    I am not surprised. Your country has become through-and-through decadent and is declining at ever faster rate (actually, the whole world is). Most people don’t care about future, or space, or are actively opposed to space exploration. NASA is going to be dismantled sooner or later. As a symbol of the future you, and most probably we too, have – none at all. Face it. You are goners.

  9. frankenstein monster
  10. Dave

    Phil,

    I am all for NASA. 110% for NASA, in fact. I love astronomy, I love the space programs, I love the science we do here on Earth and in space, and drool over the pictures that come back from these amazing missions.

    So I hate to put it this way, as I normally would be all for increasing NASA’s funding. But YOU yourself say, “NASA still has a hard time getting budgets right.” You then go on to excoriate THE WHITE HOUSE over something that you’ve clearly identified as a NASA ISSUE.

    Ummm… what now?

    You could have saved yourself a lot of ink if, instead, you’d just wrote, “I think NASA should get a blank check.” Again, this is coming from someone who 110% supports NASA, understands the overall federal vs. NASA budget dollar issues, wants to see more funding for them, etc. But if NASA keeps getting its budgets WRONG, they are continually shooting themselves in the foot. Then you get on here and get all “righteous indignation”-like about… the Executive Branch, that seeks to hold the previously-described bad-budgeters to account for their… well, bad budgeting skills.

    Shouldn’t you be writing NASA and get angry at them for being so ridiculously bad about budgeting? And by the way, if you REALLY want something to change with all this, the better way to go about it is to write in a more emotionally-appealing way to get rid of the morons in Congress who oppose this stuff in the first place, and encourage readers to actively WORK for the campaigns of people who WILL support this kind of science. Because that makes it a whole lot easier for the White House to propose these kinds of programs if he knows that they will get support in Congress. This IS a Presidential election year, remember?

    In other words, you’re barking up the wrong trees. Go bark up the right ones.

  11. llewelly

    Education makes people more likely to be liberal.
    Space science inspires people to seek an education.
    Cutting space science is an attack on liberalism.
    Why is Obama doing this?

  12. frankenstein monster

    Q : “Why is Obama doing this?’
    A : He is not a liberal. He is just republican lite.

  13. quarksparrow

    @Tony Mach: Space isn’t going anywhere, but I am! I’m too young for the Moon landings, but if I can either see us set foot on Mars, or find life beyond Earth, I’ll die happy. I’ve little faith in the former at this point, but the latter is financially pretty reasonable — but not if we never go looking. Bureaucracy lends to very long timelines.

  14. :O!!!!!!!!! I love NASA!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This will mean the end of CUBESAT!!! THE END OF THE ISS!!!!
    THE END OF CASSINI!!!!! THE END OF THE MARS ROVERS!!!!!!! WHERE DO I CONTACT THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT?????? MAKE PROTESTS!!!!!!! I’LL ORGANIZE ONE AT MY ELEMENTARY SCHOOL!!!!!!! WAR ON THE SCIENCE HATERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    THE ARMY LED BY……………………………………….PHIL PLAIT!!!!!
    —————-

  15. James

    Maybe we could start a rumour that Jesus is alive and well and waiting for us on Mars.

  16. Well at least he doesn’t want to fire all the janitors and make poor children clean the floors of schools or let people die if they don’t have healthcare. That’s Newt Gengricth and Mitt Romney……. Evil XO

  17. Dave (11): That’s a misread of what I wrote. I do in fact lay a lot of the blame on NASA (read the section about JWST and Curiosity).

    However, that’s the proximate cause. The long term, problem is a lack of value for science and exploration. I’ve written about this before many times – and I can’t repeat it every blog post or else they’d all be 5000 words long – but NASA does need more oversight, but it also needs more money. One reason they underbid projects is because of the limited budget, and the broad scope of their mission. If there were more money, I think the attitude of trying to underplay budgets in proposals would go away, and we’d see real estimates.

  18. That’s a good Idea! I can make protests at recess.
    and i could spread the rumor. Thanks James!!! XD

  19. Frankly, the NASA directors should be replaced if they cannot keep their budgets under control. Granted, with new technologies, cost overruns CAN occur, but that should be the exception, not the rule!
    That said, the US Navy is working on a new cannon, to go with their new destroyer model, with many features of current destroyers not included, but it’s stealth. The Navy is building a new supercarrier, with state of the of the art systems, linear motor launcher for the catapults and more Star Trek aboard of BOTH new model ships than the Starship Enterprise! Their costs overran quite a bit too.
    They’re getting built, we’re getting the Webb. Maybe.
    Of course, the cuts to the education budget goes right in hand with what I’ve been saying for years, the deliberate dumbing down of our citizen, for the ignorant are easier to control than the well educated.
    Welcome to America’s “Cultural Revolution”, the book burnings will be next…

  20. Radwaste

    “…there are hugely larger targets than NASA.”

    And there were when Apollo was canceled – and THAT was the definition of “gutted”.

    The cold fact is that NASA money doesn’t buy enough votes. Of what use is Mars to someone who gets a check every month from the government to sit and watch The View?

  21. Hampus

    1962: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

    2012: “We choose not to give NASA what it needs to launch awesome missions that will make all of our lives better and inspire generations.”

    So f’in disappointed.

  22. SLC

    I know I sound like a broken record but the answer to NASA’s budget problems is to postpone manned space flight missions. These are inordinately expensive and as Bob Park and Steven Weinberg have relentlessly pointed out have very little scientific value. But of course, there are those in these parts who insist that Park and Weinberg don’t know what they are talking about and will have none of it.

    We have to make a choice here, like it or not. It’s either manned space missions or robotic scientific missions. Given the budget straits, we can’t do both.

    Whining about Afghanistan and the military budget is unproductive. The budget is what it is and priorities have to be established.

  23. MadScientist

    I don’t see how NASA can go on with its budget – it looks like the government is trying to force NASA to close down numerous labs and sell off assets.

  24. Tom

    I believe the Senate hasn’t voted on a budget proposal for three years or so. The government has been funding itself with short term continuing resolutions. I would guess that the final number to come out for NASA will be higher than what Obama requested. Unfortunately, it will probably be a Congressional beauty pageant to determine which programs get funding…with lots of suspense all year long. What a way to run a country!

  25. Ferris Valyn

    SLC,

    Human spaceflight isn’t about science, ultimately, and to view its only value through a scientific lens is to suggest that the Department of Energy doesn’t deliver good value because it doesn’t educate children.

    It would do well to remember that

  26. Infinite123Lifer

    Quite frankly its amazing we even have a process for endeavors such as NASA. Historically I am sure warfare has probably been “part of some budget” for a peoples more often than not, and understandably so given the nature of living in the “jungle” and human tendency and such. All the more reason to advance the pace out of the dog eat dog world I would think.

    Naivety. Sigh. Although I wonder how (in its brief history) science has faired in the budgets of other empires throughout history (much the same I would think, (total speculation here) I can’t see the Romans or Egyptians giving half of their gold to the healers & alchemists (and probably what would then be high priests or wise men)). Surely their is no comparable time in history where things are comparable to present day, but surely history has a way of repeating itself. One word. Galileo.
    Silly monkeys, give them clubs…

    Makes me wonder though, surely there was a time when a tribe gave 75% of its resources to the “wisest tribal memeber” for them to explore various areas, foods or passages, maybe some medicine, maybe to read the stars…I dunno, iam just sayin’ maybe there was a time.

