Science vs. Mars

By Sean Carroll | June 29, 2006 4:37 pm

Phil at the Bad Astronomer breathes a sigh of relief that an amendment by Barney Frank to prevent NASA from spending money on a manned mission to Mars has been defeated in the House. I haven’t been following this issue closely, so I’m not precisely sure what the amendment says, but from the looks of it I completely disagree with Phil. If I understand it correctly, the bill would not have cut NASA funding at all, just have prevented it from being used for the specific purpose of studying the possibility of sending astronauts to Mars. There is a huge difference between those two things.

Right now NASA is seriously underfunded, and there are three huge drains on the budget: the shuttle program, the Space Station, and the Moon/Mars initiative, all of which are mismanaged money pits. What is being hurt in all this is real science, which is being cut to the bone — essentially all of the Beyond Einstein missions (to study black holes, dark energy, and inflation) have been delayed, some essentially indefinitely. Studying Mars is interesting and fascinating. Spending money now on the idea of sending human astronauts to Mars is a politically-motivated boondoggle. There used to be a sensible procedure by which priorities were set, in which high-powered National Academy panels would look over the possibilities and use sensible scientific criteria to decide what was both interesting and feasible. The Bush administration has made a shambles of that process, and it has to stop.

Astrophysics in space, the one thing that NASA does well, is being killed off. The Moon/Mars initiative, according to people who know a lot more about the political wrangling than I do, is directly to blame. Sorry to hear that the amendment didn’t pass.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science and Politics
  • http://brahms.phy.vanderbilt.edu/~rknop/blog/ Rob Knop

    Here’s my conspiracy theory. In reality, for my theory to be right it would require more forethought and competence on the part of politicians than I am willing to credit them with, but when I’m feeling paranoid, here’s what I think.

    The whole “let’s send humans to Mars” thing is part of a long range plan by Bush and other politicos to kill science. See, it plays well in the press right now, which is always nice for politicians, but it also redirects a lot of space science funding to the manned space program. Meanwhile, the actual costs of putting humans on Mars at the moment are so huge that there’s no hope that Congress is going to keep kicking in that kind of money for very long. So, before long, the whole thing is one gigantic target, and will get cut for the boondoggle that it is once the public looses patience. But it will just be a cut… the money won’t go back to space science, it will just be gone. Voila, the Bush crowd and the like have furthered their mission of undermining science.

    Although nobody was thinking this when the started, the SSC had the effect of seriously hurting particle physics in this country. Lots of resources were redirected to it, and many of them were lost along with the additionally funding the SSC was getting when the SSC was cancelled.

    -Rob

  • http://tingilinde.typepad.com/starstuff/ steve

    The mood of friends at JPL is that this is engineering winning over science … the military is very interested in heavy lift LEO rockets and is seriously worried about manned military platforms. Carving a big chunk out of the NASA budget to push development is pure gravy for them.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/joanne/ JoAnne

    Here in Europe, the future is looking bright for space-based science (as for all physical sciences for that matter). Just today, a member of the large European space-based dark energy mission, DUNE, told me to invite SNAP (the US based project, which has more sensitivity, BTW, and is part of the stalled Beyond Einstein mission) collaborators to join their project. It’s all pretty frustrating.

    And, Rob, US particle physics program didn’t have a future without the SSC, as we have now so aptly proven.

  • http://www.amara.com/ Amara

    I think there are too many DUNEs, though…

  • Richard

    Sending humans to Mars is an engineering stunt that has little to do with science. Unfortunately, I don’t think that most of the public understands this. And based on all the excellent pictures of the surface of Mars that I have seen I’ve concluded that it’s not an endearing landscape, and that I much prefer the trees and bunnies in my own back yard.

  • anon

    I’m always a little surprised to hear scientists speak so strongly against (near-term) manned space missions. If money is actually committed to such an endeavour, and it turns out at least moderately successful, couldn’t it stimulate more spending and benefits to science by indirect means–kind of like “trickle down economics?” ;)

    I for one wanted to become an astronaut when I was a kid and eventually became(becoming) a physicist. Maybe someday this will be perceived as benefiting mankind!

  • http://www.badastronomy.com Phil Plait, aka The Bad Astronomer

    Like it or not, the Moon/Mars initiative is here. I like the idea of going to the Moon, though I think thinking about going to Mars is the best we can do for the next ten years or so. Trust me, I am watching plenty of projects take a hit– and I was on NuSTAR, which was axed entirely.

    The problem here isn’t $700 million, it’s several billion. NASA is underfunded severely for the Moon/Mars work, and that’s the direction NASA is headed, as surely as it headed for the Shuttle in the 1970s.

    I would rather see NASA given what it needs to do cutting-edge science as well as funding going back to the Moon. But that decision has already been made, at least for this year, I think. And if the amendment were passed, it’s not clear to me where the money would have gone. If the amendment had earmarked it for space science, that may have been different, even as much as I loathe earmarks.

    Basically, this whole thing is a mess. One of my fears a year or so ago was that this would make scientists turn on each other. I still worry about that, honestly.

    Sean, I agree with you that the $700 million can be used elsewhere in NASA. But the solution is not to take it from Moon/Mars (which, incidentally, is suffering for lack of funds too), it is to take money from things that are hemorrhaging it and put it someplace useful.

  • http://dwarmstr.blogspot.com/ Dean W. Armstrong

    I wrote at Bush’s State of the Union speech:
    “It’s a standard technique–drop funding for some project that could work but isn’t on their party’s agenda (cough hybrids cough). Claim that you have to use that money to research for something in the future like the hydrogen car. Watch as corporations use that R&D money to do nothing important. Quietly drop funding a few years later, claiming hydrogen cars weren’t feasible. Congratulations! You’ve killed funding for the thing the other party wanted, without people noticing. Sound familiar, NASA? Drop science funding for “Manned space exploration of the Moon”. Quietly kill that in a few years. Science funding never comes back.”

    I would add that we are fighting among ourselves about who gets the scraps, which is the worst thing that we could be doing. Instead ask, why did we drop one program for another? Why can’t we fund both? If a single aircraft costs the price of the entire “Universe” directorate, including HST, JWST, and GLAST, or half of the new Crew vehicle work, why are we bitching about either side?

  • http://RiofrioSpaceTime.blogspot.com Louise

    I grew up watching human spaceflights on TV too. What we need is Leadership: a president directing “We choose to go to the Moon,” Eugene Krantz insisting “Failure is not an option,” or Alan Shepard in the spacecraft saying, “Let’s quit screwing around and light this candle!”
    When someone told this to Michael Griffin last December, NASA employees cheered.

  • http://www.jumplive.com chimpanzee

    I agree with Sean.

    Funding for Fundamental Science is being threatened by “show, but no-go” projects. I spoke with Harold Zirin (Caltech solar physicist, emeritus) a few yrs ago, about lack-of-merit in Funding & he said:

    “They [ Washington, & others ] something SEXY!!?”

