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Astronaut John Grusnfeld on the recent Hubble servicing mission. Credit: NASA

8 Ridiculous Things Bigger Than NASA’s Budget

27 May , 2009

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Why do we explore? In the days of Magellan, Columbus and da Gama, undoubtedly the average person thought it was foolish to risk lives and spend large amounts of money to find out what was beyond the horizon. Those explorers didn’t find what they expected, but their explorations changed the world.

What drives us to explore and discover is what we don’t know, and the spirit of exploration inspires us to create and invent so that we can go explore and possibly change the world. We don’t know yet exactly what we’ll find if humans ever go to Mars, Europa or beyond, but if we stay in our caves we’ll never find out. Similarly, space probes and telescopes like Hubble, as well as ground-based telescopes have helped us explore remotely and have facilitated the discovery of so many things we didn’t know — and didn’t expect — about our universe.

However, exploration takes money.

The most often-used argument against space exploration is that we should use that money to alleviate problems here on Earth. But that argument fails to realize that NASA doesn’t just pack millions of dollar bills into a rocket and blast them into space. The money NASA uses creates jobs, providing an opportunity for some of the world’s brightest minds to use their talents to, yes, actually benefit humanity. NASA’s exploration spurs inventions that we use everyday, many which save lives and improve the quality of life. Plus, we’re expanding our horizons and feeding our curiosity, while learning so, so much and attempting to answer really big questions about ourselves and the cosmos.

NASA’s annual budget for fiscal year 2009 is $17.2 billion. The proposed budget for FY 2010 would raise it to about $18.7 billion. That sounds like a lot of money, and it is, but let’s put it in perspective. The US annual budget is almost $3 trillion and NASA’s cut of the US budget is less than 1%, which isn’t big enough to create even a single line on this pie chart.
US Federal Spending.  Credit: Wikipedia
A few other things to put NASA’s budget in perspective:

Former NASA administrator Mike Griffin mentioned recently that US consumers spend more on pizza ($27 billion) than NASA’s budget. (Head nod to Ian O’Neill)

Miles O’Brien recently brought it to our attention that the amount of money Bernie Maddof scammed with his Ponzi scheme ($50 billion) is way bigger than NASA’s budget.

Americans spend a lot of money on some pretty ridiculous things. Returning to that oft-used phrase about spending the money used in space to solve the problems on Earth, consider this: *

Annually, Americans spend about $88.8 billion on tobacco products and another $97 billion on alcohol. $313 billion is spent each year in America for treatment of tobacco and alcohol related medical problems.

Likewise, people in the US spend about $64 billion on illegal drugs, and $114.2 billion for health-related care of drug use.

Americans also spend $586.5 billion a year on gambling.

It’s possible we could give up some other things to help alleviate the problems in our country without having to give up the spirit of exploration.

*the numbers used here are from various years, depending on what was readily available, but range from the years 2000 and 2008.

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Stellare
Member
Stellare
May 27, 2009 7:59 AM

Just a comment on your statement:

“The most often-used argument against space exploration is that we should use that money to alleviate problems here on Earth.”

In fact the space programs include Earth observation programs that DO in fact alleviate problems here on Earth. In fact the first science programs in NASA was dedicated to geodesy, one of the Earth sciences. smile

Earth observation from space saves lives, nothing less. smile

Jorge
Member
Jorge
May 27, 2009 8:10 AM
Cool article, and yes, very useful to put some misguided minds to rest regarding the “wastefulness” of space spendings. A few more things to consider, dealing with the historical part of the post and all those Portuguese explorers (well, Columbus’ Portuguese origin is highly debatable, but I’ll pull the coal to my sardine (I guess the context is just right to use a portuguese saying), if you don’t mind ): The mortality rate in those explorations was just plain huge. In those travels that lasted for years, in fragile and rather small ships, without a properly balanced diet and no real medical care, the mortality rates were as high as 50%. A man that went aboard one of… Read more »
Nancy Atkinson
Guest
May 27, 2009 8:12 AM

Great additions to the arguments pro-space exploration, Stellare and Jorge — thanks!

mrbill
Member
May 27, 2009 8:48 AM
I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t jump in and play devil’s advocate. The reason the laymen feels that the NASA’s budget is cheating them of their tax dollars is entirely the fault of the institution’s public relations. People feel excluded from the breathtaking science going on in space on the planet because they cannot interact in a reciprocal manner. It would seem to the laymen that the NASA is entirely obsessed with keeping a paltry dozen people in space to the exclusion of the other 300 million Americans actaully supporting them. The NASA has portrayed its history as a series of spectacular milestones often focusing around photogenic rocket launches and planet/satellite imaging. By emphasizing the… Read more »
Spoodle58
Member
May 27, 2009 9:31 AM

Great article,

I agree that it is a shame that the people across the water don’t know how much the U.S. government spends on NASA, and a bigger shame that they don’t know it directly benefits them.

Jess
Member
Jess
May 27, 2009 10:22 AM

Nancy Atkinson: *the numbers used here are from various years, depending on what was readily available, but range from the years 2000 and 2008.