    What constitutes a balanced system? Realistically, what percentage of the budget should go to (I want to say science but) NASA?
    (Iam guessing this question might of been addressed somewhere in BA already in the past?)

  27. VinceRN

    This about what we can expect from this President, I don’t think it should surprise anyone. If anything be glad it’s not worse.

    Lets just hope congress does better, though that doesn’t seem likely. This is what we can expect for the next five years. Even if Romney gets elected it’ll only be marginally better, and the other Republicans would all be vastly worse for science.

    I just hope private space flight finds a way to make a profit so private space flight can take off, and that 2016 brings us better options.

  28. Grand Lunar

    I know there are those on the internet that lay the blame on the JWST.
    And indeed, some does go toward that program.

    But for me, the big killer is the SLS.
    We can do better than trying to make an expensive, monster rocket that in the end is mere pork.

    We have good rockets with the EELVs, one of which is already in progress for being human rated. If SpaceX can deliver the Falcon 9 Heavy, we can do even better. Atlas 5 Phase 2 Heavy would be best.

    No need for a monster rocket that eats the budget and leaves us with choices like what we’re facing now.

    I predict that Congress will still slash the budget for commercial flight, like they before.
    Ironic; they complain about relying on Russia, but don’t want to provide for the effort can help with that issue.

  29. SLC

    Re Ferris Valyn @ #27

    Actually, the Energy Department does indirectly fund education by funding the research of physicists at numerous universities, including part of their salaries. Without that funding, those same universities would have to lay off staff and thus reduce the number of students they can accommodate.

    I am glad that Mr. Valyn does admit that manned space flight has little or nothing to do with scientific discovery. There are many in these parts, including our distinguished host, who maintain otherwise.

    One argument that has been bandied about of late is that a US manned space capability is essential to preventing other nations from dominating manned space flight (e.g. China). If that is indeed the case, then manned space flight should be funded out of the military budget as it is a military endeavor. NASA should stick to science.

  30. DigitalAxis

    @30. Grand Lunar

    There’s some law that requires future launch systems to use Solid Rocket Boosters made in Utah. (never mind that the shuttle only used SRBs because they didn’t have the money to make something safer)

    I would not be surprised if other stupid aspects of the SLS are caused by similar technically questionable laws

  31. I don’t understand why Obama would do this. He’s constantly saying how investing in science and education is good for the country and the economy and now he’s cutting NASA? Makes no sense to me.

  32. CNR

    Have you looked at NASA’s budget in the context of the rest of the federal budget? I mean, do you really expect NASA to emerge unscathed in a federal budget environment where many agencies have taken a hit? I mean, of course we would love NASA to have unlimited budgets, but we of course live in the real world.

    You talk about cuts to other programs, what would you cut? I’m all for pulling out of Afghanistan, but that takes time. What are the other big programs you want to cut?

    Its a very tough fiscal environment. No other way around it.

  33. Tony

    Well, I used to be a supporter of this president, but come November…I don’t know that I want to vote at all. I can’t vote for the republinuts, and Obama seems to be working pretty hard to loose my vote so….guess I will be skipping the booth. Sad.

  34. Ferris Valyn

    SLC @31

    Note that I said DOE educate CHLDREN. Not students. Children are mostly in the K-12 level (or even more arguably elementary and middle school), not university (yes, you have the occasional prodigy, but they don’t count for the majority). And while DOE does have the programs you are talking about, AFAIK they aren’t doing serious funding in the elementary or middle school areas. No doubt there are some, but the point remains – DOE does NOT fund large scale education for children.

    Now, moving back to the issue. Please note what the 3rd letter in NASA stand for. Its not science, its space. NASA is a SPACE agency (actually, I should say its an Aeronautics and Space agency, so as to respect my aeronautic brethren).

    Space has many facets – military, science, AND commerce and settlement (actually, there is more than just those, but you get the idea). The last two are particularly important, and for further expansion to happen, you need humans. It is true that you get scientific benefits from humans in space, and you get better international relations, but those really aren’t good underlying reasons to do humans to space.

    The reasons you put humans in space, ultimately, are tied to 2 issues – getting resources (both hard and soft) from space so we can make things better for all humans, and developing the technology and infrastructure that will allow for settlement of space. That is why you put humans into space. And our national policy should reflect that, much better.

    So, to bring it back to my original point – NASA isn’t a science agency that occasionally does things in space. Its a space agency that occasionally does science, and occasionally does commerce or settlement enabling.

    BTW, want further proof? Go look at the NASA Act.

  35. Messier Tidy Upper

    Dreadful news. :-(

    Well written and described by the BA. I don’t know what to say here really. Just so awful and bleak.

    @35. CNR : I’d start with all the foreign aid to Pakistan, India and China – plus I’d get the banks to paty back their bailouts with interest.

  36. Dave

    Phil, with all due respect, how did I misread what you wrote, when your response to me says this:

    “One reason they underbid projects is because of the limited budget, and the broad scope of their mission. If there were more money, I think the attitude of trying to underplay budgets in proposals would go away, and we’d see real estimates.”

    That’s exactly what I’m saying; they are getting their numbers wrong, and shooting themselves in the foot. And honestly, if there were more money, that would NOT stop the problem of underbidding, it would simply mean MORE projects being underbid (and then overbudget – again) in every budget. But you’re mad at the White House for this. That doesn’t make sense.

    Again, wrong tree. Maybe it feels good for you, I don’t know, but it’s not terribly effective, especially given how large a platform you have to influence so many people on these topics.

    I agree with you that this problem is partly due to a lack of respect for the sciences, but that’s also why I wrote the part about getting rid of the morons in Congress who do not respect science in any way. That’s the bigger problem than any mis-budgeted set of numbers from NASA, because quite frankly, if you DID have people on Capitol Hill that supported science, they would DEFEND the over-budgeted projects and keep funding them – as would the White House when they write budgets. And if NASA was at least within 5 or 10% of THEIR budgets, that would go a LONG way towards helping themselves. Being way over cost hurts them. Repeatedly.

    Like I said, wrong tree. Bark up the right one. You’re misdirecting your fire.

  37. Ferris Valyn

    mtlskeptic, Tony, and a number of other posters….

    For everyone wondering what is going on, why Obama is doing this, and what is going on, I thought I’d provide a little bit of insider’s view

    First, so you know – my background is that of an aerospace engineer, with a focus on policy. I now work as an associate for a consulting firm that deals directly in space policy, with a focus on commercial spaceflight (or as has been sometimes referred to as NewSpace).

    Now, whats going on – Grand Lunar hit it on the money when he talked about blaming SLS. For the past 2 years, Obama has been trying to get a handle on the costs of the shuttle workforce. That is what the FY 2011 budget was about, with the cancellation of Constellation, and the debate about the design of SLS. Last year, Congress played its Trump card, and Obama wasn’t prepared to fight back – They basically said “You will build the Senate Launch System the way we want, or all the programs you care about (Commercial Crew and Space Technology) will be practically eliminated.” Yes, this was done with the passage of 2 separate laws – the 2010 Authorization Law, and last year’s NASA appropriation.

    Had we been more successful with the SLS battle, there would be more money to spend. Yes, the amount in the pot probably wouldn’t have increased, but there was at least more funds available.

    To beat up on OMB is, IMHO, not really fair to OMB. They are having to live with this deal, thanks to the US Senate.

  38. joe

    As a galactic astronomer, if I had to do it again I’d pick JWST again. But damn you, Congress, for making me choose between JWST and The Solar System.

