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Stuff Keeps Breaking In Space June 15, 2007

Posted by fitsnews in US Politics.
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AMERICA’S SPACE PROGRAM STRUGGLING, NOT TO MENTION EXPENSIVE

FITSNews – June 15, 2007 – It was Don Henley who famously sang “we haven’t had that spirit here since 1969” in the Eagles’ classic hit “Hotel California,” but it might as well have been an engineer at NASA. In the thirty-eight years since Neil Armstrong took “one giant leap for mankind,” America’s space program has boldly gone nowhere – struggling to recapture the national imagination, suffering through two horrific tragedies and consuming billions of taxpayer dollars in the process. In the wake of this week’s computer crash on the International Space Station, criticism of NASA is growing louder. For example, in yesterday’s Time Magazine story, author Jeff Kluger writes:

The station was originally proposed 23 years ago as an $8 billion orbiting laboratory that would perform cutting-edge biological research, manufacture new and highly marketable materials impossible to make in the gravity environment of Earth and generally pay for itself many times over. Close to two decades past deadline and now carrying a projected $100 billion price tag, it has not returned a lick of good science — nor is it likely to. Meantime, it’s diverting billions from NASA’s budget that could better be spent on the agency’s brilliantly successful unmanned space program, as well as its promising efforts to return astronauts to the moon and eventually explore Mars.

Seriously, what the hell is up at NASA? Nothing it builds is especially exciting anymore, and everything it builds seems to cost eleventy kabillion dollars … and then break. Which costs eleventy kabillion more dollars to fix. We don’t mean to be hating on outer space or anything like that (fact is, we wanted to be astronauts when we were little girls), but you’d have thought by now we’d be flying Star Trek ships, beaming people down to explore strange new worlds (with seventies shag carpet) and figuring out how to invent a longer-lasting Sun. Instead we’re conducting experiments on whether lizards can hump each other in zero gravity or not while circling the earth in a flying bucket of bolts that’s about as reliable as a defective Pinto.

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1. Jim Spellman - June 15, 2007

That’s certainly one cynic’s view of things — especially when the writer has seen one too many space operas and then thinks they actually understand what they are writing about.

It’s difficult to justify the International Space Station on the basis of scientific return alone, but therein lies the flaw to the authors’ argument. In talking about costs and the “worth” of space exploration, the ISS is an investment.

At least, that is always how members of the National Space Society (a privately supported, public membership, 501c3 nonprofit educational organization and space advocacy group) have seen it.

Humanity’s eventual, but necessary move into space has been and will continue to be expensive at first. At one time during the dawn of aviation, airplane flights were also considered unreasonable as well (and still are depending on who you ask with today’s rising fuel costs), but now our society cannot function without it.

Secondly, there is the political side of the coin -– but the author once again is looking in the wrong direction for the answer. Yes, our international partners would be upset if we do not hold up our end of the bargain, but there is another factor that the auther hasn’t mentioned, and that is emergence of China on the world stage of space exploration.

Fueled by the success of “taikonaut” Yang Liwei’s flight in October 2003 and succeeding flights, China has been emboldened to lay out designs on building a space station of their own in the future.

As the nation which invented gunpowder and rockets long before the New World was “discovered” by the Old World European nations, China has learned quickly from the mistakes of others, considering that most of their own early spaceflight attempts in the 1990s were failures.

If the U.S. wants to continue to take the lead into space, then American leadership in programs such as the ISS are necessary. If we don’t, someone else will.

Therefore, the “return on investment” of any permanent human space outpost must be judged by broader criteria, such as:

* Maintaining US leadership in space exploration;
* Symbolic value of maintaining a permanent human presence in space;
* Growing the understanding of how humans adapt to living in space for extended periods;
* Experience gained during on-orbit station assembly (tools, techniques, problems), as well as from spacecraft/station interaction, and;
* Function of ISS as a ‘national laboratory’ and perhaps eventually a test-bed for commercial applications and research projects

As to the “eleventy kabillion dollars” remark — well, it’s easy to see why you’re not a math major (or an Economics professor).

The total amounts (in real dollars) that NASA has been budgeted from 1958 to the present (2007) amounts to $419.420 billion dollars — an average of $8.559 billion per year.

Measured in real terms (Meaning: if the value of $1.00 in 2007 equaled the value of $1.00 in 1958), the figure is $618.412 billion, or an average of $12.681 billion dollars per year over its’ forty-nine year history.