    I.e., it’s all about IMPRESSION (wowie-zowie, show-offy stuff), rather than Reality (“real Science”, Science is a long, arduous campaign interrupted by a few moments of sheer ecstacy of Discovery). It’s analogous to the Film Industry, where REAL artistry in film-making is being replaced by Sex, Violence, Stupid (e.g., “The Jerk”) stuff. Sex sells, Stupid sells.

    Space Junk like Shuttle, Int’l Space Station (ISS), human-to-Mars farce..makes for good PR (Public Relations)..THAT’S IT. The Nobel Prize

    [ all politics, decision by committee..a Physics Nobel back in the 40’s was shown to be invalid..”Opinion” by peer-review, Nobel committee

    “Science begets Knowledge, Opinion..Ignorance
    — Hipparchos ]

    is another farce, it’s the public misconception of scientific-achievement. Labels, sexy projects, Awards..all Materialism nonsense.

    I made some phone calls to physicists around the country in Spring ’05, to discuss a “issue”. Strangely enought, the above matter of Science Funding came up. On a Saturday, I spoke to a UIUC black-hole theorist (Oxford PhD, Caltech undergrad), & he was REALLY concerned about the future of (fundamental) Science funding..he was working weekends (in conjunction w/colleagues) to try to avoid a catastrophic funding mess in the coming years. And, I thought I was going thru Hell.. My conversation with a Caltech Physics post-Doc: “The low-temperature group @JPL is being disbanded, IT WILL NEVER COME BACK”. This is a perfect example of a long-term causalty, to a short-term brain-fart by the White House (choke, cough..Imposters, Posers, Losers!). A Physics research associate (Digital Life, JPL project about in-situ detection of extra-terrestial life) lost his JPL funding, & is now scrambling to find funding..*outside* Caltech. I feel bad for him, because he’s really smart (nuclear physics is his background, he’s published w/Hans Bethe, collaborates w/M. Gell-Mann).

    I’m reminded of my situation @JPL 20 odd yrs ago, all the neat stuff got cut

    [ the famous Computer Graphics group, which I was with for a time, got disbanded..Dr. James Blinn who did all the Voyager animations was reduced to flee to Caltech, & he eventually ditched Pasadena altogether for Microsoft. A real loss, he was a legendary researcher & excellent teacher ]

    & we had to either work on military-crap or get laid off. I just gave up, & walked out..I didn’t work this hard to waste away my abilities on junk (“what a bunch of jack-offs!”).

    The general outlook is bleak/pessimistic, this has been a well-known condition of the Human Race:

    “In Greece, Wise Men speak [ scientists ]..FOOLS [ politicians ] decide”
    Anacharsis

  • http://www.amara.com/ Amara

    I’m on a mission (Dawn) that was cancelled twice by NASA, so then sandwiched the last few years between a space agency (ASI) that often pays their bills 2-3 years after contracts are signed and another space agency (NASA) that doesn’t seem to have trouble cancellig a mission after spending couple hundred million on an international project. Now a launch date is actually set, but I’m watching NASA funding disappear for astrobiology and many other programs that the department themselves promoted as recently as a couple of years ago as being crucial. Excuse me, but I’m a little skeptical that NASA’s left hand knows what its right hand is doing.

  • skeptic

    It is indeed too bad that the amendment failed.

    Though, I have to say that it’s extremely wishful thinking to believe that Beyond Einstein’s Constellation-X mission will be able to “image the event horizon of a black hole” in the X-ray. Too bad the astrophysics community can’t find a more promising project to invest its resources/time in.

  • Thomas Dent

    A nice line of reasoning that. An X-ray detector won’t be able to image the event horizon of a BH, therefore it is pointless to send an X-ray detector up, therefore the astrophysics community is incapable of finding worthwhile or promising projects.

    Or, you can actually read what the Constellation-X project is:

    http://beyondeinstein.gsfc.nasa.gov/program/constellation-x.html

    High resolution spectroscopy of faint sources is pretty well indispensable for cosmological progress, whether or not the project gets close to ‘seeing an event horizon’.

    As for NASA there are two equally bad reasons why they would agree to huge chunks of funding going to ‘Moon-Mars’. One, they really don’t care if the money goes into entertainment rather than science. Two, they were (presumably still are) under abnormal political pressure.

  • http://quasar9.blogspot.com/ Quasar9

    Amara, you just gotta let me have a copy of the “kid fishing in the universe” from DUNE
    http://www.mpi-hd.mpg.de/dustgroup/~gruen/DUNE/ESTEC/Graps_CosmicDUNE2-06.pdf

    JoAnne, Europeans always know where the next opportunity lies. Who settled America, who are modern americans descended from. lol!
    Fortunately Jesuits were a little more ‘sensitive’ to the natives in South America, than some the cowboys who ‘settled’ north america. Live & Learn. – Q.

  • skeptic

    I was referring to the following paragraph Thomas (the one right before the “faint object” paragraph, which I agree is more worthwhile, but there are other astrophysics projects much more worthwhile that could be done with the money…):

    http://universe.nasa.gov/program/constellation-x.html

    ‘The great sensitivity of Constellation-X will allow us to make “slow-motion movies” of hot gas falling toward a black hole. This is done not through imagery but through a technique called spectroscopy, which is analogous to fingerprinting the gas to determine unique properties, such as temperature, density, velocity and atomic number. We will be able to see time, from our perspective, come to a standstill as it approaches the black hole event horizon. Einstein’s general relativity makes specific predictions about the behavior of matter near a black hole; and any deviation from theory that may be revealed from Constellation-X observations will expose flaws in Einstein’s math.’

  • http://www.amara.com/ Amara

    Quasar9: It’s a sweet image, isn’t it? It’s a scan of a small poster I’ve carried around with me through several countries and 4 or 5 jobs since the early 1990s. My former advisor, Eberhard Grün, asked to scan it and put it in the Outreach portion of one of his previous proposal submittals (4-6 years ago) of his DUNE (‘DUst measuremnts Near Earth’) dust telescope project. Parts of DUNE are being developed for NASA missions now, but he/we-in-the-dust-community are preparing a larger scale version of the mission for the ESA Cosmic Vision announcement of opportunity this Fall, and I’m the public outreach person again, as well as one of the dust charging experts. Eberhard likes that image to represent bringing stardust to the public, so I always use it.

    That particular poster (tattered on my wall in my Roma office too) is by an artist named Leonard Parkin and is titled “Daydreams”. The printing on the poster says: “1988 Daydreams Unlimited, 433 E. Broadway, Salt Lake City, UT, 84111 (801) 531-0149″. The poster doesn’t have a copyright symbol, but perhaps it should. I tried a Google search to find the artist or the printing company and wasn’t successful. You are welcome to grab the ppt out of which that pdf presentation was made, but please keep with the image the information that I give in this paragraph for the painter’s name in order to give credit. (I neglected to give credit to the image in my presentation, as I should have.)

  • http://www.anthropic-principle.ORG island

    Thar be “dilithium crystals” in them orange hills on mars, so batten the hatches, hoist the solar-sail, and bring me my rum-n-bootie… cause I’m in for the long haul and am happy to be there… arghhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

    I stood on cocoa beach and held my mothers hand as my dad worried over guages dials and tubes at the cape when they monkeys went up…

    I did the same thing when Shepard went up and Glenn too.