    As a non-astronomer I would terminate JWST given the massive cost overrun is hurting other disciplines in NASA including Earth Science.

    Congress is not bailing out JWST – per disciplines are paying the price.

    JWST is causing so much collateral damage that I suspect the cost-overrun will create massive ill-will in the science community for a generation.

  39. Eugene

    So basically, Invader Zim was predicting the damn future:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XmQIX7pXFo4&t=12m46s

  40. joe

    That’s the bigger problem than any mis-budgeted set of numbers from NASA, because quite frankly, if you DID have people on Capitol Hill that supported science, they would DEFEND the over-budgeted projects and keep funding them – as would the White House when they write budgets. And if NASA was at least within 5 or 10% of THEIR budgets, that would go a LONG way towards helping themselves. Being way over cost hurts them. Repeatedly.

    JSWT is being defended ! It will not be cut. It is being funded.

    Science is being defended. JWST was ranked #1 by the science community peer their decadal survey rankings -right? This is a top priority mission.

    IMHO, This 2013 budget is a natural consequent of previously gaming the system and playing chicken with budget. Screwing up badly should not be incentivized by adding budget.

    Bailing out creates an incentive to underestimate projects and no one involved reviewing will scrutinize the overruns – money appears because congress defends science.

    Right now the entire space community is playing the price for the JWST budget overruns.

    How this plays out is unknown but I think the broader science community is very unhappy with the JSWT stakeholders.

  41. Joseph G

    @24 SLC: We have to make a choice here, like it or not. It’s either manned space missions or robotic scientific missions. Given the budget straits, we can’t do both.

    In other words, you go to Mars with the budget you have, not the budget you want.

  42. Guess what, NASA is a political toy, if you want to see space done without politics and pork, stop supporting BAU.

  43. ahwala

    Suggestion: Cut your military budget by a reasonable amount, use it for social/economical/educational purposes and leave NASA’s budget untouched.
    Oh, I forgot, those d*** wars are too important and there’s many other reasons the US expenditures on defense account for about 45% of global military spending.

  44. gss_000

    @41 Ferris

    I have to disagree with you here. The SLS, no matter if its a good program or not, is not dictating the budget as much as you imply. The OMB does have the first say in how much is or is not funded. If it wanted to, it could fund the program but at an unsustainable level. Second, if the Administration truly was beholden to Congress because of last year’s budget like you imply, why did commercial crew get such a dramatic increase (something I approve of)?

    Unfortunately, it’s not a zero sum game where you take from one to fund another by the same amount. If so, there would have been a huge bump to unmanned missions last year with the cuts to Space Operations from the end of the shuttle.

    @SLC
    You do know that studies have shown that without a manned program unmanned programs suffer, too right? Science is just one aspect. There are also benefits that directly benefit Earth. Unmanned may do more science but manned provides more direct benefit to people on Earth. Both are needed.

  45. Peter Davey

    With regard to those “d***” wars, it should not be forgotten that they began with a major attack on the United States, not by the United States.

    In the age of Transport and Communication revolutions, “far-away” countries are so much closer.

  46. Nigel Depledge

    Dave (11) said:

    So I hate to put it this way, as I normally would be all for increasing NASA’s funding. But YOU yourself say, “NASA still has a hard time getting budgets right.” You then go on to excoriate THE WHITE HOUSE over something that you’ve clearly identified as a NASA ISSUE.

    I think the point is that no-one knows how much technology that has not yet been invented will cost to develop.

    NASA sure does have a hard time getting the budgest right, but so would anybody else. You can’t simply subcontract a quantity surveyor for (say) JWST to tell you how much it will cost to build. All NASA can do is project those costs they anticipate and make an estimate for those costs that crop up during development.

    I’m no rocket scientist, but I do work in a process-development role (in the biopharmaceuticals industry). We can make a pretty good estimate of how much a standard process development programme will cost, but it is common for unexpected issues to crop up that require additional development, which adds both cost and time.

    I expect that, during the development of a piece of space hardware, that often will contain newly-developed scientific instruments, unexpected costs are similarly common. How can anyone be expected to control this beyond adding an estimate of contingency to the initial budget?

  47. Nigel Depledge

    Peter Davey (46) said:

    With regard to those “d***” wars, it should not be forgotten that they began with a major attack on the United States, not by the United States.

    Wrong.

    It started with US cold-war imperialism. If you wish to understand the situation, you have to let go of your comfortable assumptions.

    Besides, it doesn’t matter who started it. You make it sound like a playground brawl. The US has the option to talk to people (not the terrorist groups, obviously, but the legitimate governments of those countries in which the terrorist organisations arose). The US chooses to use force of arms. Never forget that it is the US’s choice to do so, or not.

  48. kurt

    View from the UK,

    This was headlining on bbc news last week (see article)

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-16906740

    I think its short sighted for its impact on a global scale. This would have been a key delivery not only to advance discovery, but as a flagship programme for cross culture projects. A US/European joint venture of this size would surely, in the opinion of many, bring a step closer to what’s truely required to help humanity make serious inroads into exploration and discovery;

    Unprecedented global partnerships contributing towards common goals for the advancement of all.

  49. Nigel Depledge

    @ ErisArcticWolf (15) –

    Oh, gosh, your debating skills are phenomenal. I bow to your mastery of satire.

    I found your use of all caps and multiple exclamation marks especially persuasive.

  50. Nigel Depledge

    Wzrd1 (21) said:

    Granted, with new technologies, cost overruns CAN occur, but that should be the exception, not the rule!

    How should it be the exception?

    A key feature of technology development is that one is moving into the unknown. How are you supposed to work out in advance how much achieving a certain thing is going to cost if no-one has ever done it before?

  51. Nigel Depledge

    Radwaste (22) said:

    The cold fact is that NASA money doesn’t buy enough votes.

    This.

    And it is unlikely to change until something dramatic happens in space, such as a non-US nation landing men on the moon (yes, second place in that race is still up for grabs).

    Then, the newsies will all be asking how NASA allowed someone else to do it (e.g. go back to the moon) first.

  52. Nigel Depledge

    SLC (24) said:

    I know I sound like a broken record but the answer to NASA’s budget problems is to postpone manned space flight missions. These are inordinately expensive and as Bob Park and Steven Weinberg have relentlessly pointed out have very little scientific value. But of course, there are those in these parts who insist that Park and Weinberg don’t know what they are talking about and will have none of it.

    But manned space missions bring in funding for the real science. Would Voyager have been possible were it not for the success of Gemini and Apollo? I think not.

    We have to make a choice here, like it or not. It’s either manned space missions or robotic scientific missions. Given the budget straits, we can’t do both.

    Not on the shostring that NASA has been given, but it sounds like you’re ready to give up.

    Whining about Afghanistan and the military budget is unproductive.

    Wrong. Every US citizen who cares about technology and the US’s place on the world stage should be whining loud and clear to their congresscritters that NASA should be given more, not less. Change can be made to happen.

    The budget is what it is and priorities have to be established.

    Not yet it’s not. So far, this is just the presidential budget request.

  53. Rob

    When you write a letter to congress, write a letter to NASA. I agree with all of Phil’s arguments about funding science and education and how savings would be much more effective if taken out of big ticket items instead of NASA. But we have to demand that NASA gets it’s act together. If they keep wasting the few precious dollars they get in mismanagement, congress can’t be expected to maintain (or increase!) funding levels.