If anything, these numbers have -increased- in the past few years, lending more weight to their part in the article. ;o

Torbjorn Larsson OM
Member
Torbjorn Larsson OM
May 27, 2009 11:11 AM
It’s quite possible that one can recoup the investment on climate research alone (so I don’t get the NOAA discussion). It could have happened with the ozone problem, the first environmental catastrophe diverted (now verified by models AFAIU); but I’m not sure how much was done by balloons and planes and how much was satellite survey. GPS is a more mundane application, but for example Burj Dubai wouldn’t be possible without it. (Now I just read about a LIDAR system which can handle precision built structures over 500 m, BD is IIRC currently 818 m (17 Jan), but that system was developed by, of all things, NASA.) The standard cosmology wouldn’t be possible without Hubble (well) and WMAP,… Read more »
Maxwell
Member
Maxwell
May 27, 2009 12:08 PM
@MrBill: NOAA without services pioneered and maintained by NASA would still be a bunch of guys running around with barometers and paper journals trying to predict the rain. While they may not offer their services direct to the consumer that doenst make it any less valuable an agency. The NASA budget is pathetic compared to projects that accomplish far less for ten times the price. The problem with NASA is its obvious expenditure of money has been trumpted by the media without an explaination to these readers of how little money we’ve actually spent. Politicians are then caught in the crossroads of wanting to “save” money while not wanting to be known as the men who killed the… Read more »
Jorge
Member
Jorge
May 27, 2009 1:23 PM

Maxwell, I think competition will do it. When americans see that we, in Europe, or the russians or the chinese, or whoever else, are doing stuff they can’t do anymore, they’ll wake up to the importance of properly funding NASA.

It might even start quite quickly, in a couple of years, when America looses independent access to space for its astronauts.

Maxwell
Member
Maxwell
May 27, 2009 4:53 PM
I’m fearful about that, Jorge. Personally I believe the reason the shuttle has survived all these decades is due to the fact that no senator wanted to be known as the guy who killed the American spaceflight program. Not out of any particular interest in spaceflight itself, but just the embarrassment of losing this ability. That is why the “gap” has become so big a problem that it overshadows our future destinations of the moon and mars. Yes in theory other nations going to the moon is just the shock to the system we need. If that was the case tho, a massive investment towards COTS-D and a more ambitious moon program should have been the announcement we… Read more »
Astrofiend
Member
Astrofiend
May 28, 2009 12:25 AM

All I can summon is: Why? Why don’t people get excited about this stuff? I’m at a loss.

Tobacco products – people will happily spend more money on committing slow painful suicide by self inflicting one or more of the literally hundreds of horrible diseases that smoking has been directly linked to than they would on uncovering the wonder of the universe. I don;t get it – what a sad predicament we humans find ourselves in.

God help us (if he exists), because we sure as hell seem incapable of making prudent choices ourselves…

HeadAroundU
Member
May 28, 2009 12:53 AM

So, we shouldn’t treat tobacco and alcohol medical problems?

Are you gonna tell people to stop gambling and doing drugs?

Ridiculous arguments. It’s the time we live in. Take it as a fact and stop crying. Everybody’s not as noble as scientists or space explorers.

You should probably start crying about Bush’s war in Iraq and put him into jail. So much money spent there. I’m not a hypocryte on here because a president is supposed to be responsible, not like common people doing drugs.

Torbjorn Larsson OM
Member
Torbjorn Larsson OM
May 28, 2009 6:05 AM

“Ridiculous arguments.”

Sizing up effects is a common method in science. Yes, you can “tell people to stop gambling” by increasing taxes (for space) – less money for gambling then.

Torbjorn Larsson OM
Member
Torbjorn Larsson OM
May 28, 2009 6:16 AM

“So, we shouldn’t treat tobacco and alcohol medical problems?”

I believe the argument was just that, people prefer to spend money on drugs instead of space (and drug treatments).

“Are you gonna tell people to stop gambling and doing drugs?”

If the solution involves taxation, yes – less money for gambling and drugs.

Torbjorn Larsson OM
Member
Torbjorn Larsson OM
May 28, 2009 6:18 AM

Oops. Sorry about the twofer. (Durn tabs. smile )

HeadAroundU
Member
May 28, 2009 11:53 AM

No, no, no. If people want to gamble, nobody is gonna stop that busines. None politician is that dumb.

rev. byron frimstone
Member
rev. byron frimstone
May 28, 2009 3:53 PM

I could only think of 2 ridiculous things bigger than NASA’s budget: these NUTS.

star-grazer west coast
Member
star-grazer west coast
May 28, 2009 4:30 PM

rev. byron frimstone Says
Vat are the 2 ridiculous things bigger than
Nasa’s budget- what nuts? What may seem
crazy to one person may be a livilihood for another!!!!!

star-grazer west coast
Member
star-grazer west coast
May 28, 2009 4:59 PM
Unfortunately, the recession the US has may be the straw that broke the back of American thinking of being excited about space exploration and being first to do things. It may appear I am a pessimist, however, many Americans are finally realizing the deficit spending has caught up with our way of thinking about the future and far more cautionary spending and earnings are the only way to go, if so and so country wants to do this in space, Americans in general may no longer care. As far as what people will think are truly crazy spending, humans have been doing crazy things since the beginning of the human race!!!!!!! Humans will not change!!!! To attempt to… Read more »
RUF
Guest
RUF
May 28, 2009 5:21 PM

I heard that American women spent more on cosmetics than the US spent on the Apollo Program. Wow….

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