    I was there when Apollo 13 launched… and I was there when the first shuttle mission went up… I’ve personally witnessed every major shot that ever went up…

    And finally, I stood there holding my own kids hands with real tears in my eyes the day that they wished John Glenn GodspeedTwo, so I KNOW that there is something greater than all of us about this… and I know that it is important to the survival of man.

    So I say godspeed to them all…

    … and to hell with the rest.

  • http://quasar9.blogspot.com/ Quasar9

    Hi Amara, thanks tah, gracias, merci, shokran, …
    I do, I do remember seeing it in the past too, couldn’t remember if it had been a poster for a film or a book, or one of those ‘posters’ you could buy in music stores for a buck or two. I’ll certainly mention the artist and title too.

  • Richard E.

    The problem with the Moon/Mars “vision thing” is that there is no solid political or scientific consensus behind it. The scientifiic community is divided on the worth of the project (especially when we have to face up to the opportunity cost of funding a Moon/Mars program), and there is no solid political consensus behind it. Since this is a long term plan the absence of consensus is very dangerous — without it, it is easy to imagine that a future administration would strip the funding for it simply because it had a different set of priorities.

    Conversely, if you look at the big science stories from Nasa in recent years (ie the ones that might win people Nobel prizes), they are almost exclusively about deep space — a good measurement of the Hubble constant, two wildly successful CMB missions (WMAP and COBE) and the HST’s vast contribution to the discovery of dark energy. The return on these programs in phenomenal — both in terms of science, and also in terms of PR — far in excess of the space station or shuttle program in recent years, which (sadly) only makes the news when it kills people.

    In my opinion, a truly bold “vision” for space would ground the shuttle today — this is by far the biggest money pit inside of Nasa, and scrapping it would yield funds for both the further development of human spaceflight, and the Beyond Einstein missions.

  • http://RiofrioSpaceTime.blogspot.com Louise

    We need a mix of manned/unmanned missions. If not for the shuttle, astronauts would not have been able to fix Hubble 3 times. If the shuttle were junked today, HST would fall into the sea. Doesn’t anyone remember “Failure is not an option?”
    Going to Moon/Mars is certainly doable if we maintain the will. We have a chance of discovering life beyond the Earth, which would be one of the biggest scientific returns ever. On the other hand, some pure science missions would search for purely speculative energies. Perhaps that is why funding is a problem.

  • http://www.anthropic-principle.ORG island

    We have a chance of discovering life beyond the Earth…

    lol, sure we do, if radio telescopes count as manned missions… ;)

  • Q

    thought the saying went “No Man or Woman is an Island”

  • http://www.anthropic-principle.ORG island

    … or “we” are all just “islands in the stream”, regardless of whether she gets to mars or dies advancing our collective knowledge, and, therefore, our long-term survival capabilities.

  • Bob E.

    Could someone explain the advantages of having humans on the surface of Mars versus decade-more-advanced rovers? Rovers with more mobility, longer lifetimes, more sophisticated/redundant systems, AI-like processing capabilities? Do such advantages, if any, offset the couple-orders-of-magnitude (my est.) cost differences? Do such advantages, if any, offset the loss of data from cancelled or cut-back beyond-einstein-like programs? I’m a sci-fi fan and sure, the image of humans dancing around on the martian surface, climbing Mt. Olympus, peering into huge canyons sounds exciting. But ultimately too expensive entertainment IMO.
    Bob.

  • Q

    Island, you know according to string theory, you possibly are a veritable walking talking breathing Island, maybe even a paradise Island (or pocket universe) for cells and strings of DNA.
    You cannot be a planet, to be a planet it appears you need to be as ’round’ as Earth or Pluto, and the other 10, 11, … or is it 20, thus far categorized as planets.

  • Michael Kircher

    I am in agreement with Sean… and Robert Park at APS. This is a wasteful boondoggle of the highest order. I say get rid of the Space Station and the Shuttle. Focus on the robots.

  • Q

    Hi Sean, MK, Bob E, et al, I seem to recall Columbus had to wait until after the ‘reconquest’ of Spain, before the Queen would fund the three ships for his (dream) voyage of ‘discovery’ to the ‘new world’
    Which part of this planet did you say the US Administration and NASA need to reconquer first, before they fund (dream) voyages of discovery to new worlds. – Q.

  • Thomas Dent

    I still don’t understand the criticism of Constellation-X. So they make a slightly exaggerated claim on their public website. But if they could really test GR by observing infalling gas near a BH horizon, I say go for it!

    Or let’s hear what more worthwhile project could be pursued that is currently being left high & dry by astrophysicists.

    Other comments amply demonstrate what sentimental claptrap and / or obvious nonsense is regularly deployed in favour of manned missions with no scientific purpose. So sending astronauts to Mars makes your heart swell and you feel good to be alive. Can you really not get that feeling without spending billions of taxpayer dollars and exposing people to mortal risks?

    We’ve already sent lots of unmanned missions to the Moon and Mars, and we could send dozens more with the money that would put even one person there. They haven’t found any trace of life, they found barren surfaces with huge temperature fluctuations and no oxygen. What makes anyone think that a guy in a spacesuit could spot lifeforms with the unaided eye, when the sensors and cameras on the unmanned probes found no trace of it?

    Leaving aside the bullshit factor of ‘voyages of discovery’ (did unmanned probes discover nothing? is something only ‘discovered’ when a human foot rests on it??) – yes, much of this planet does need to be reconquered, specifically the parts that are likely to be regularly hit by extreme weather events rather soon, if they aren’t already.

    If you think that the future of humanity is to colonize nearby planets, there are two inconvenient facts: first, the technology to do so on any scale is still a long way away; second, the human race has to stay here until it is ready, and quite a bit after that, given the probable costs of sending even one person up.

    I also believe the Hubble telescope could have been repaired, and even deployed, by unmanned missions: it was just expedient to give the job to the Shuttles to lend them a spurious air of usefulness.

  • Mike Schuler

    I’m just a taxpayer. I’ve always thought that manned space travel was a waste of money after we landed on the Moon. I have one question. Has anybody figured out yet, how a person could survive the radiation they would be exposed to on a trip to Mars? Or is that what they need to spend all the money on?

    I think a cure for paralysis due to spinal cord injury or a method to prevent Altheimer’s Disease would be a better use of my money, than a trip to Mars.

  • Michael Kircher

    Q, I was compelled to reply until I read Thomas Dent’s comments. I couldn’t do better.

    Cheers.

  • Q

    Thomas D & Mike S
    Next time you spend ‘your’ money on whatever it is you spend your money on, I’m sur you won’t want anyone to philosophise on the merits of what you spend your money on.
    You sound like a couple of guys living in the caves, asking why we need to invent a ‘wheel’ you would have probably asked Pharaoh why he needed to build pyramids, and asked Columbus why he needed to travel west to India.

    Well I don’t know where you happen to live, but my guess is that if someone wouldn’t have ventured into the ‘unknown’ or across the Atlantic – you guys wouldn’t be here talking about it.

