Shining shoes for NASA

By Phil Plait | June 8, 2012 7:00 am

FACT: NASA’s total budget is less than 1% of the Federal spending. Way less than 1%.

FACT: The proposed fiscal year 2013 budget out of the White House has huge cuts to NASA. Planetary sciences alone has $300 million slashed from it.

FACT: If this cut stays in the budget, NASA will have to pull back from some big and exciting planetary missions. It’s already made NASA back out of an agreement with the European Space Agency on two ambitious Mars probes.

FACT: This sucks. A lot. America leads the way in scientific planetary missions, and this cut will hurt that, significantly.

It’s unclear if Congress will reinstate that money. So what can we do?

My friend Alan Stern — head of the new Horizons Pluto probe already on its way to the tiny world — decided to try something radical: raise public awareness about all this by holding various "fund raisers" across the nation — bake sales and car washes! Yes, you read that right: planetary scientists will be washing cars and giving away cookies to help save NASA. It’s not really about raising money, it’s about getting peoples’ attention on this. Folks will get a chance to talk to scientists and find out what NASA does, and why it’s important.

This event will be held at various locations around the US on Saturday, June 9th — tomorrow! You can get some of the basic info on the SwRI Planetary Bake Sale page. There’s also a Facebook page, and the good people at SETI have a page on it as well, and they have links to more info on the budget cuts. Search Google for local info.

Here in Boulder, Colorado, we’re doing our part too. It turns out local laws make car washing and bake sales a problem, so Alan decided to shine shoes. Again, yes, you read that right. He and other scientists will be at the First United Methodist Church of Boulder at 1421 Spruce Street, right off the Pearl Street Mall, from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. shining shoes and raising awareness.

I’ll be there too. These cuts came as a huge shock, especially since the White House seems to have been supporting planetary science up until this new budget was released. I’m pretty ticked. With this new budget, we’re dumping any future Cassini-type mission… and think about what Cassini has done for us just in terms of bringing beauty and awe into our lives. Or just click here and peruse the dozens upon dozens of posts I’ve written about just Cassini itself.

I know we’re facing tough economic times. but not investing in space exploration is equivalent to eating next years seeds. Sure, it saves a little money now, but the cost down the road is far, far too high. We must explore. Just as we must get our government to understand that.

I hope you’ll visit one of the many places where the bake sales are set up. And if you’re local to Boulder, come see us! Get your shoes shined, and your future back in your own hands.

Image credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute


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

Comments (56)

  1. Kaviani

    Call me a cynical capitalist, but I’ve never believed NASA would make more than a cursory imprint on space exploration, much less travel. The cold war was the impetus to get us to the moon, and history has demonstrated how important follow ups were after that landmark was reached (re: NOT AT ALL).

    I’m sad but also optimistic – this will effectively open the gates to private missions to take real chances and get moving beyond the wanky deliberation/budget talks stage. If you’ve ever worked in a massive bureaucracy, you will understand just how good a thing this is beyond the surface.

  2. Chris

    Before you know it, NASA will be starting a reality show to get people on Mars.

  3. Dan_Veteran

    I agree it sucks the NASA budget may be cut. We need to explore and educate, but with a $15 trillion deficiet everyone needs to tighten their belts. This includes Defense, Social Security, Medicare, Welfare, etc. We have to get this spending spree under control; everyone needs to share the pain. The interest on our deficiet exceeds the NASA budget. Imagine what our children and grandchildren could do with that money if we balance the budget and pay down the debt. Pain now equals play later.

  4. Tim

    Governments everywhere are taking easy options on budget cuts, and I can understand and to some extent agree with that. However, NASA is special. Really special. How spending on it isn’t ring-fenced is beyond me.

    I like to think that most Americans are very aware of how envious we in other countries are of NASA. It seems everyday NASA has an impact on our understanding of science. Give NASA 1% of the budget and get that repaid a thousand times over.

    So many would agree that they are responsible for some of humanity’s most enduring and astonishing achievements.

  5. Chris

    @2 Dan_Veteran
    everyone needs to share the pain.
    Except those who are very rich, we must make sure to cut their taxes. It’s the only sensible way to balance the budget.

    Unfortunately the way Congress is trimming the budget is like the doctor focusing on the paper cut and ignoring the bullet hole.

  6. Gary

    There would be plenty of money available if the economy was not crippled by an establishment that would rather control the populace than create an environment for productivity. Fact: wealthy people have the resources to do wonderful and beautiful things; poor people can only think about survival. You want more space research? Get rid of the thinking that drains it’s lifeblood.