    If I have three kids and I help my 16 year old pay his car insurance (say a $100 a month), give my 13 year old 20 bucks a week to go to the movies with friends, and give my 8 year old $3 a week for candy, but the three year old keeps misplacing his (relatively small) allowance, I’m going to think twice about giving him as much or any at all until he gets his act together. It doesn’t matter how small a piece of the pie he gets, if he is fiscally irresponsible, he isn’t demonstrating that he deserves his funding.

    I mean, come on. How the hell are we scientists supposed to convince congress that we deserve more money if we keep pissing away the little we already get? There are two battles that will get space science more money: getting congress to give NASA more, and getting NASA to be deserving of funding.

    As much as I’d love 10’s of billions to go towards NASA each year, it is foolish for an educated person to think for a second that they’re deserving of it they way their projects are managed. NASA needs to get it’s act together.

  54. Nigel Depledge

    Oops, just realised I screwed up one of my blockquote tags in that previous post . .

  55. Nigel Depledge

    Also, what makes anyone think that the money mismanagement in NASA is unique? Surely all government departments waste money to varying degrees. I think the biggest difference is that NASA’s activities are more public.

  56. MMM

    “Cutting NASA’s budget at all is, simply, dumb. I know we’re in an economic crisis (though there are indications it’s getting better), but there are hugely larger targets than NASA. ”

    The NASA budget Percentage Change from 2012: 0.3 percent decrease. Other agencies that are being hit harder than NASA (from http://www.boston.com/news/nation/washington/articles/2012/02/14/an_agency_by_agency_guide_to_obamas_budget/?page=full):

    Transport: 39 percent
    Treasury: 0.8
    Labor: 35.7
    Justice: 15.3
    Interior: 2.1
    HUD: 21.3
    Homeland Security: 5.4
    EPA: 2.1
    Education: 52
    Defense: 4

    So NASA is certainly not alone in being cut, and there are other similarly worthy agencies that are getting hit harder. (note: some of the largest numbers are a result of one-time stimulus funding going away)

  57. Nigel Depledge

    Infinite 123 Lifer (28) said:

    Naivety. Sigh. Although I wonder how (in its brief history) science has faired in the budgets of other empires throughout history (much the same I would think, (total speculation here) I can’t see the Romans or Egyptians giving half of their gold to the healers & alchemists (and probably what would then be high priests or wise men)). Surely their is no comparable time in history where things are comparable to present day, but surely history has a way of repeating itself. One word. Galileo.

    I’m not sure how valid this is. Publicly-funded science is a pretty recent invention. IIUC, it only really got started in the 20th century.

  58. joe

    I mean, come on. How the hell are we scientists supposed to convince congress that we deserve more money if we keep pissing away the little we already get? There are two battles that will get space science more money: getting congress to give NASA more, and getting NASA to be deserving of funding.

    Science community told NASA JWST was High Priority in the Sci Survey. JSWT was approved when the Space Sci cience community knew there were new technology break throughs necessary for JSWT.

    So when a project requires new technology development (research) and is a top priority, it is probably going to 1) run over 2) eat lower ranked projects.

    Since JSWT is eating into other science projects, why blame the big ticket items that are irrelevant to JSWT ? Fix the problem and that DOES include the science community which needs to figure out how to review and terminate ambitious projects that start over-running.

  59. Lukester

    Bold and Visionary!

  60. Rick White in TX

    SImple facts;

    In 1960 NASA’s budget was 0.5% of the federal budget.
    President Obama’s proposed NASA budget for 2013 is 0.48% of the Federal budget.

    Thus, the NASA budget for 2013 is similar to the pre-moon program level.

  61. Nigel Depledge

    CNR (35) said:

    I mean, of course we would love NASA to have unlimited budgets, but we of course live in the real world.

    And in the real world, we all know that NASA will never have an unlimited budget. Even Apollo was limited – the entire Apollo project cost US taxpayers less than a single year of the Vietnam war.

    Your comment about an unlimted budget is a strawman. Phil is not arguing that NASA should have an unlimited budget, just that it should be given an adequate budget to do all of the things that Congress is asking it to do. They don’t seem to have much of an issue doing that for the DoD, do they?

  62. Gary

    Blame the political corruption that is Solyndra, pork projects, and massive amounts for entitlements. The bad drives out the good. If you want productivity, stop funding the unproductive. It’s really simple at the core.

  63. SLC

    Re Nigel Depledge @ #51

    Mr. Depledge reasons as many in the US, Britain, and France did in the 1930s with the claim that Frankenberger could be reasoned with. British Prime Minister Chamberlain tried that at Munich. How did that work out?

    What Mr. Depledge is proposing is that the US should have negotiated with Saddam Hussein, the Taliban, and the Ayatollahs in Iran. Presumable, he would recommend the same for Bashar Assad. Not a very productive undertaking.

  64. SLC

    Re Gary @ #64

    Ah, another Randian heard from. Shorter Gary, every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost.

  65. SLC

    Re gss_000 @ #48

    You do know that studies have shown that without a manned program unmanned programs suffer, too right? Science is just one aspect. There are also benefits that directly benefit Earth. Unmanned may do more science but manned provides more direct benefit to people on Earth. Both are needed.

    Such as?

  66. Gary Ansorge

    I recall there was another great nation that turned its back on exploration,,,it took China a millennium to recover from THAT error. Are we ready to become another casualty of the death of adventure? Ah, the decline and fall of a great power. I guess I’d better get started on that Mandarin class,,,

    I used to read Bob Parks rants but he’s really a stick in the mud and boring to boot.

    Gary 7

  67. Daffy

    SLC, I suggest you start with Robert Heinlein’s article “Spinoff.” It is horribly dated, of course, but it gives a good idea if what people are talking about; it’s a good place to start.

    Although I suspect you will fall into the category of “Even when you show them the arithmetic” that he talks about. Anyway, it’s a good place to start as far as the general concept.

  68. DRC

    Living within our means is essential…that being said, I think there is great value in NASA…could we do more training/research/modelling in a more cost effective way here on earth for a while instead of expensive shuttle launches, rocket fuel, etc. Could we not be creative and partner (temporarily) NASA say with NOAA to research and deal with pressing problems here on earth where astronauts might be able to work undersea (like NEEMO asteroid program) until we get our fiscal house in order…or better yet get NASA scientists into schools as short-term teachers to reinvigorate science, math, computers…

  69. SLC

    Re Daffy @ #71

    I am well aware of spinoffs. The question is, are there any spinoffs from manned space flight that would not accrue from robotic missions? I would argue that the advances in robotic applications that have spunoff from NASA activities are far more important than anything coming out of the manned space program.

    Gary Ansorge @ #70

    1. How is concentrating on robotic missions turning our backs on exploration?

    2. As for Bob Park, I still read him and I think he’s doing pretty well for a guy of 81, although he’s down to 1 post every 2 weeks these days. Of course, he has a long way to go to match Ernst Mayr who put out a 2nd addition of his book, “What Evolution Is,” as a young whippersnapper of 96.

    3. How about Steven Weinberg’s criticisms of manned space flight?

  70. frankenstein monster

    The question is, are there any spinoffs from manned space flight that would not accrue from robotic missions?

    Would colonizing the universe count ?

  71. Terry McAllister

    Just as a point of clarification on the War on Terror Budget figures. Is this figure the difference between the cost of having the military there as opposed to here; or is it simply the total cost of having the military there?

    If it is the latter, then I would be interested in the former calculation and think that is the value that should be used when discussing military costs.