    My guess is that you guys like many others would have probably balked at the Wright brother’s idea of flight, at dreams of jumbo jets, or any other achievement …
    we won’t debate the pros and cons of some of the achievements like enough missiles to destroy the planet several times over, or the explosion in car ownership in China and India, set to double demand for Oil and emissions of CO2.

    But you can bet your bottom dollar that if mineralogists found one ounce of something that you could use on earth manned or robotic missions to whatever planet would start.

    What neither of you have done is point out the impact that may be caused by sending matter in any significant quantity (whether people or goods) out of this planet, or bringing matter (ores, minerals) from another planet to this one.

    Since when has it been a matter of this or that. Your claims to altruism are null and void. Sure put more people onto looking at diseases and cures for diseases. Funny everone wants a well paid job doing some ‘pathetic’ excuse for research, which your computer can dowhile you are sleeping, yet increasingly fewer people have time to give time for personal care of patients or sufferers. Before you go ranting about diseases tell me how many hours a week to you, yes you personally, dedicate as a volunteer to any charity or care of the sick & elderly.

    Do we need to travel space? Why don’t you ask me if we need motzarella cheese sticks? Do we need chocolate? do we need tobacco? do we need cars? Do we need fizzy drinks or beer? Do we need tv, video gaemes, laptops or mobile phones.

    No we don’t need them, we could spend all that time effort and money on cures for diseases. But because someone made the effort to create those things, they are now there and we all (in varying degrees) use them.

    If you wanna say you wanna live without clean running tap water fine, if you wanna live without instant hot water on demand or deodorant, and smell like they used to smell in previous centuries fine. But if you enjoy the creature comforts progress brings, despite some of its more obvious minuses (or negative impact on the environment) fine.

    But I tell you ONE thing. Better the US, Russia, China & Europe collaborate on space travel, than to have future governments decide we need to reduce population growth by ‘enforced’ sterilization like some governments have attempted before, or enforced limits on childbirth, or worse someone deciding another good war is what we need. With Israel making it extensively clear that they are getting impatient, that they want their land, and that a Palestinian state, and the palestinian people are a hindrance to their ‘ambitions’ how long do you think it is going to be before people with twitchy fingers on triggers start kicking off. The US already boasts that it dropped more on Iraq in three days than it did in Europe during the whole of World War II which lasted years. The next war may not be as onesided as Gulf Wars I & II.

    So get real, get with it, and stay focussed. Better to dream the impossible dream, than to have people in the Pentagon planning possible war scenarios, land grabs or ethnic cleansing. Because they have no more interest in your ‘precious’ altruism than you have. For some people in your administration, the old or the sick, are just something you have to pay lipservice to. For some people in your administration there are too many blacks in Africa, too many chinks in Asia, and too many arabs anywhere. Wakey, wakey, reality check – which planet or parallel universe you guys living on. Q

  • Mike Schuler

    Well Q, you completely missed my point, but you made a point. We have lots of problems right here on Earth that need to be solved. When Columbus crossed the Atlantic, and when the pioneers pushed west across the North American continent, they didn’t have to expose themselves to a fatal dose of radiation. Sure, they encountered problems, and they solved those problems, but their goals were within reason.

    When us taxpayers see money being wasted on things like elevators to space or manned trips to Mars, we can’t help but feel our elected representatives are being scammed. My question remains unanswered. Has anybody figured out how a person can survive the radiation they would be exposed to on a trip to Mars?

  • http://www.jessemazer.com Jesse M.

    Q, are you suggesting that we should pursue manned spaceflight because it will help reduce population growth on earth? If so it seems to me that your argument is based more on science fiction than on practical realities. Once europeans discovered the americas, the ships needed to transport large groups of people there were not really all that expensive, and of course they didn’t require extensive life-support once they got there (and someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think the number of people leaving europe was ever great enough to make much of a dent in population growth there–I think the population growth in the americas had more to do with new kids being born to the descendents of small groups of colonists rather than to huge streams of new colonists arriving from europe). In contrast, getting colonists to Mars or even the moon and keeping them alive there for years is going to cost billions of dollars per person…maybe the cost could eventually be driven down by future breakthroughs in technology like the space elevator or self-replicating factories which can churn out new ships from raw materials in the asteroid belt, but manned spaceflight today isn’t going to bring about such technologies any quicker. In any case, it’s always going to be cheaper to colonize Antarctica or the bottom of the ocean than to colonize space–if you’re worried about population growth, wouldn’t it make more sense to focus on those more acheivable (but still fairly silly, IMO) goals rather than colonizing other planets, whose only advantage seems to be that it would be more exciting and science fiction-y than trying to build cities in Antarctica?

  • Q

    Mike S, Jesse M
    Hi there, you both prove my point that just as “beauty” is in the eye of the beholder, “meaning” is in the ear of the listener or the eye of the reader, or rather in the mind (mind-set) which processes the information: light, sound waves or pixels on a screen.
    And these can be different or even diametrically opposite to those intended by the ‘conveyor’ speaker or writer.

    (1) I am not suggesting we need to control population growth, after all the 20th century provided the means for ‘voluntary’ population control (the pill + condoms). I am suggesting that population IS growing, that space, land and resources are limited, not as some Malthusian or Darwinian argument, but as a reality and the logical conclusions deduced from historical readings of what happens when man (animal) is in competition for space, land and resources.
    (2) I am well aware of the real difficulties of space travel, I was (am?) sceptical of the Moon landing, why was it not followed by more manned flights and moon landings. Don’t give me any ‘naive’ arguments about costs and taxes. The government prints money, and you receive wages, buy goods/services and pay taxes with that money. Not viceversa. Or did you + you ‘create the money. The government can build dams, highways, nuclear plants, accelerators and colliders or aircraft carriers, intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear submarines or B2 bombers and Space shuttles to its hearts content. As long as it has approval from The Senate, – yes you are living in a replica, carbon copy or mirror image of a 2000 year old “Roman” Republic,- and as long as public and international confidence continues in the greenback or dollar $US, you can add ad infinitum

    (3) Relative relativity. If 300 million north americans descended from european settlers who moved to USA north america lived in Europe, and we hadn’t had world wars I & II – the population of ‘old’ Europe would almost rival that of India & China, yes 7-800 million human beings. I’m not convinced the EU can sustain that kind of population growth without wars and conflict.

    (4) It took Da Vinci’s ideas for a girocopter and ‘winged’ flight almost 500 years to ‘materialise’ so we know we are in it for a long haul, highly unlikely to occur in a 20-30 year timescale as proposed or ‘wished for’ by Stephen Hawking, unless someone is ‘researching’ propulsion at the ‘speed of light’

    (5) Yes space is the most hostile arena, more hostile and forbodding or impenetratable than the Artic, Antartic or the bottom of the Ocean. By all means build Atlantis style cities in the Sea – the Sea is a big ‘expanse’ – but do not suggest that we should therefore not explore space and even travel space. You’ve all seen science fiction films. you’ve all heard William Shatner’s joke about these things that fit in the palm of your hand called ‘mobile’ phones, fiction and fantasy 30 years ago. And no, we are nowhere near teletransporting matter, no beam me up Scotty, and no replicators for instant food of your choice on demand. The closest to that is a Big Mac at a drive thru or Pizza delivery in under twenty minutes or your money back. Oh I forgot ready prepared frozen foods and microwaves, did I?