  7. Wow! This a radical and fantastic initiative. I wish you all the best results for this effort. Sadly I am not in the U.S. for lending a hand… but will be tweeting and posting about it!

    Ad Astra per baking, washing and shoe-shining America!

    Good luck!

  8. Nigel Depledge

    Sock it to ‘em, Phil.

    Or should that be “shoe it to ‘em”? Somehow this latter option sounds wrong.

  9. TheBlackCat

    Except that NASA is looking at about a 4% drop from their 2011 budget, while Defense, for example is looking at, at most a 0.5% drop, and if congress gets their way we won’t even have that.

  10. Naked Bunny with a Whip

    @Dan_Veteran: Governments have been slashing spending all over the place. Where has it helped?

  11. Dan_Veteran

    @Bunny: Look at Wisconsin. The budget has been cut and the state now has extra money. Pain is being felt there but 200,000 new jobs have been created.

  12. Kieron

    But why space, why does NASA deserve the money? Aeronautics and Space science don’t seem like the kind of science that deserve money most? Why should the government get to choose which science to throw masses of money at?

  13. What can we do? Replace Congress. Fire all the members who have committed themselves for the past three and a half years to hurting the economy as much as possible and increasing the misery of the American people to achieve their political goals. THAT’s what we can do.

  14. Chris

    @9 Dan_Veteran
    Someone has been drinking the Kool-Aid. There is nowhere near 200,000 new jobs created in Wisconsin since Walker took office. Try 5900
    http://www.politifact.com/wisconsin/promises/walk-o-meter/promise/526/create-250000-new-jobs/

  15. Chris

    When I was in college, we had a bake sale for the SPS (Society of Physics Students). Our tagline was that the “Cookies are make with 100% elementary particles.” Nonscientists didn’t get it.

  16. Fact: The annual US budget for military bands (as in those who play musical instruments) is roughly $320 million. More than what the planetary division’s budget is being slashed. This country’s priorities are … well, let’s just say “expletived up.”

  17. Mike

    To queue in on a point Phil made in a comment on a previous post about making the federal government more efficient, it absolutely must (and can) be done. Reference this piece 60 Minutes did on Medicare Fraud: Medicare Fraud: A $60 Billion Crime – http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-18560_162-5414390.html

    An estimated $60 billion per year in Medicare *fraud* – That’s more than 3x NASA’s annual budget!

  18. K

    NASA needs PR in the worst way.
    Think about it. When you think of a Florida vacation, do you think KSC? No, you think Disney and Seaworld and Universal.
    If you go to KSC does it feel like you’re learned about the space program? That you know what the next missions will be? That you have a clue what’s going on up there? Nope. It’s still got that government need-to-know monkey on their back. You get to see what NASA used to do 20 years ago. And…that’s pretty much it. Do they trot out all the inventions that the space program brought to Joe Everyman? Nope.
    Do you know what experiments are going on? What cutting edge technology they’re working on right now? Nope.
    You want the common voting moron to know the benefits of space, you gotta beat them over the head with it. Tell them to do that at their car washes and bake sales.
    And if there’s anything I can do to help, let me know.

  19. Dave B

    NASA – KICKSTARTER!!!

    Maybe create your own Kickstarter like website…NASAStarter?? Anyway, put your projects online with budge goals. As projects get funded, they get removed from the online projects list (having been “funded”) and new ones appear. Kinda goofy, but it’s an idea! At least for smaller projects?

  20. NationalDebt

    Dan_Veteran, it helps if you understand what you are talking about rather than repeating talking points spoon fed to you. The deficit is not 15 trillion dollars, not even close. That’s the debt, which is the accumulated deficit. This is the problem with our national conversation. People are so eager to stick it to the “other side” that they don’t even know the meaning of the words coming out of their mouths, or how to spell them.

  21. There’s also the small point that what the US economy needs right now is more government spending, not less. NASA would be an excellent place for that.

    Bad Astronomy is one of my favourite blogs, but if you only have time to read one blog, it should be Paul Krugman’s. Until you have mass economic literacy, you will have a crippled science program.

    endof.

  22. Dan_Veteran

    @Chris: I stand corrected. Was quoting numbers I heard on CNN this week. I should learn to stop quoting TV news sources before seeking verification.

  23. There’s a one-two punch here:

    First, the government is going to cut NASA, and other science, funding. I think it’s going to happen no matter what.

    Second, American scientists are prevented from collaborating with the up-and-coming Chinese space program.