  72. Ferris Valyn

    SLC – you didn’t answer my comment – I’d like to hear your response on that.

  73. Gary Ansorge

    75. SLC

    1) The Chinese in those by gone days were putting “boots on the ground”, then they turned around and went home.I expect they may have left a few “boots” behind to report back home but, like our robotic reporters, they eventually broke down. Real explorers take their women with them and then, after finding somewhere they enjoy, start in making babies, to become the next generation of explorers.
    2) Steven and Bob both have short term economic rationales working for them but long term for the species requires our continued expansion and a planet is a lousy place for a techno civilization(it’s also so damn SMALL)

    3) Construction of solar power satellites will require long term and numerous humans in place to oversee the tele-operated robots that do the actual building. Solar power sats are the number one economic rationale for expansion into space.Build infrastructure for that and everything else(from metals to every other resource we need) becomes easy to access(hey, from earth outward, it’s all downhill).

    I like planets,,,as nurseries,,,they’re really not much good for anything else,,,(dad gummed deep gravity wells).

    Gary 7

  74. Das Boese

    You have ignored the white elephant in this budget:
    The biggest waste of money is the political travesty called Space Launch System – a gigantic rocket to nowhere, without a mission or a payload, but plenty of pork jobs attached. Like its similar predecessor from the Constellation program, , it’ll continue sucking up money until it’s cancelled which is pretty much inevitable.

    Only slightly less worse is the MPCV, a redesign of the Orion moon capsule which is similarly useless for its stated missions. It’s too expensive and redundant for backup ISS support, but also not really great for any kind of deep space exploration except a trip to the moon and back (its original purpose under the Constellation program). It’ll probably get a demo flight on a Delta before the project is cancelled and it gets put in a museum.

    These two alone would pay for all the ambitious planetary science missions you can imagine many times over, as well as full funding for commercial crew and JWST.

  75. JB80

    Not that I expect any sympathy but the cuts made over the last 12 months are disasterous for the likes of the ESA as well. Jobs will be lost, opportunities will be lost and possibly even inter agency co-operation may be wound up or at the least co-operation with NASA.
    I’m fed up of having the plug pulled on projects because of one governments poor decisions.
    I hope someone has the spuds to cut European ties with NASA on future projects as it’s clear they are not reliable business partners or world leaders anymore.

  76. James Jones

    As a 27 year Federal employee and a lifelong resident of DC, I can tell you with some authority that Dave (#11 &#40) speaks the truth. Any government entity that consistently under-estimates its budget deserves what it gets from OMB, and Phil’s defense (#19- If there were more money, I think the attitude of trying to underplay budgets in proposals would go away, and we’d see real estimates.) is laughingly ridiculous. Phil is an professional astronomer, so of course he believes that NASA should be fully funded. What he and everyone else in this message board appear to forget is that every other government program has an equal number of interested professionals lobbying for full funding of their special interest. Like it or not, space exploration is a luxury and is not synonymous with science education. We elect representatives who vote on budgets. If you don’t like what’s in president’s budget (which, by the way, will not even come up for a vote), don’t lobby him: instead, lobby the constituents of those senators and representatives who oppose your special project. Doing anything else, as Dave succinctly states, is barking up the wrong tree.

  77. SLC

    Re Ferris Valyn @ #37 & #78

    1. Mr. Valyn, IMHO, moved the goal posts in his response to my statement relative to the Energy Department. I consider education to be more then just children and responded accordingly. There is no particular reason for the Energy Department to fund primary and secondary education as as it is not part of their mission; students in primary and secondary schools don’t do research. As I stated, and as Mr. Valyn agreed, the Energy Department does indirectly fund education at the college and graduate level.

    2. I am afraid that Mr. Valyn and I will have to agree to disagree, hopefully not disagreeably, as to what NASA’s mission should be. IMHO, and that of Steven Weinberg and Bob Park, it should be doing science. Military applications should be funded out of the defense budget.

    Re Gary Ansorge @ #79

    1. Oh horsefeathers, where does Mr. Ansorge expect that humans will go to colonize: the Moon, Mars, Europa, Venus? None of those places are in any way, shape, form, or regard hospitable to human habitation. If Mr. Ansorge is talking about interstellar travel, he is living in a dream world. The closest star is 4.5 light years away. The notion that humans from this solar system are going to travel to any planets that may exist in the Alpha Centauri system is science fiction out of Star Wars and Star Trek. Just consider the vast distances and the amount of energy that would have to be expended to accelerate a rocket ship to a speed close enough to the speed of light to take advantage of time dilation.

    2. Solar power satellites. I assume that Mr. Ansorge is talking about solar collectors in space that will somehow beam the collected energy down to the earth. Before even considering such an off the wall idea, I suggest that Mr. Ansorge do some back of the envelop computations to estimate the cost per kilowat-hour of the electricity generated by such a system. Thus far, solar electricity generated on the ground isn’t economically competitive with the alternatives, even after some 40 years of development. I would suggest that the likelihood of controlled fusion is greater then the likelihood of such a space based system ever “getting off the ground.” And I don’t hold out much hope for controlled fusion anytime in the next 100 years, unless there is an unanticipated technical breakthrough (and I don’t mean cold fusion).

  78. Ferris Valyn

    SLC –
    1. I never moved the goal posts – as I said, I said children for a reason. You just didn’t read my statement carefully enough. My point, in all of this, is that I agree that its not a fundamental part of the mission of the Department of Energy to fund education, and that is similar to understand the point about NASA – its primary purpose isn’t science, its space, and the primary purpose of humans in space isn’t science – its commerce, development and settlement.

    2. Which brings me back to the point – I am not suggesting that the only other justification is defense. In point of fact, that gets thrown around without care, and it drives me crazy.

    The primary purpose of human spaceflight is commerce, development, and yes, settlement.

    And yes, actually, Moon, Mars, and free space are all hospitable to human habitation. You just can’t do it with stone age tech (of course, we don’t live in a stone age society).

    And you can see this happening with things like SpaceX’s Dragon, Space Adventures trip to the moon, NanoRack & Astrogenetix stuff on ISS, and Bigelow’s space stations.

  79. Nigel Depledge

    SLC (67) said:

    Mr. Depledge reasons as many in the US, Britain, and France did in the 1930s with the claim that Frankenberger could be reasoned with. British Prime Minister Chamberlain tried that at Munich. How did that work out?

    Invalid analogy.

    First, Chamberlain wasn’t negotiating a settlement. Even he called his policy Appeasement.

    Second, terroism is a different beast from outright war. Terrorism is typically the action of a minority who, while their aims may garner sympathy among the relevant population, their methods do not. Typically, not exclusively.

    The regime in 1930s Germany was not a terrorist organisation. Oh, and I should remind you of Godwin’s law.

    Having said that, the Nazis would never have gained so much support had not the reparations demanded of Germany at the end of WWI been so crippling.

    Have you ever heard of hyperinflation?

    Germany in the 1930s was not a happy place to shop. You could take a wheelbarrowload of money out of the bank in the morning, and by the evening it would have substantially less spending power. And the Americans thought they had it tough!

    I used to collect stamps, and I have a German postage stamp from that time with a face value of 20,000,000,000 Marks. That’s 20 billion Deutschmarks to post a letter.

    What Mr. Depledge is proposing is that the US should have negotiated with Saddam Hussein, the Taliban, and the Ayatollahs in Iran. Presumable, he would recommend the same for Bashar Assad. Not a very productive undertaking.