    6) So pose all your challenges & difficulties. That is what life, science and learning is about. But do not bring other issues like disease, senility, famine in Africa into the equation of Space exploration or Space Travel. They are problems and difficulties which need to be resolved in their ‘own’ right. Look at Bill Gates he became a billionaire with Microsoft, now he can dedicate himself fully to philanthropy and his wife’s charity in Africa.

    But he does not say do not waste your money on laptops, microsoft, x-box or video games, and give your money to Africa. He gives you something for your money and then takes the profits (or taxes) and does something about Africa.

    So now list all the impediments to Space exploration and Space Travel, and lets work on resolving them. If my physics is not all askew there must be something out there worth ‘mining’ – relatively speaking building three small ships to cross the atlantic five hundred years ago was for the crown of Spain about the same cost (and achievement) as building three shuttles – and bringing oil by tanker from saudi or Irqa thru the Canal of Suez and the straits of Gibraltar are no twopence halvenney feats, they are pretty mind boggling deeds in comparison to the three little ships with which Columus set sail to America, or even the space shuttles and NASA Missions.

    And I agree let us use ‘Robots’ not ‘Slaves’
    or forced labour ‘prisoners’ and ‘criminals’ to colonise space, work plantations. or mines, or to populate Australia or any other continent or moon or planet.

    But rather like the Nike ad “Just Do It”

    Have a nice weekend! – Q

  • Mike Schuler

    Q said: “The government prints money, and you receive wages, buy goods/services and pay taxes with that money. Not viceversa. Or did you + you ‘create the money.”

    Yes, I goddamn well did “create the money.” I’m a self employed business owner, and every penny I ever had came right out of my back and my hands. I spend more labor and effort keeping up with government regulations and paying taxes than I do providing products and services to my paying customers, and if I could get back just 10% of the money I’ve paid in taxes in the last 32 years, I’d be a retired millionaire right now.

    If Bill Gates chose to explore space, he could do that because he’d be using his money. The government is using “my” money, and I should have something to say about how they use it. A manned spaceflight to Mars is a boondogle and a total shame if it takes money away from other research that might actually benefit mankind and solve some of the problems we have right here on the ground. Traveling to other planets while this planet is in the messes that its in is just nonsense.

  • Bob E.

    “Bulletin of the Space Scientists” ?

    Perhaps we need more public education on the merits and costs of manned space exploration versus “Beyond Einstein” and other basic scientific research. The charter might be, to emulate Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists,

    “The mission of the Bulletin is to educate citizens about basic science research issues, especially the continuing dangers posed by manned space exploration, and the appropriate use of taxpayer money in this area.”

  • Bob

    Mike Schuler,

    Doesn’t the law of conservation of energy point to the fact that money is not created by governments or people but by exchanges?

    Doesn’t that further imply the illusion of “getting ahead” in life? And doesn’t wishing for being a retired millionaire show the desire for the same illusion that socialism struggled for…some workless utopia gained that cannot be there?

    Or, if your measuring affluence in terms of leisure time rather than the accumulation of goods and services, then the hunters/gatherers are more affluent than we are. They work less than 20 hours per week and suffer no brain diseases nor do they ask for handouts. The more money one makes leaves less leisure time to enjoy it. I wouldn’t trade places with Gates and his imprisoned life. Gates, on the other hand, might recognize that he is giving up on leisure that he just doesn’t value all as much as taking risks. He could be just a thrill seeker that wound up with money by an accident of random coincidence.

  • Q

    Mike Schuler. you are a hard working self-employed business owner. You don’t “create” money. You create trade/business/services for money. Money is paid to you by customers/clients, and you pay money to suppliers if you have any. From the residue, or profit margin (or tax you are charging customers for your service) you pay a portion in state (local) taxes and federal income tax.

    You have every right to express your preference on what the government spends your taxes on. The invasion of Iraq was paid with your taxes.

    Bob wealth is created by exchange or ‘velocity’ of money. Money is created or ‘minted’ by the Treasury

    The nature of US money has changed since Milton
    Friedman made his claim.

    Yes, in fact all modern money has changed, not just US money. The changes have not fully registered among a significant fraction of the population, and that has led to a great deal of misunderstanding about the national debt. The Federal debt is not at all equivalent to private debt.
    Individuals and firms will fail if they borrow more than they can service, but the Federal government will never involuntarily default on its debt or become bankrupt.
    It borrows in the very same money “it” “creates”.

    Many misconceptions, inconsistencies & errors exist in people’s minds, on economics & physics. – Q

  • Q

    Bob said: Or, if your measuring affluence in terms of leisure time rather than the accumulation of goods and services, then the hunters/gatherers are more affluent than we are. They work less than 20 hours per week and suffer no brain diseases nor do they ask for handouts.

    Bob said: Doesn’t that further imply the illusion of “getting ahead” in life? And doesn’t wishing for being a retired millionaire show the desire for the same illusion that socialism struggled for…some workless utopia gained that cannot be there?

    Funny how people who hope to retire millionaires early or in their fifties say, want ‘other’ people to consume more of their goods and the goods from the companies they hold shares in.

    Then, they’ll mock a drunk who wasted all his hard earned money on “Guinness” or whatever american brew, so that the breweries could make vast profits and pay you dividends in your pension scheme.
    Is the drunk any less worthy of a decent pension than you are, when he retires. After all he just played his part in the grand scheme of things. Not sure I’d want to trade places, but that is life! It is evident we cannot all be Bill Gate’s or lions in africa. Not all at the same time anyway. – Q.

  • http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/ John Baez

    It’s a pity Barney Frank’s amendment was defeated. Here’s what he said
    in his speech:

    Mr. Speaker, if someone had said some of the most fiscally, self-proclaimed, conservative members of the House were going to come to the floor and ask us to spend $100 billion or $200 billion on a nonessential project, people would have said, when pigs fly. Well, that is this bill. Did you see who got up to speak? Everybody who has got a NASA facility. The pork is very much in this bill, but it is flying pork.

    Flying pork is about right, but I think Charles Stross puts it even more precisely
    in his novel Accelerando:

    NASA are idiots. They want to send canned primates to Mars!

    For more of my disgruntled views on this nonsense, check out
    Meme Therapy.

  • http://www.jumplive.com chimpanzee

    Flying pork is about right, but I think Charles Stross puts it even more precisely
    in his novel Accelerando:

    Here is one of my favorite quotes, which I use regularly when I inevitably/regularly run into incompetent fools (I used work for NASA/JPL):

    “You can’t soar like an Eagle, if you’re stuck with a bunch of turkeys
    — hockey commentator (ex-NHL player), also from Educational Quotes

    What I experienced at JPL/NASA defies description:

    – the boss goes out of town on business, & my so-called “colleagues” go to audio-store in Pasadena, & buy stereo equipment..& come back openly bragging about it (“I bought a Yama-haha”). And, that guy is now head of Caltech Computer Services!