    We could at least use the Chinese as a lifeline to keep research going, even if it wasn’t “ours” anymore. It’s almost spiteful, the restrictions that are in place.

    Speaking of lifelines, how is the impending collapse of the EU going to affect the ESA?

  24. Reb

    NASA should start a Kickstarter. I know I’d be willing to contribute to that.

  25. Grant

    It seems like a lot of people that say “Why do we need to spend money on NASA, we have other problems at home that need the money” either forget or don’t know about how much technology comes out of NASA that goes to and advances other industries. Here’s a small sample:

    http://www.popsci.com/technology/gallery/2012-03/space-science-earth-science

    Investing in NASA IS investing in home.

  26. Paul

    So, if a part of the budget amounts to less than 1% of the total, it gets a free ride and doesn’t have to be justified?

    I propose we divide up the US federal budget into hundreds of slices, each less than 1%. That way we won’t have to cut the budget ever!

  27. Greg for President

    Sorry, I don’t agree so much. These are particularly bad economic times and everyone and everything is going to feel that. Yes, NASA and space sciences are doing cutting edge work and making exciting discoveries, but the fact is there is not enough money to spend on it all. The Sun, Mars, hopefully the Moon will still be there in 100 years. What if no one gets there until then? We need to get our budgets…and revenue back in order or there may not even be enough room for a space budget.

  28. Chris

    @21 Paul
    That’s not what we are saying. Let’s look at your own budget. You have house payments, car payments, cable, food, clothes. Now suddenly you lose our job and have to cut back. You try to get a better deal on the house and car since nobody wants to buy them and you don’t want them repossessed. Food you need to survive, maybe you can make your own, less eating out and save some money there. But cable and clothes you don’t need. (I don’t need clothes? Trust me, you have enough in the closet to probably last you a few years) But you decide you can’t live without cable so instead of saving hundreds per month there, you are pinching pennies by cutting napkins in half.

    The military has way more than it needs and could easily cut back without any risk to our security. Right now the US has eleven aircraft carriers and we’re building another two. The rest of the world has 10 and more than half of those are US allies. The aircraft carrier costs ~$10 billion. Do we need it? No. So the choice, learning more about our place in the universe or build a really big boat?

  29. Brett

    It’s a tricky position for the unmanned programs. They’re usually small enough that they can avoid the usual suspects blathering on about how there are other budget priorities that demand the few billion we spend on space programs, but that also means that they have relatively little lobbying “heft” in Congress if they do draw the attention of budget-cutters.

    It’s a damn shame it has to happen now, when we’re so close to making some cool discoveries.

  30. Ross

    I agree with K #18. I live less than a mile from NASA Ames @ Moffett Field in Mountain View, CA, in the heart of Silicon Valley. There is tiny public exhibit hall at the entrance, where Space Camp used to be. The exhibits are embarrassingly bad. Most are static, the ones that are dynamic are usually broken or turned off. Nothing about any current missions or other current projects. A friend runs the student robotics lab there. I asked her why the exhibit hall is so sparse; she said none of the departments want to spend any of their budget on “community outreach.” NASA needs a serious lesson in marketing. And it’s not that there is no interest. Whenever Ames does have a (rare) public event, turnout is always HUGE, even with zero publicity.

    What was that line from The Right Stuff? “You have to have the bucks to do Buck Rogers.”

  31. Brian Too

    I’m torn. While I feel that NASA needs to share the pain of the national budget imbalances, I feel that exposes them to certain dangers.

    In particular, just suppose that the US gets it’s spending under control. That will be done, count on it, with numerous cases of strategic spending having been neglected (NASA being a prime example). Well, there are endless people of a particular mindset that will say “well, we didn’t need to spend on it during the crisis, so we must not need it at all.”

    So strategically important programs will likely have an uphill battle getting their spending levels restored, even just to pre-crisis levels. Now just imagine that they do so anyway. there are endless people of a particular mindset that will say “look at that! We finally got wasteful spending under control, and those bureaucrats just went back and reinstituted their waste!”

    I really believe this is the strategic problem NASA has. They can withstand a couple of years of sub-par funding. Most long-term programs and departments can. However they will be faced with the problem of restoring their budgets after the crisis has passed.

  32. Alan Stern

    Hi Folks-

    The issue isn’t that NASA’s budget was cut, the NASA budget was not cut.

    But the budget line within the total NASA budget for planetary exploration missions was cut almost 25%, decimating the future program. No other part of NASA science was significantly cut. Planetary exploration–one of NASA’s crown jewels–is being singled out and crippled. That’s the problem we want addressed.