    Who do you think put Saddam in power in the first place?

    The USA.

    Why do you think GWB and the UK’s then-prime-minister Tony Blair were so convinced that Saddam had WMDs? Because we sold them to him.

    The Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979 was partly caused by the USA’s unwavering support for the regime of the Shah. Had the international comunity sanctioned the Shah for his human rights violations instead of supporting him against the Communist Bloc, then maybe we would have a bit less Islamic extremism in the world. Of course, we’ll never know, but it is a point to consider.

    Similarly, NATO members supported the Taliban when they were fighting the Soviets back in the ’80s.

    People don’t simply blow stuff up for no good reason (except in Hollywood). Never forget that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. If you make no effort to understand the roots of the dissatisfaction that has led to the formation of terrorist groups, you will never cut off the supply of new recruits to those groups.

    Ultimately, the best weapon against terrorism is not a missile or a gun – it is eliminating the inequalities and dissatisfactions that make people feel that extremism is their only option to effect change.

  80. Nigel Depledge

    SLC (75) said:

    I am well aware of spinoffs. The question is, are there any spinoffs from manned space flight that would not accrue from robotic missions? I would argue that the advances in robotic applications that have spunoff from NASA activities are far more important than anything coming out of the manned space program.

    How about microchip technology?

    Without Apollo, the production of microchips would be at least a decade behind where it is today. In order to meet Kennedy’s deadline, NASA worked out that the only way they could reliably navigate manned vehicles to the moon and back was using microcomputers. To make these computers, they needed a source of microchips. So, in a move that we would consider inconceivable today, they ordered a million microchips in order to give the manufacturer the stability to invest in the manufacture technology that was required.

    No robotic mission would have had the funding to do this.

  81. SLC

    Re Nigel Depledge @ #87 & #88

    1. The inflation that Mr. Depledge discusses took place in the 1920s. By the time Frankenberger assumed power, it had passed. And I also collected stamps as a teenager a million years ago and had pages of German postage stamps overprinted with millionen and milliardin. The problem in 1932 was unemployment and alleged Communist activities. And by the way, Chamberlain sure thought he was negotiating a settlement (peace in our time).

    2. Mr. Depledge’s claim that the US put Saddam Hussein in power is total rubbish. Hussein was just the last of a line of dictators who succeeded King Faisal and Nuri a Said who were British puppets and who were overthrown in 1957.

    3. Mr. Depledge repeats the left’s criticism of the Shah. I would be the first to admit that the Shah was not a nice man. On the other hand, his replacements are much worse (don’t believe it, just ask Iranian women ). In the Arab world, democrats are few and far between. There are no good guys, only bad and worse guys (the Shah and Mubarak were angels compared to Saddam Hussein and Hafaz Assad; Hama Rules anyone. It appears that Assad fils is a chip off the old block.). And yeah, to anticipate Mr. Depledge’s response, I am well aware that Iranians are not Arabs but Persians.

    4. The Apollo program in the 1960s made sense because robotics technology was in its infancy. Given the advances in robotics that have taken place since, a manned space program makes no sense today.

    Re Ferris Valyn @ #85

    Mr. Valyn, like Mr. Depledge, has been watching too many Star Trek reruns. The notion that humans are going to colonize the moon or Mars is piffle, not to mention planets in other solar systems.

    As I stated in comment #84, Mr. Valyn and I are not going to agree as to what the mission of NASA should be so I see nothing to be gained by continuing the discussion in which we talk past each other.

  82. Ferris Valyn

    SLC

    Read the High Frontier, and then open your mind to the possibility of NewSpace. Besides, its not just me that said this.

    It would be the Review of Human Spacefligth Committee Plans IE the group commissioned by Obama to come up with a plan for what we should do in space. To quote Dr. Chris Chyba “If we aren’t going there to settle, then why are we going?”

    If you truly won’t engage, well, you won’t engage. But at least have the decency to not insult those trying to engage, by saying they’ve watched too many Star Trek reruns. Personal attacks really don’t suite polite discussions

  83. db26

    No offense, but while our technology of escaping Earths atmosphere still relies on conventional fuel methods, we have no business in space.

  84. Nigel Depledge

    SLC (89) said:

    2. Mr. Depledge’s claim that the US put Saddam Hussein in power is total rubbish. Hussein was just the last of a line of dictators who succeeded King Faisal and Nuri a Said who were British puppets and who were overthrown in 1957.

    OK, maybe I got some of the fine detail wrong – back in the 1960s and ’70s, the UK and US were pretty close allies. Saddam was certainly supported by western nations in the Iran-Iraq war.

    My failure to remember every last detail does not impinge on the central point, that western nations such as the US and the UK have been interfering with the internal affairs of all of those middle-eastern countries for a substantial period of time.

  85. Nigel Depledge

    SLC (89) said:

    1. The inflation that Mr. Depledge discusses took place in the 1920s. By the time Frankenberger assumed power, it had passed.

    Irrelevant to the point at hand. The resentment it fomented remained.

    And I also collected stamps as a teenager a million years ago and had pages of German postage stamps overprinted with millionen and milliardin. The problem in 1932 was unemployment and alleged Communist activities.

    And the unemployment came about how, exactly . . . ?

    And by the way, Chamberlain sure thought he was negotiating a settlement (peace in our time).

    Irrespective of what Chamberlain thought, this is still not a good parallel. Chamberlain did not have anything to offer that Germany did not already have. The only threat Chamberlain could make was empty, because Hitler never expected the UK to declare war on Germany – partly because at least the last 3 generations of the British Royal family had been German, and partly because Hitler was modelling his vision of Germany on the British Empire from the 19th century.

  86. Nigel Depledge

    SLC (89) said:

    3. Mr. Depledge repeats the left’s criticism of the Shah. I would be the first to admit that the Shah was not a nice man. On the other hand, his replacements are much worse (don’t believe it, just ask Iranian women ).

    And the reason that the environment existed for the Islamic extremists to gain power in Iran is what, again?

    In the Arab world, democrats are few and far between.

    Perhaps this is so in the present environment, but we are certainly not going to encourage democracy by force of arms. All that can do is further entrench and polarise the existing positions.

    And it does not change the fact that the US had a choice about whether or not to invade Afghanistan.

    There are no good guys, only bad and worse guys (the Shah and Mubarak were angels compared to Saddam Hussein and Hafaz Assad; Hama Rules anyone.

    This is (a) blatantly wrong, and (b) bigotry of the worst kind. Sure, the guys in power are mostly unpleasant characters, but that does not mean that democracy is impossible in an Arab or Persian state, and it does not mean that all Arabs or Persians are like those who are in power.

    If anything, it was the posturing and interfering throughout the Cold War that enabled most of those people to get into the positions of power they hold now.

  87. Nigel Depledge

    SLC (89) said:

    Mr. Valyn, like Mr. Depledge, has been watching too many Star Trek reruns. The notion that humans are going to colonize the moon or Mars is piffle, not to mention planets in other solar systems.

    You know nothing about me, so do not presume to judge.

    As it happens, irrespective of how realistic a moon base is or not, your arguments are still a pile of tosh.

  88. Nigel Depledge

    Db26 (91) said:

    No offense, but while our technology of escaping Earths atmosphere still relies on conventional fuel methods, we have no business in space.

    This is a good point, and one that has perhaps received too little attention.

    I recall an article in NewScientist from perhaps 10 years ago about new designs for rocket propulsion, but AFAICT none of the designs discussed in that article have become reality. But these were mostly incremental impriovements on what we have now.