    – my officemates (Image Processing Lab/JPL) have this addiction to this computer-game “Dark Castle”. They are playing it CONSTANTLY during work, & discuss it. Visiting contractors also engage in conversation about it. I approached the office one afternoon, it was locked, opened the door, the lights were turned out, & that PhD was..yep, playing Dark Castle! This is the clown who writes up these idiotic task-lists (shabbily quickly done thing), & is my immediate supervisor! I promptly report it to my boss, who tells me “xx, I want to know if this happens again”. Okay, so the next day, these 2 clowns are waiting for me..staring at me, & tell me “go get your chair in the next room”. Intimidation & bullying. I mean, this sounds like punks in high-school..& this is JPL/NASA???

    These clowns are going to Maui (staying in Condos, those goof-offs), in support of an SDI (Strategic Defense Initiative) project involving a 40″ telescope (now used for NEO/Near Earth Object detection), which we know now to be a sham. I was “blackballed” for being an “insurgent”, move out of my office. After the above clown was promoted in a JPL flyer “Dr. xxx, did an outstanding job on this project yyy”, I realized I had no future in that sh*t-can outfit (posing as a Rocket Science Lab, & wasting tax payers dollars). I submitted my resignation, & walked out..I can still remember that hot July afternoon.

    That “issue” I refer to in a previous post is the above: how JPL is an embarassment & committing fraud to scientists who are putting their trust in Caltech to manage unmanned space-probes. Those 2 consecutive Mars failures by JPL were no accident. A contemporary of R. Feynman’s (he would dine with RPF @Faculty Club, & started the Analog Computing Lab @JPL) told me of how the Mariner probes to Mars (60’s!) were on the brink of failure. Only because of his diligent work, was a disaster avoided. He told me this, after he *publicly* agreed with my comments on JPL, on an amateur meteor-observing list.

    I feel the Scientific Community needs to be aware of this fraudulent/irresponsible/unprofessional behavior. I mean, would they TRUST these guys to manage a space-probe & the incoming data? Dang, I sure has hell wouldn’t!

  • Say Lee

    Is this for real? What happened to ovesight?

  • http://www.jumplive.com chimpanzee

    Burt Rutan (legendary aviation pioneer, ex-Air Force employee) is a well-known critic of NASA. Good articles here 1, 2,3

    But Rutan’s views about NASA have only sharpened with scorn through the years. To Rutan, NASA’s culture of denial has led to too many accidents, its technology is too expensive, and its programs have grown – ironically – too risk-averse.

    “We seem to be making acronyms for engineering welfare, rather than having the courage to actually fly something,” Rutan said last April.

    In his presentation for test pilots in Los Angeles last fall, Rutan referred to NASA as “Nay-Say” and promised the brotherhood of fliers that his quest to reach space would create “a whole bunch of new jobs.”

    Burt Rutan, an aviator whose SpaceShipOne won the $10 million Ansari X Prize for making three suborbital space flights, said NASA needs another Wernher von Braun — and chided the space agency for what he called a failed space shuttle program.
    ..
    In Huntsville, Rutan met with Ernst Stuhlinger and Konrad Dannenberg, both members of von Braun’s Huntsville-based German rocket team, and viewed some of von Braun’s research papers. A 1949 book of von Braun’s, titled “The Trip to Mars,” interested him. “There it was in print, how to get to Mars. There was the blueprint to accomplish that goal and it was written in 1949,” Rutan said.

    [ von Braun was Rutan’s hero, WB was the Technical Leader (PhD Aeronautics), Business Leader (got Federal funding, gave JFK a tour), Spiritual Leader (“driving force”). Burt R, basically emulated WB, for his Space Ship One project, which was bankrolled by Paul Allen (ex-Microsoft founder) ]

    You might recall the Wehrner von Braun dream, was to goto Mars..the Moon was just the 1st step. After the Moon objective was met (purely a political motive), WB made his pitch to Congress (“the opposite of Progress”) about going to Mars..”it fell on deaf ears” (as per the documentary on History Channel). So, why is going to Mars (manned mission) a big deal now? Answer: more political BS-nonsense (just like the Moon thing).

    “War is an extension of Politics..by any other means”
    — von Clausewitz

    This was a quote from the 1800’s (probably valid back to the Greeks/Romans), & explains the folly in Iraq & the current hallucination with Mars. It’s all an extension of Politics..”Wise men [ scientists ] Speak, Fools [ politicians ] decide”/Anacharcis.

    That’s it..we’re stuck in a mind-boggling/mind-blowing Catch-22 situation. We’re stuck with trying to do Science, in an atmosphere created by idiots. THIS is the thing I never learned how to do, which apparently is the Game that’s being played.

    “Suppose you were an Idiot, suppose you were a member of Congress..but I repeat myself”
    — Mark Twain

  • http://www.amara.com/ Amara

    #35 Mike Schuler: “Gates, on the other hand, might recognize that he is giving up on leisure that he just doesn’t value all as much as taking risks. He could be just a thrill seeker that wound up with money by an accident of random coincidence.”

    Many of the rich thrill-seekers are, in fact, presently pursuing space and space travel in all of the best ways.

  • http://quasar9.blogspot.com/ Quasar9

    Hi Amara, from your rich thrill-seekers
    I’d heard of sleeping “business” partners, but Angel Investors? – love it!

    In the world of business startups, funding often cannot be found from conventional sources such as banks and venture capital firms. Instead, a so-called angel investor is found who supports the initial costs out of his or her own pocket.

    Similarly, “space angels” are now putting serious money into innovative space endeavours. Using very low cost approaches, the projects can carry out exciting projects that NASA does not have the money for or, as in the case of space tourism, has stood in the way of.

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2006/07/dimensional-referencing.html Plato

    Prosperity is the best protector of principle.Mark Twain

    Nice quote today. Is it true? :)

    If one were to think of the “Templeton foundation,” in all that has been expressed here, then money allocated along the “desires of organizations,” may have offended some people?

    So you’ll get these kinds of thoughts, “judging” what ever information may come out of it? “Smart people” sometimes, labelled because of association?

    That seems to happen a lot, regardless of the organization, regardless of the model choosen?

    So is it a case of “looking for” the motivations and designs these space angels have in the quest of their money? Or or they a truly humanitarian based, free of these ill inntentioned suspicions of helping “free” of ego and possension?

    Is their not such honor in todays world? I think so:)

  • Quasar9

    Prosperity is a blessing – every customer/client who comes to you and leaves satisfied, is a blessing

    Prosperity can be a curse – it can engender a certain jealousy and mistrust among competitors for ‘riches’, no matter how noble + novel the ideas which engendered the prosperity or wealth.

    Some people in retail or business actually medidate that the next visitor will be a client, more business, a sale!

  • http://www.anthropic-principle.ORG island

    There is a 60% chance that we’ll have another weather related scrub, and I’m not the least bit surprised, as the window is much too late for a launch this time of the season in thunderstormy central florida. Although, one good break in the clouds and ‘this bird is flyin’. Otherwise, the crew on the space station will just have to spear another SoyuzFish…

    Cyborgs and bots won’t teach us “much” about long-term survival in our inevitably changing environment, and the “group” of left-sighted people who want to do away with this aspect of space exploration also think that they can reverse time by returning the Earth to a pristine state. This is the reason why their bills don’t pass, and why the NEVER get things all their way, because the mindset for what constitutes science to “new-aged” “free-thinkers” is equally clue-less to that of the right-sighted tree-burners. Neither side has a real clue when it comes to undertanding our place in nature and that is all that there really is to this.