I know, you’re confused now. So what does that all mean? Simple.

According to figures provided by the Coalition for Space Exploration, and other space advocacy groups such as the National Space Society and U.S. Space Foundation, when divided by the number of American citizens who pay their taxes on April 15, the amount of NASA’s budget works out to approximately $55 USD per year per taxpayer.

That works out to about $1.06 a week, or $0.15 cents a day in current 2007 spending. Let’s see you try and save the world, let alone “explore strange new worlds” on that figure a day.

If you don’t want to believe all that I’ve just said, then go to http://www.thebudgetgraph.com and figure it out for yourself.

2. Sandlapper - June 16, 2007

Great work and well-said Willie. Now compare that with the $677 per taxpayer per year($13.01 per week, or $1.85 per day, based on estimates of $3 billion a week) that we are spending in Iraq. Go figure.
But of course George Bush doesn’t start space programs, he just starts wars.

3. Jim Spellman - June 16, 2007

I’ve found from years of experience that when the facts are presented and verified by independent sources, the arguments of the anti-space, anti-technology, Luddite community tend to fall silent, save for the occassional rustling wind, bird chirps and rolling tumbleweed.

Some more food for thought. Here’s a simplified breakdown (numbers rounded) of expenditures for Fiscal Year 2008, which is currently being debated in Congress, and will hopefully go into effect on Oct. 1, 2007. These figures represent what will be spent in ONE Year for the various programs listed.

These figures will also more than likely be increased (few line items are ever really decreased) for FY 2009, FY 2010, FY 2011, etc. etc., but, you get the picture by now (or, at least, you should).

NOTE: This does NOT include tax monies and/or expenses obtained at your STATE and Local County/City levels (to fund your police/fire departments, schools and educational programs, roads & bridges, etc.) This is just the Federal level:

TOTAL U.S. FEDERAL BUDGET: $2.8 Trillion

Divided by:

Military: $632 Billion
Social Security: $586 Billion
Medicare: $394 Billion
Unemployment: $367 Billion
Budget Deficit: $354 Billion
Non-Military Discretionary: $350 Billion
Medicaid: $276 Billion
Interest on the National Debt: $243 Billion

Now, NASA’s budget for FY 2008 — which comes out of the $350 Billion earmarked as “Non-Military Discretionary” funds — will amount to $17 Billion. Sounds like a lot on the surface, but it’s 6/10ths of ONE Percent of the Total $2.8 Trillion Federal Budget.

Boggles the mind, doesn’t it?

And to think there are actually well-meaning people living with the delusion belief that if we just stop NASA and cancel space exploration and development altogether, we can solve all those other problems like feeding the hungry, Universal healthcare for everyone, better education for our kids, or even “save” Social Security.

Please. . .

Why is it that the space program’s critics can’t wait to sharpen their knives against NASA, while turning a blind eye towards the above listed federal programs? Are they *really* being responsible stewards of those budgets each year!?!

4. FITSNews - June 17, 2007

JIm-

If you’re going to leave such long comments, can you at least tell us something cool – like what’s inside Area 51? And is there really a spaceship currently being stored in the bullion depository at Fort Knox?

We don’t disagree with your premise that the rest of government is also wasteful and inefficient, or that NASA should continue its exploration – we just think the space station is a cash-guzzling boondoggle with little to show for the taxpayers’ investment .

-FITSNews

5. Jim Spellman - June 18, 2007

If you want instant gratification, go buy yourself an ice cream cone, a new car or the services of a female “companion” with great oratory skills.

If you think the realities of spaceflight are slow and plodding, go watch an episode of Star Trek/Star Wars.

To say you’re expecting the space station to show “what have you done for me lately” when it’s not even *complete* is like expecting to go shopping at the local Wal-Mart as the store is still being built and the salesclerks and cashiers are not even staffed yet.

However, if you really want to find out what you’ve been getting through the years, go to the following sites as a starting point and then expand your search even further:

http://www.ethicalatheist.com/docs/benefits_of_space_program.html

http://www.thespaceplace.com/nasa/spinoffs.html

http://search.nasa.gov/search/search?q=space+benefits&output=xml_no_dtd&sort=dateADALAd1&site=nasa_collection&ie=UTF-8&client=nasa_production&oe=UTF-8&proxystylesheet=nasa_production

As for Area 51 et al, sorry, can’t help you there. I deal in reality, not science fiction and conspiracy theories.


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