    -Alan Stern
    National Planetary Exploration Car Wash & Bake Sale, national coordinator

  33. Grand Lunar

    The problem with NASA mainly is that it seems to have been set up for failure, in these regards.

    The current program of record, like Constellation before it, seeks to creat expensive, single purpose rocket to accomplish our goals.
    And Congress practically forced NASA’s hands toward making it.

    It’s like being asked to live on a reduced budget, but forced to still make your daily commute with an F-350 turbodiesel.

    If NASA could’ve gone with human-rating the EELVs from the start, I imagine the budget woes wouldn’t be so great.

  34. Mike Perlmutter

    MSL overrun of $1 billion? Webb overruns several times that? Stern was publicly against these things. Now he wants more money. Isn’t it time for space science to feel a little of the budgetary pain after wasting all of this money?

  35. Jay

    I think one of the things people need to realize is the WHY behind. Yes, to explore, yes to learn but in practical terms we need to show what we get from Astronomy. Astronomy Magazine in their May issue had a good piece on that. How about GPS? How about Wireless Internet (from the study of evaporating black holes), cancer treatments, laser eye surgeries and contact fittings from James Webb Space Telescope just to name a few. Science breeds new discoveries and new learning, both in the original application and in many break off technologies that develop.

  36. kat wagner

    Well, why can’t we end the Bush tax cuts, for cripe’s sake? All this talk about government being too big is so much hooey. I’m an Army brat from way back, and everywhere we went, it was so cool to be an American. Everybody loved us! So why are Republicans throwing this country under the bus? I get so pissed off I can hardly be articulate…

  37. Michael

    The fundamental problem is that there is NO money left. Do we need another aircraft carrier (Chris #22)? Probably not, and it’s reasonable to question it. But from a spending vs. benefit, it’s arguably a better return on investment than NASA gives. Besides, Mars-One.com (love those Dutch!) is already planning to make the reality TV show Mars mission (Chris #2), slated to launch in 2015 or so.

    The old saw that Kat (#29) advances is tired. It’s been demonstrated that we could bring home all the troops (to work where?), confiscate 100% of the profits of Walmart and Exxon, and then execute the top 50 billionaires in the US as class criminals after confiscating all of their wealth and STILL not close the current budget gap. Healthcare spending is going up at ~9% year over year because we give too much healthcare. But the mathematics is such that in two decades, the entire federal budget will go to healthcare costs, meaning we’ll have to borrow more to pay the interest on what we already borrowed.

    The thing is that “austerity” as practiced (Spain, Greece, California) is still done with borrowed money. So you still dig the holes, you just do them slower. But you’ll never borrow enough to get out of debt.

    Had we embraced the pain in 2009, and accepted the short term pain, we’d probably be in a better place (pace, Schumpeter). The places that did it (Wisconsin, Estonia, Iceland) are a lot better off vis a vis those that didn’t. Maybe it is only 5900 jobs (Chris #15) but that’s still immeasurably more than most of the Federal job creation in the same period, and those were done at a cost of millions.

    Frankly, we’re victims of our own progress (pace, Joseph Tainter). Robots are already doing the vacuuming and mail sorting and assembly line work, so there’s not a place outside of make-work for those folks. Scientists have produced lower quality output (albeit in higher quantity: publish or perish) in the last few years. Even things as “revolutionary” as the iPad (Jay #28) are little more than tweaks of preexisting cellphone and laptop technologies.

    Yes, discussions on tax policy and spending need to be had. But they won’t be. Kat (#29) was almost right: it’s not the Republicans, it’s BOTH parties, and it’s been the case since at least the Lyndon Johnson years. Maybe it’s time to embrace the horror and start telling people to take up gardening.

  38. Peter B

    Gary @ #6 said: “There would be plenty of money available if the economy was not crippled by an establishment that would rather control the populace than create an environment for productivity. Fact: wealthy people have the resources to do wonderful and beautiful things; poor people can only think about survival.”

    I’d have to dispute that. If you want the economy to get going again, you want people spending money. Money given to poorer people gets spent buying food, which puts it into circulation as the shop owners have to buy more food from suppliers, and the whole process means more people get employed. Money given to richer people gets put in the bank.

    Okay, it’s a bit more complicated than that, but I understand research suggests that financial assistance given to poorer people stimulates the economy a lot more than the same amount of money given to richer people.

  39. Johnny Ray

    We need NASA to continue to perform critical planetary research.