    One possibility that I find intriguing is the idea of a spaceplane that combines SCRAMjet* and rocket technology. The idea is that the plane flies like a normal supersonic jet up to, say 20 or 30 km, and then uses rockets to get from there into orbit. Thus, rather than bulling its way through the atmosphere like a Saturn rocket, the plane uses its engines to attain horizontal velocity and its wings do the lifting. It would not need to carry anywhere near as much oxidiser as existing rockets do because it uses oxygen from the atmosphere as far up as this is possible.

    *SCRAMjet = Supersonic Combusion Ramjet.

  89. G.R.Gilmore

    Phil: Sorry but NASA can not vote, people do and the money needs to go to people who vote.

  90. For the cost of trying to answer a applicationless and possibly answerless question (is there life on mars?) you could also build something like the DC-Y and transforming NASA by giving it the ability to do ten times as much on half the budget.

    And let us all remember something Phil, that I think a lot of people forget:

    SEVENTEEN BILLION DOLLARS A YEAR IS A LOT OF MONEY!

    ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY BILLION DOLLARS A DECADE IS REALLY A LOT OF MONEY!

    NASA is not strapped for cash. NASA has plenty of money. The problem is it spends it unwisely and at the direct behest of the same same Congress and Senate that hates evlution and global warming. You would not trust these people to change a light bulb. What makes you think that not only the amount they spend, but they way they spend it is anything short of completely insane?

    Look at the cost of any of the schemes for bring down the cost of launch and getting more stuff up there. Most cost $5B-$15B, with none reaching $50B. Even if they did, that’s less than 5 years budget. (More realistically, you could fund ten $5B projects, and at least one would work!) It makes complete sense to shut down all space science for 5 years if it meant you could suddenly dow 1000x more space science in year 6 AND year 7 AND year 8 AND forever afterwards.

    Unfortunately NASA has and would have trouble doing this, even if they wanted to, because people like you Phil, and everyone just like you in either space exploration or human spaceflight, screams blue murder any time somone suggests a budget cut for any reason. And while I agree the current ecomonic problems are a rather stupid reason, everyone just like you have screamed just as loudly for the sensible ones too.

    At the end of the day the reason why people at NASA scramble for money is because they’ve refused to do anything else, to the point of blindly denying any other way is possible. They’ve made their bed, now they can lie in it. I just hope SpaceX doesn’t make the same mistake.

  91. SLC

    Re Nigel Depledge

    And the unemployment came about how, exactly . . . ?

    1. Apparently, Mr. Depledge is unaware of the fact that there was a world wide depression in the early 1930s. Unemployment in the USA was some 25% when Roosevelt assumed the presidency in 1933.

    2. I would also point out that the German General Staff was not nearly so sanguine as Frankenberger about British intentions. They had, in fact, been planning a coup against him, which died aborning when Chamberlain caved in at Munich. In fact, by throwing Czechoslovakia under the bus, Chamberlain shot himself in the foot because the Czechs had the best arms manufacturing industry in Europe, namely the Skoda Works, which he handed over to Frankenberger without a peep. A sizable percentage of the tanks that won the Battle of France in 1940 were manufactured there.

    3. The interference in Middle East affairs on the part of the US and Britain that Mr. Depledge decries was a response to the interference in the area by the Soviet Union (remember the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979). The former Soviet Union supported the dictatorships of Nasser in Egypt and Assad and his predecessors in Syria.

  92. Das Boese

    86. So Much For Space « A Dark and Sinister Force for Good Says:
    February 14th, 2012 at 8:43 pm

    […] When the current administration chose to retire the shuttle fleet

    The decision to retire the Shuttles was made under the G.W. Bush administration, based on the recommendations from the Columbia Accident Investigation Board.

    It was to be replaced by the Constellation program’s Orion and commercial providers, unfortunately the Constellation program predictably collapsed under its bad design decisions, and the commercial crew program was never properly funded.

  93. Why, Do we even ask the government? I mean, THEY don’t care what a bunch of little kids and
    a whole community of measly astronomers. I saw we take the fight to them.Challenge this in court.
    Space matters, and so does our vote.

  94. I guess that finally the question that Phil asked some time ago about where would the money for James Webb Space Telescope come from is finally answered: from two Mars missions.

    Yeah…

    But yet again, I prefer having JWST up than Mars missions. The amount of science that will come from JWST completely overshadows what we could do on Mars.

  95. Nigel Depledge

    SLC (99) said:

    1. Apparently, Mr. Depledge is unaware of the fact that there was a world wide depression in the early 1930s. Unemployment in the USA was some 25% when Roosevelt assumed the presidency in 1933.

    Hah. I, at least, am aware of the existence of the second-person voice, whereas you seem only to comment in the third.

    But, if you bother to look into it, the Depression obviously did not help, but Germany was still being expected to pay the crippling reparations from WWI. Certainly it was this circumstance that gave the Nazi party plenty of political ammunition.

    And none of your nitpicking even addresses my core point, which was that the USA has and had a choice over using force of arms in Afghanistan.

    Sure, talking doesn’t always work, but if you don’t even try it it will never work.

  96. Nigel Depledge

    SLC (99) said:

    3. The interference in Middle East affairs on the part of the US and Britain that Mr. Depledge decries was a response to the interference in the area by the Soviet Union (remember the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979). The former Soviet Union supported the dictatorships of Nasser in Egypt and Assad and his predecessors in Syria.

    Oh, dear.

    The UK had been interfering in the Middle East for far longer than the Soviet Union existed. IIUC, the USA was a relative latecomer, but what they lacked in timeliness they made up for in gumption.

    The USSR was indeed doing what you claim, and the USA’s involvement was indeed on the pretext of countering the USSR’s manouevring – but the history of western interference in the Middle East is longer and deeper than you seem to suppose.

  97. Nigel Depledge

    AntiCarrot (98) said:

    NASA is not strapped for cash. NASA has plenty of money.

    Not when you consider what NASA has been asked to do.

  98. David

    “But the thing is, we shouldn’t even have to make these choices. We shouldn’t have to choose between one ground-breaking scientific mission and another. The reason we do is because NASA’s budget is so small in the first place. It really speaks volumes about where science and explorations stand as an American value.”

    Unless you want 100% of the budget, you’re always going to have to make choices about what to fund, so it doesn’t really speak volumes about where science and exploration stand as values

  99. Nigel Depledge (105)
    What exactly do you think NASA is asked to do?

    Are they being asked to explore space to the greatest extent possible? Or are they being asked to move money around America to keep various otherwise nonviable companies on life support? Because I thought it was the first.

    If an architect is asked to build a house, and they spend ten years developing the concept of scaffolding to the point where they can actually reach the roof, this is fine an laudable. But when they spend the next 40 years fiddling about with the eves and shingles – it is reasonable to ask if it might not be more sensible to actually start on the foundations.

    Trey made one attempt to reduce spaceflight costs in the early 70s (Phase A shuttle) but very quickly abandoned them, and instead whored themselves to the USAF which lead to the Phase C shuttle. Having made a half arsed attempt to reduce flight costs, and failed, they then concluded that it was completely impossible for anyone. This is not the act of a sane group of engineers. This is the act of a spoiled brat.

    NASA gets 170 billion dollars a decade. Adjusting for inflation:
    That would pay for R&D and launch of Saturn V more than four times over.
    That would pay for the R&D and construction of all apollo spacecraft more than four times over.
    That would pay for shuttle development more than four times over.