    Q, I don’t even believe that loops are necessary to a *real* theory of quantum gravity, much less the big ball of spun yarn that lives in neverNeverland with tinkerbelle, hook, and god.

  • http://only-stupid-quotes.blogspot.com Ed

    We should not waste taxpayer money on the shuttle program but use it for real science instead.

  • Haelfix

    I don’t agree, we should fund both. I don’t see why the funds have to be in competition with one another specifically. Rather the funds should be in competition with the plurality of all government spending.

    Which would I rather fund. Some entitlement fund, or a trip to mars? You guessed it, the latter.

  • http://www.anthropic-principle.ORG island

    The shuttle program isn’t the same thing as the mars program. I agree that the space shuttle has essentially reached the end of its “regularly scheduled” usefulness, although there are some long-shot scenarios where it could prove to be temporarily invaluable.

  • Q

    Island,
    knowledge, perceptions, point of views, and physics or sciences are never quite as ‘fixed’ or concrete as some would like to think.
    Several centuries ago, if you would have told people that we would have floating ‘cities’ or cruise liners going from one exotic port of call to another, with no particular purpose other than leisure & tourism, people would have not believed. If you told people, that those with the time and inclination would pay thousands or tens of thousands of dollars each, amounting to several $USmillions per trip/cruise, people might have thought you were a luna-attic.

    Equally one hundred years ago if you would have told people that we would have Space Shuttle Missions, as if they were the launch of The Titanic, some people would have laughed. The sinking of The Titanic did not stop Transatlantic travel by sea, it was superseded by transatlantic flights.
    Supersonic flight or Concorde is history, not science fiction. Space Shuttles & Space Missions are history, not science fiction.

    And once you leave earth’s atmosphere there is no reason why hook cannot deploy the rigging, like probes do.
    But he will need to wear an oxygen mask to go outside.
    .

  • http://www.amara.com/ Amara

    This NPR program on the thrillionaires is good, too.

  • http://www.pinkpanthersblog.com/ Margaret

    I’m no scientist, just a lifelong fan but it should be obvious by now that the Bush administration is no fan of science. From Astronomy to Warming, if it doesn’t support their agenda, they just don’t want to hear it. Instead they stock the various agencies with their idealogically motivated shills and lackeys to “vet” and to edit real reports from real scientists. I think you guys should be as furious about this situation as a lot of the rest of us are. I find it frankly very disturbing that more in the scientific community haven’t spoken up on this issue.

  • Mike Schuler

    What Chimpanzee said in post 41 is what we’ve always known. “What I experienced at JPL/NASA defies description:” It’s human nature to screw off when you don’t have to worry about staying in business. In the real world, we have to work as hard as we can or we lose our “funding,” and no matter how hard we work, there’s no guarantee we are going to get any funding anyway.

    The trip to Mars is just a side show put on by Bush so he can claim he is for science, when he really isn’t.

  • Taxpayer

    If NASA is underfunded, how much money would it take to fully fund it?

  • http://www.pinkpanthersblog.com/ Margaret

    Taxpayer
    *********************************************************
    Twenty percent of what we’ve spent on the Iraq debacle would be a good start in my opinion.

  • chuko

    Someone made the (excellent) point that the mars mission is primarily an engineering program rather than a science program. Just because a project isn’t science, doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile. Supporting the mars initiative doesn’t mean not supporting science. The problem here is not that a mission to mars is a boondoggle, but that the question is being posed as mars mission or science.

    There are many competent engineers who believe that the mission to mars is financially realizable using a live off the earth strategy. The dollar amount is in the range of $40-50 billions dollars over ten years. Not cheap, certainly, but doable. The technical challenge is similar to the challenge of sending people to the moon fifty years ago. This isn’t some science fiction impossibility.

    Engineering challenges like this improve technologies, open up new possibilities, and inspire engineers and explorers. A mission to mars will answer scientific questions that aren’t accessible to robotic probes. (As cool as they are, their abilities really pale in comparison to an actual person on the ground – an awful lot of work goes into figuring out how to navigate around obstacles a person would just walk around, for instance. There’s a reason they don’t use these things in terrestrial geology.)

    There’s nothing for learning like doing. Trying to go to mars and live there will teach us things we can’t imagine yet.

    (Check out ) for good reasons to go to mars and questions about the technologies – like the radiation hazard and such. People have thought through these things.)

  • chuko

    I messed up the tag somehow: http://www.marssociety.org

  • Bob E.

    “As cool as they are, their abilities really pale in comparison to an actual person on the ground – an awful lot of work goes into figuring out how to navigate around obstacles a person would just walk around, for instance. There’s a reason they don’t use these things in terrestrial geology”

    Disagree chucko. Think of the probes/rovers 10 or so years down the road. Those will make Spirit and Opportunity look primative, and those rovers lasted over a year, scaling craters and hills, drilling into and analyzing rocks, etc. Isn’t that what a geologist would do? I would guess the only reason similar probes are not used in terrestrial geology is the cost, plus the fact that humans can easily access most if not all geologic formations here without cumbersom spacesuits, oxygen supplies, etc. Just walk up to a rock formation with your tools here on Earth.

  • http://www.amara.com/ Amara

    Yes, robotic systems for volcanoes (on Earth) have been used and are planned for more sophisticated future use.

  • http://www.anthropic-principle.ORG island

    Q said:
    …knowledge, perceptions, point of views, and physics or sciences are never quite as ‘fixed’ or concrete as some would like to think.

    No, but some are more absolute than others, which is why it’s called the “preferred theory”, per the scientific method. It’s the most accurate reflection of nature in the least possible number of steps.

    My point was that strings or loops aren’t necessary to the preferred theory of quantum gravity, not that I’m too conservative to buy the hype.

    I don’t buy the hype because I honestly believe that I have very good reason to feel this way, but not because I’m purely skeptical.

  • Q

    Island said: – “I don’t even believe that loops are necessary to a *real* theory of quantum gravity, much less the big ball of spun yarn that lives in neverNeverland with tinkerbelle, hook, and god.”

    Island, you and I know the world is full of lies & falsehood. The world is full of error, misinformation and misconceptions. The world is full of theories, fantasies and dreams.

    Start unravelling the yarn
    (1) what is real – the unreal is real in its unreality
    (2) what is fact – the falsehood is real in its falseness
    (3) what is fiction – fiction is real in its fiction
    (4) what exists – the existing is real in its existing
    (4i)what exists – the nonexisting is real nonexisting
    So what are you asking:
    (A) What is physical fact & real?
    (B) What is physical reality & fact?
    (C) What is fact & reality, and physical?
    Because we couldn’t see, touch, taste, hear or measure DNA 100 years ago, does that mean DNA did not exist 100 years ago?
    Because we couldn’t see, touch, taste, hear or measure PLUTO 75 years ago, does that mean Pluti didn’t exist before 75 years?