    Press release June 09 on global warming:

    “Turns out that increased amounts of CO2 could actually help the planet stave off the effects of global warming.

    That is the consensus of a team of NASA scientists, according to a newly published report, which finds that a growing body of microscopic plants may eventually provide the Arctic ice with additional time.

    NASA researchers say microscopic plants could serve as a solution to increasingly high rates of CO2, one of the key contributors to global warming. The team of scientists suggest that the large quantities of phytoplankton, recently discovered growing under sea ice, could pull in large amounts of the greenhouse gas, possibly curtailing any potential consequences of global warming.”

    Read more: http://www.capitolcolumn.com/news/nasa-hints-that-thinning-sea-ice-may-slow-impact-of-global-warming/#ixzz1xIaI4FXL

  40. And where does the NASA money go? It’s not like they pocket it. They spend it. You know what that means? It means it’s money in circulation, purchasing materials, hiring subcontractors, R&D, maintenance… All jobs.

  41. decius

    I’m highly sceptical about the impact and transformative nature of projects such as this. However, a bunch of scientists shining shoes in church will provide the most powerful illustration of Accommodationism to-date, and turn metaphor into reality.

    I hope that you will post the pictures, so that I can file them under ROTFL/Self-Unawareness.

    Good luck, though.

  42. gdave

    @22 Chris:

    Aircraft carriers don’t fight other aircraft carriers. They fight countries. There hasn’t been an engagement between aircraft carriers since WWII. However, they have been used in virtually every armed conflict the U.S. has been in since then. If you want to protect shipping lanes from the Persian Gulf to the China Sea while maintaining a credible deterrent against countries from Iran to North Korea while conducting humanitarian interventions (or at least maintaining a credible capability for such) on all six inhabited continents, a sizable fleet of aircraft carriers comes in handy.

    Of course, you may well not want to do all (or any) of the above. But that’s a different argument. Saying the U.S. military can afford to cut back on X because it has so much more of X than any other country in the world ignores the fact that the U.S. military undertakes missions no other military in the world does. Again, it may be that the U.S. military shouldn’t, and that the U.S. should retrench on its global military commitments and activities, but that’s another issue.

    On the general topic of the military budget, which always seems to come up when spending on any other program is threatened, the U.S. military budget is, by any measure, enormous. It is also declining. The Pentagon’s official request for FY 2013 is $6 billion less than the FY 2012 budget (granted, only about a 1% cut). The Pentagon’s current budget plans envision cuts of $487 billion over the next decade. At an average of $48.7 billion a year, that’s over a 9% cut from the current FY budget of $531 billion. And that’s assuming the budget sequestration is over-ridden – if not, that would add another $600 billion in cuts over the next 10 years. And that’s all in absolute dollar terms; the inflation-adjusted dollar cuts will be even steeper.

    Now, of course, you may well believe that the U.S. defense budget can afford even deeper cuts, that even after projected cuts the level of spending on the military is obscene compared to the level of spending on science, and so on. But it’s not like NASA is the only agency looking at budget cuts, and it’s not the case that defense is being completely shielded from significant budget cuts.

  43. Michael

    Karl Denninger said it best today:
    “The only solution that can be found to too much debt is to stop borrowing more money.

    This means that those who lent out said money without any reasonable expectation of repayment (which is why they’re in trouble in the first place) go out of business… Those who claimed cash flows that don’t exist lose their investment. Those who borrowed lose their collateral (such as it is) and are bankrupted too.

    This is good, not bad. It enforces market discipline. It shrinks the credit supply to be more in line with GDP. It causes contraction in prices, which makes everything more affordable. And it allocates losses where they should be allocated — to people who did stupid things.”

  44. Dragonchild

    Gah, these debates again. Honestly, America’s decline is so textbook it’s almost boring.

  45. TheBlackCat

    @ gdave: “Of course, you may well not want to do all (or any) of the above. But that’s a different argument. Saying the U.S. military can afford to cut back on X because it has so much more of X than any other country in the world ignores the fact that the U.S. military undertakes missions no other military in the world does.”

    So does NASA. Or at least they did.

    “Again, it may be that the U.S. military shouldn’t, and that the U.S. should retrench on its global military commitments and activities, but that’s another issue.”

    Except NASA is being forced to do this, having to quit programs they have already agreed to, while it is more or less business as usual with the military.