    They have enough money. The only reason they can’t do everything they would like is that they blindly refuse to even attempt to lower launch costs, even though as I’ve shown they have more than enough money to develop systems that would allow them to do so.

    What they lack is the ability to admit this to themselves. Or to anyone else.

  100. SLC

    Re Nigel Depledge @ #104 & #103

    1. The original British interest in the Middle East of course was oil, which is the current US interest. If there were no oil, nobody would give a darn about the region and the Arab/Israeli dispute would have been solved a long time ago. As I stated previously, King Faisal and Prime Minister Nuri a Said were British puppets installed in Iraq by the British Government, as was the current ruling family in Jordan.

    2. Mr. Depledge seems to have forgotten that Osama bin Laden had made his headquarters in Afghanistan under the protection of the Taliban government where he planned the events that took place on 9/11/2001. Actually, the big mistake made by the Bush Administration was the invasion of Iraq which had nothing to do with 9/11. Had they put the same effort into Afghanistan that was put into Iraq, the war in the former would have been over a long time ago with the total defeat and annihilation of the Taliban. Instead, we were lied into the Iraq war by false accusations of complicity in 9/11 and non-existent WMDs there.

  101. prentice

    Finally! The white house is using a portion of their miniscule brain to cut waste on the science front. I hope they don”t stop with NASA. There are a lot more places we can save if we just open our eyes and ears and realize that most of these experiments that cost so much money are truly worthless. Science needs to be reversed and slowed to work on what is truly necessary, stop wasting money and resources and put under a watchful eye that will make them accountable for their wastefulness.

  102. Robert Carver

    I fully support the educational, scientific and exploratory missions of NASA. It has been an exceptional federal agency because it is so well known and has such a successful legacy. Most Americans have some clue to what NASA does while not being able to name any other federal agencies. Even with that “name recognition” NASA lost their broad support in the American public after NASA “won” the Space Race against the Soviets to the moon. There have been a vociferous minority of us who understand the value of NASA to our nation’s success. Then there has been a smaller minority who have been active in lobbying our members of Congress and other government officials on behalf of having an aggressive robotic and manned space program. Without hearing from the American voters Congress (with the exception of those who represent districts with space related business) has not had much of an incentive to fund NASA consistently, over the long-term, without playing partisan politics on one focused national space policy. The Presidents come and go and they have proposed many different ideas, plans, and dreams for the space program but other than President Kennedy Congress and the American people have focused on other priorities. Until we can get the American people fired up and excited about NASA and the many positive programs the agency can provide our nation Congress will continue to make funding a low-priority. I am surprised that NASA has been able to survive as an agency given how space policy has been treated like a political football changing every 4 to 8 years. So while I am frustrated with NASA for cost overruns on projects like the JWST, and frustrated with the President for not pushing for a bolder vision for NASA and frustrated with Congress for treating NASA like any other federal agency, I am most frustrated with the American people for failing to support paying for an aggressive space program that keeps America on the cutting edge of exploration, science & technology, education and for the inspiration of the next generation of young people to get them to pursue a STEM path in college and as a career. We have met the enemy and it turned out to be us.

  103. Why, Do we even ask the government? I mean, THEY don’t care!!!!! We CARE!!!! But they think it’s a
    waste of time like 109. prentice and 105. Nigel Depledge.
    Sure, talking to the lunatics doesn’t always work, but if you don’t even try it it will never work.

  104. Giving NASA more money would grow NASA more than the science projects that NASA controls. I believe that this is what the administration is trying to fix by cutting their budgets Hopefully NASA will figure this out and fix their problems, pull down their overhead and put more money into the projects.

  105. kim w

    Phil Plait is right. The most reasonable arguments can be made not only for not cutting NASA’s budget, but even increasing it: however, in a national economy of shrinking resources, unless the public is behind a greater role for NASA, the agency too easy of a target for politicians. The only exception would be if the military woke up to the strategic and tactical importance of the U.S. being the first nation to establish a permanent manned presence on the Moon, but apparently the military is too short-sighted for this realization. Too bad, as politicians either agonize over or are downright hostile to cuts in the military budget.

    So the public has to get behind NASA more than it has thus far in this century. Mr. Plait, you said you were in charge of developing some educational materials for NASA. What would you do to draw in not just the school children, but also the voting adults? Or has our nation devolved to such extreme ignorance regarding science that there is no hope? Remember, this is the so-called civilized nation in which a surprisingly large percentage of citizens do not find evolution or current climate change to be viable theories. How do we turn this around?

    My father was only a high school graduate who worked as a Safeway store manager. But he was fascinated by science, read chemistry and physics textbooks in his spare time and had his “mad scientist’s shed” in which he performed experiments. As early as I can remember he taught us to look through the telescope and wonder at the stars and planets. How can we infuse that sort of enthusiam for science in the lay public?

    What is wrong with the American people? We now have some decent science and space non-fiction shows on tv. We’ve had the incredible exeperience of the Mars rovers. We have probes bringing comet dust back to earth. The Kepler telescope has shown the commonality of planets beyond our solar system. From what I’ve read about astrobiology, within my lifetime (solidly middle-aged now) we may be able to read the chemical signature of life on a planet orbiting another star. Astounding!

    Do we have to discuss the ultimate reason for exploring space, both man and unmanned? Like it or not, our biosphere is proving to be fragile. Do we want all of humanity’s eggs in one basket? Yes, establishing a colony on the Moon or Mars would be incredibly expensive now and not see any sort of payback for long decades. But, in the long run, aren’t we somewhat obligated to try to make self-sustaining footholds on other worlds, as we seem to be rushing head-long into making Earth tough for the continuance homo sapiens and many other species?

    I’m not a scientist. But I am a working, tax-paying American who is excited by the findings of Kepler and the space probes sent to other worlds in our solar system. How do we inculcate this desire to continue to learn more about space in the average American, such as myself? Better science education, somehow. With learning comes the curiousity. I was lucky that I had my father to encourage me to read about science, to look through his telescope. Telescopes in all public schools with mandatory monthly rooftop viewings? Better pay for public school science teachers so the best are attracting to communicating the findings of science to all?

    I don’t know, Phil Plait. I hope you have some ideas. And we have to win over the adults, not just the kids in the classrooms.

  106. WOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!I”M A KID!!!!!!!!!!!GO SCIENCE

  107. Wendelin

    NASA’s mega budget is a dinosaur , a relic still walking. No amount of propaganda concerning water and dubious fossils in dubious Martian rocks will fire up an exhausted populus , tired of debt and taxes. The people are tired of federal extravaganzas which end with a trillion dollars down a rat hole and a host of new nonpeer reviewed claims of life ,water and all the nonsense. A new fully equipped 250 bed hospital is 550 million . Our last Mars mission was 1.5 billion . The view from the cheap seats in the cities in USA is get NASA to build hospitals , something that we need . Mars will keep. Reduce NASA to pre 1960 numbers.

  108. Andrew Jennings

    It is absolutely disgusting how little finding NASA gets! I cannot think of any type of organization more important to the future of our species than those dedicated to exploring outer space. Humanity’s future existence depends on our ability to expand beyond the Earth, and anyone who disagrees is blind! NASA and the other space agencies should get carte blanche access to as much funding as they need, but instead the US government wastes hundreds of billions of dollars on their damn military! People who still think that the United States is the best country in the world are just plain idiots.

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