    As to your statement, well we lived without nuclear power fine for thousands of years – it was not necessary before the 20th C, and some will argue it still isn’t.

    We lived without trains, planes, and space shuttles for thousands of years – they were not ‘necessary’ before they were discovered/invented/created/designed? – some people will argue they still aren’t

    As for evermore powerful & faster laptops and PCs, were they necessary – are video games REAL? – They evidently are you can go and buy one, it has cost, it has weight, it has volume, it has code. BUT DOES IT EXIST?

  • Mike Schuler

    I’ll tell you what’s real and actually exists. An 1/8 inch wide crack in the fuel tank foam on the space shuttle, and a little piece of foam found on the launch pad underneath. What are they going to do now?

    The idea that we have to spend endless amounts of money just because we can, or because past discoveries indicate there are future discoveries to be had, is just not a very smart way of handling money.

    If there are discoveries to be had, they will come in their own due time. Galileo financed his own research by selling telescopes. He didn’t need massive amounts of the population’s gross product in order to make his discoveries.

    If you think an expensive experiment is absolutely necessary, you should also think of a way to pay for the experiment as well. Taxpayers should fund experiments that have an identifiable way of possibly benefiting society as a whole, and not just to provide incomes for researchers.

    What are they going to do with that shuttle now? Can it tolerate an 1/8 inch crack in it’s fuel tank foam, or are they going to have to install a new fuel tank? And what if that fuel tank gets a tiny crack in it too? Would we really miss the space station, if it didn’t exist?

  • Q

    Mike Schuler, so cut all government spending

    I hope your business doesn’t count on any GIs eating burgers, buying DVDs, drinking coke, smoking marlboro, furnishing their homes, installing PC’s and gadgets, or selling them cars and later servicing them. I hope you don’t need to sell them lawnmowers or the one thousand and one do it yourself tools and bits and pieces that fill garages, bikes for the kids or whatever else…

    Because that is where government spending ends up, in the pockets of thousands of little businesses, suppliers and services. Oh did I forget the filling station where they fill up, the travel agent where they book their holiday, the hotel or guest house where they stay, the tyre fitter who changes or replaces the tyres on their cars. The clothes shop where they buy their clothes.

    And the same with all the money the government spends on civil engineering projects. Do you think the architects, draughttsmen, contractors, labourers and suppliers all take the money and run …
    or do you see that they then go and spend it on small or big businesses, food, shops, and services.

    The same with all those on NASA contracts. Oh and incidentally the same with all those on defence contracts and arms manufacturing. They all take their wives out to dinner, buy flowers for their darlings, send their kids to schools, and the thousand and one things that ‘make the world go round’ and make the economy grow. Trade, business, velocity of money = wealth

    Better to build shuttles and dump them in the sea or the desert, than build more missiles and go looking for more countries to destroy and invade. like Israel in Gaza, knock out the power station and the bridges, and who gets the contract to rebuild? – uhh dunno or don’t want 2

    Incidentally if there were no government spending and social security, just to use round figures take a 1/3 of the money out of the economy – who do you think would be the first to suffer. Yes, small businesses and the food industry, and other basic or necessary services, like hot dog salesmen, etc.

    If you give more to those who have (ie: reduce taxes) they cannot possibly eat any more than they do.
    Take away from those who have little or have not, and you force them into crime. Now I haven’t got enough pages to deal with this circular or downward spiral, which would drag the economy into recession, but suffice it to say that you did not create the money or the wealth. You are just a ‘cog’ in the machine. No more and no less important (or indispensable) than any other.

    Why don’t you state what your business is, and why you think people should give you their money. You complain about taxes.
    You are the TAXMAN – you want to charge people for services or goods they probably don’t need, for what you consider a fair margin or profit. But tell me why should they give you their money, and not someone else. Someone who you would put out of work (employment diversity) who would then be forced to compete against you in your trade, and possibly be forced to undercut you. Then you’d be griping about too much competition and not enough diversity, and crying that your business and profit margins are suffering.

    So learn to be grateful for what you have and what you get. And by all means exercise your right to state whether you prefer the government to waste taxpayers money dropping a whole load of ordinance on another country, to keep arms manufacturers in business, the military have to replace all that old stock and junk. Or like Germany & Japan have done in the last 60 years invest in civil engineering: cars, tvs, fridges, etc etc

    And whether you prefer the government to spend tax payers money to bring clean running water, basic needs housing and electricity to Africa to reduce civil wars and diseases …

    Or like Dubai to build luxury fomes for Americans in the desert, with vast artificial lakes.
    Or build 10 shuttles capable of travelling to the Moon with 1000 plus men on board to start work on a Lunar base.

    But whatever your preference, do not be a miser or a scrooge, do not be afraid to be ambitious or to dream the impossible …
    Everything before you (good & bad) is because someone dared to dream and to take chances. It is not private citizens built the roman empire, roman roads and acueducts, but the Senate and/or government, who had the power and authority to see the ‘bigger picture’.
    It is not private citizens built the dams, highways, power plants in the US, but successive governments, And when private enterprises did do anything it was as part of government contracts, or with serious government subsidies, from money the government CREATED.

    Not from the ‘peanuts’ they collected in taxes from individuals. Not in the US, not in Europe, not in Japan, and not even in China.

  • http://www.amara.com/ Amara

    Mike Schuler: “If there are discoveries to be had, they will come in their own due
    time. Galileo financed his own research by selling telescopes. He didn’t
    need massive amounts of the population’s gross product in order to make
    his discoveries.”
    Hmm, are you sure about Galileo? I probably need to read more history, but I thought he had a teaching position at the University of Padua, renewed every year. He supplemented his teaching salary by selling a special ‘military compass’. After the Flemish telescope discovery and his subsequent building of his own telescopes, he showed the Venezia Dogon from the position of the the bell tower of San Marco how useful his telescope could be for war and gave the telescope as a gift, and was given a job position for life. I think his new position was funded by the Medici family, but I need to check. Note that he renamed the moons of Jupiter “The Medicean Planets”. Do you have a reference that he sold telescopes? From this book: _Galileo and the Scientific Revolution_ by Laura Fermi and Gilberto Bernardini (page 58) I read: “Though he built a large number of telescopes, not all were equally successful; only ten were sufficiently good to show all the new phenonmena.”

    Here is some food for thought about NASA funding.

  • Taxpayer

    Margaret:

    Would that fully fund things?

    *********************************************************
    Twenty percent of what we’ve spent on the Iraq debacle would be a good start in my opinion.

  • Q

    Taxpayer, 20% of the cost of Iraq would be a ‘start’
    Matbe instead of wasting as much again destroying another country, you could waste it on Space Missions.

    At least you wouldn’t be destroying another country, just to prove you can. Better to ‘conquer’ Space, even if only to prove you can. Less Cosmic karma for USA, if there is such a thing as Cosmic or karma.

  • http://greg.abstrakt.ch Gregor J. Rothfuss

    the cuts in cosmology dovetail nicely with the fear of this administration that new discoveries will undermine the creationist nonsense.

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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .

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