    “On the general topic of the military budget, which always seems to come up when spending on any other program is threatened, the U.S. military budget is, by any measure, enormous”

    If I recall correctly, it is larger than every other country in the world combined

    “The Pentagon’s official request for FY 2013 is $6 billion less than the FY 2012 budget (granted, only about a 1% cut). ”

    Except congress gave them 4 or 5 billion over what they asked for (they haven’t decided which), so I think the pentagon has drastically overestimated how much they can save.

  46. t-storm

    How about we buy two less F-35’s? There’s your 300 million right there. I’m really surprised at some of the comments on here today.

  47. DLC

    On the one hand, no Obama submitted budget has been passed — we’ve been operating on continuing resolutions . Second, no Obama budget will ever be passed, as McConnell has decreed that Obama gets nothing. Nada. no matter what he asks for, even if it were Paul Ryan’s doomsday budget.
    But on the other hand, as the Congress has decided to do the opposite of whatever Obama asks for, perhaps they will decide to double the planetary programs budget instead.

    Finally — of course there’s a budget crunch. There would have to be, seeing as George W put his huge tax cut and his two wars on the national credit card. We need to put more money in the hands of the middle class and poor, because they’ll spend it on goods and services, which is what really drives our economy.

  48. Mike Saunders

    We can always elect a Republican government who will surely give more money to NASA!

  49. eric
  50. @48 DLC: Second, no Obama budget will ever be passed, as McConnell has decreed that Obama gets nothing. Nada. no matter what he asks for, even if it were Paul Ryan’s doomsday budget.

    Oh, don’t even get me started on McConnell, that #*$&%^@! I honestly believe that he needs to be tried for treason. Mr. “Our-number-one-objective-is-to-make-Obama-a-one-term-president”. Gosh, how silly of me – somewhere I got this crazy idea that your number one objective was supposed to be doing your goddamned job and acting in the best interests of the American people?

    Grrrr! If you need me, I’ll be in the AngryDome!

  51. Peter B

    Michael @ #44 quoted: “And it allocates losses where they should be allocated — to people who did stupid things.”

    And only to them? No collateral damage to ordinary people who thought they were being sensible?

  52. Nigel Depledge

    Mike Perlmutter (35) said:

    MSL overrun of $1 billion? Webb overruns several times that? Stern was publicly against these things. Now he wants more money. Isn’t it time for space science to feel a little of the budgetary pain after wasting all of this money?

    Misjudging the cost of something that has never been made before is not the same thing as wasting money, unless you consider the thing being made to not be worth it.

    Do you have any evidence that these budget overruns are the latter and not the former?

  53. Nigel Depledge

    Michael (38) said:

    The fundamental problem is that there is NO money left. Do we need another aircraft carrier (Chris #22)? Probably not, and it’s reasonable to question it. But from a spending vs. benefit, it’s arguably a better return on investment than NASA gives.

    Most definitely, because the USA is under threat of invasion every week!

    Oh, wait, that’s wrong. The continental USA has never been under threat of invasion. Even at the height of WWII, there was never any real threat of invasion.

    Your contention that buying, equipping and staffing yet another aircraft carrier gives a better return than NASA (say, MSL, for instance) is just so much hot air. An aircraft carrier will pretty much never give you new knowledge (except perhaps in the rather specialised field of how to operate an aircraft carrier).

  54. Mike Perlmutter

    Nigel: if you read Stern’s comments about both MSL and JWST cost overruns at the time they were in the news you will see that they are due to bad engineering, bad planning, and trying to keep people employed. Now Stern wants to give the same people who made these mistakes more money. Doesn’t make sense – unless you want to keep people employed, that is.

  55. @54 Nigel Depledge: An aircraft carrier will pretty much never give you new knowledge (except perhaps in the rather specialised field of how to operate an aircraft carrier).

    Devil’s advocate position here: The Gerald Ford class of carriers will utilize linear magnetic accelerators instead of steam catapults to launch planes. As far as I’m aware, these would be the biggest practical and operational “mass drivers” yet designed, and the design principles ironed out therein could prove useful in areas such as asteroid and lunar mining and even space-launch itself.
    Also, a big part of the rationale for designing the Ford class is lowering staffing needs. Replacing the hugely complex and maintenance-intensive steam systems with electrical ones, for instance, will mean that you need a lot fewer people to operate those systems. Supposedly, such carriers will be a lot cheaper to actually run.
    /end aviation geek

    That said, I agree that US military spending is largely industry pork. We could cut our defense budget in half and still have the most powerful military on earth. Imagine what NASA could do with just one quarter of the military’s budget? We’d have moon colonies and nuclear-powered, crewed outer-solar-system spacecraft inside of a decade, I betcha.

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