Friday, November 19, 2010

The NASA Myth


BLOG POST SUBTITLE: How To Cure Low Blood Pressure

Do we need NASA? Johnny Depp is set to break Tom Hanks' record to become the highest paid actor ever, in that he will receive $56 million dollars for the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean film. One guy. Swishing in front of a camera, playing pretend pirate. Yet, I never hear people discussing whether we really "need" Johnny Depp anymore.

Military Spending
Global Distribution of Military Spending
by the Stockholm Intl Peace Research Institute
and the US Center for Arms Control (May 2010)

I found this disturbing chart, courtesy of the GlobalIssues.Org website, in a fellow space writer's discussion about federal spending. If you have time, I recommend his blog: The Space Advocate. He is opinionated, vehement, not even remotely politically correct – and almost always right. In this particular rant, he asked: "Seriously, how many ways to kill a human being do we need to come up with?"

It's a fair question, and it set me trolling through hundreds of links, hoping to find a visual comparison of money we spend killing versus money we spend exploring.

I grow weary of hearing that tired old whine, "Why give money to NASA when we could be using the money for problems on Earth?" It's not even worth debating... certainly not on my blog, because I'd be preaching to the choir about all that world space programs have done for Earth, and how even minimal spin-off technologies have changed the lives of entire generations and nations.

NASA's budget for FY 2010 was about $18.7 billion. We hear the words million, billion and trillion bandied about on the news these days like they're nothing, but I won't sit here and try to convince anyone that is not a huge amount of money. It absolutely is. However, there is a greater perspective to be drawn, here.

The annual budget of the United States for 2010 was over THREE TRILLION. The cut that was allocated to NASA was thus 0.623%. Less than one percent. I went roaring around the internet and found over a hundred pie charts for 2008, 2009 and 2010 budgets; without fail, NASA barely even merits a visible slice (unless the chart is enlarged to a pie that you could live inside).

2010 Federal Budget of the United States
Get your magnifying glass and try to find NASA!

Consider also these statistics, as compiled by Forbes, the NY Times, Consumer Reports and the Bureau of Labor Statistics about how Americans spend their money:

Each year, Americans spend over $65 billion dollars on illegal drugs, and another $315 billion on rehabilitation facilities and health care costs to get people off said drugs. Seems to me Robert Downey, Jr. & Steven Tyler alone probably spent more on questionable substances than NASA will ever have for certain earthbound projects (climate science, ocean exploration, etc.).

Americans also spend $600 billion per year in casinos, gambling money away for no other result than to lose games of chance. See the budget list in the addendum post just below this one, and examine the categories that cost under $600 billion.

I have not found a single person yet who admits to contributing to the massive pornography industry, which somehow stays afloat on a mere $10 billion in revenues per year -- despite having no customers. Amazing.

Double Facepalm
Why don't we put more money into health care? Into famine? Again, fair questions. I don't know the answers.

Why do members of congress get to vote themselves raises? Why did they give money to car companies whose CEOs have private jets? Why do law-breakers in prisons have better exercise equipment and libraries at their disposal than I do?

If you really want to talk about skewed priorities, why are there more shelters in the US for abused animals than for abused women? I don't know.

What I do know is that NASA isn't the mythical spending sponge that some people claim, and I'm at a loss to understand the unfounded indignation, given all they have provided "for the benefit of all."


calluna said...

What?!? There's gonna be a fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie? Isn't three already one too many?? I like Depp and all but that last one was long. And boring. And pointless. Where does the dead pirates society even go from here? (Ok, rant over. Thanks.)

PillowNaut said...

LOL, yep...Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, due out in 2011.

dwr2829 said...

The defense budget is not just bullets and is also made up of the retirees pension and the service members health care.

lisleman said...

preaching to the choir - you are right about that. NASA is well spent money - education, spinoffs, etc.

However, do agree that the main driver of the moon race was the cold war?

NASA also promotes international cooperation. It is interesting the reaction of the public when the Hubble was not going to be repaired the last time. Many people voice concern about saving Hubble.

PillowNaut said...

@dwr2829 - No one suggests that it is, or that peace keeps itself. But come on - "Money we spend killing versus money we spend exploring" is still pretty depressing. Human nature, maybe... but sad. There could be a more responsible defense budget without such massive Pentagon spending, and DoD Health care, for example, accounts for less than 15 out of 663 billion (i.e. 2.3%). What bothers me is the tradition that the Defense Dept. is not subject to the rigorous scrutiny that other agencies must undergo, as if it is untouchable. That leads to greater waste.

@Lisleman – Sure, competition was a better incentive back in the day, but I wouldn’t want to return to that. Interestingly, when I posted this on my Facebook page, someone made the comment that "You can bet that if China or Iran announced they were colonizing the moon, NASA's budget would be the highest priority all of a sudden." It does make one wonder. (I think you’ll see a similar Hubblesque reaction when the Space Shuttles are finally retired as well).

geosteph said...

Here's another stat for you:

For FY 2008 The B2 bomber's estimated cost is Approx. 2.2billion dollars each

PillowNaut said...

okay, i'm already crying -- don't make me SOB ;)

Sci-Fi Gene said...

Johnny Depp's salary is paid for in popcorn with it's 400%? 4000%? mark-up - at the end of the day movies are simply the popcorn industry's delivery vehicle. Meanwhile development of the technology used to put Johnny Depp on screen was of course driven by the porn industry. Perhaps NASA should be looking at similar business models?

Patrick said...

Why shouldn't we research and travel in space as part of our defense budget? We can travel to the moon and set up a telescope that can look at the earth and space, set up a missile silo, laser beams to measure distances to stars and fry bridges in China all on the surface of the moon. Whats the point of setting up a telescope in space that you cant use to defeat our enemies?