What About the Space Exploration Crisis? NASA Budget Could be Cut to Save Money

[/caption]There’s no denying it, President-elect Barack Obama will have one of the toughest jobs in presidential history. The challenges the 44th President of the United States will face are deep and varied. Everything from the economy to housing, from health care to warfare, from energy to security; everything appears to be in a state of “crisis”. So, of the incoming administration’s priorities, getting man back to the Moon is low on the list. Unfortunately, the exploration of space is often viewed as a luxury rather than a necessity, policy changes interfere with long-term projects, and the NASA budget can become an easy target for cutbacks.

It will come as no surprise then, that news is surfacing about some friction between Obama’s new administration and the existing top brass in NASA. Some reports point to direct non-cooperation by NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, an allegation that both NASA and the Obama transition team deny. Regardless, there is tension building, especially when it is becoming clear that the transition team may be eyeing up NASA budget cuts, postponing the Constellation program, possibly putting long-term US manned access to space at serious risk.

A space exploration crisis is on the horizon, but what damage would it cause?

nasa-logoWriting about NASA’s endeavours in space can be a frustrating experience. On the one hand, the US space agency is responsible for mankind’s biggest space-faring achievements. NASA has always led and the world has followed. NASA pushes back the frontiers of manned and robotic exploration, and now the agency’s expertise is being passed down to commercial spaceflight companies (such as SpaceX support through COTS contracts) to fill in the void behind NASA’s advances.

We are reaching an age where other nations are investing in space exploration too. The European Space Agency (ESA) is rapidly growing, Russia has one of the most robust launch systems on the planet, China is making huge leaps in manned spaceflight, India has sent a probe to the Moon; the list is growing by the month. Therefore, the US is beginning to feel competition from the international community, and although the US won’t be toppled as #1 in space any time soon, what about a decade from now? Will the playing field turn against NASA’s dominance in Earth orbit and beyond? Fortunately the US has close collaborative ties with ESA and Russia, but what happens if this situation changes?

NASA recently extended their use of the Russian Soyuz vehicle to fill in US manned access to space during the “5-year gap” between Shuttle decommissioning in 2010 and (proposed) Constellation launch in 2015. Although it is reassuring to know astronauts will still be able to fly with cosmonauts to-and-from the International Space Station (ISS) beyond 2010, what happens if relations between the US and Russia chill even further (the South Ossetia conflict is a prime example of how the politics between the two nations can freeze solid)? The Russian government could very quickly pull the plug on US manned access to space.

Artist impression of the SpaceX Dragon approaching the space station (SpaceX)
Artist impression of the SpaceX Dragon approaching the space station (SpaceX)
And so, all eyes on US space companies accelerating their development of alternative means of transportation. Elon Musk’s SpaceX for example, is a front-runner when it comes to commercial manned spaceflight. In a recent interview I conducted with SpaceX, Diane Murphy (Vice-President of Marketing and Communications) was very optimistic about SpaceX’s Dragon module providing the answer to manned spaceflight. “I think we’ll surprise them [NASA] with how quickly we are moving so they can use us for crew as well. We’ll be ready!” she told me. Judging by the speed at which the company is developing, it certainly seems to be a possibility.

But, for now, we are stuck in an awkward position. NASA gets a minuscule budget when compared with other government departments. The US government has underfunded the agency for many years, and the funds it does receive are constantly open to erosion by changing administrations and space policy. Now Barack Obama’s administration must balance the needs of NASA with the worsening financial crisis hitting the world, so a transition team has been sent to look into NASA business to understand where work needs to be done.

Now it seems as if tensions are coming to a head. According to reports in the Orlando Sentinel, Michael Griffin, who was attending a book launch with members of the Obama transition team (including ex-NASA senior administrator Lori Garver), accused Garver as being “unqualified” to be assessing whether funds should be cut from the development of the Constellation Program. According to witnesses at the book launch, Garver tried to reason with Griffin saying, “Mike, I don’t understand what the problem is. We are just trying to look under the hood.”

Griffin apparently disliked this assertion and said, “If you are looking under the hood, then you are calling me a liar. Because it means you don’t trust what I say is under the hood.”

Associates who attended the book launch said the exchange between Griffin and Garver was not an argument, it was simply “a discussion about stuff.” Still, whatever tone the discussion was pitched at, there seem to be problems brewing. To calm rumours that he was not cooperating, Griffin wrote an email to NASA employees saying, “This report, largely supported by anonymous sources and hearsay, is simply wrong. We are fully cooperating with the [transition] team members.”

Hemorrhaging the NASA budget? Stern cites the MSL as a prime example of damaging overspending (NASA)
Hemorrhaging the NASA budget? Stern cites the MSL as a prime example of damaging overspending (NASA)
This could be the symptom of recent accusations by Alan Stern, ex-NASA Associate Administrator for Science, that there was a “cancer” in the administration’s management structure. According to Stern, the result of this “cancer” is zero-accountability for project budget overspending and wasteful practices. His words came when NASA announced it would be removing a sample storage box from the Mars Science Laboratory after it had been developed and constructed (thereby throwing away $2 million), then followed by an announcement about a two year postponement of the mission. Needless to say, Stern is highly critical of the mission, prompting him to say that the “Mars Program is slowly committing suicide before our very eyes.”

Putting government underfunding, and alleged NASA mismanagement to one side, it appears to be a continuing misconception that the exploration of space (whether it be manned or robotic) is an academic endeavour. Personally, I’d argue that manned exploration of space is essential for the long-term survival of our species, but politics only thinks about the next four-year term in office. Although politics is a fantastic motivator for space exploration in some cases (cue: Apollo Program during the Cold War in the late ’60’s and early ’70’s) to fulfil short-term goals, during periods of social and economic upheaval, space exploration becomes an unnecessary luxury and policies become a lot more introverted.

To finish off, let’s look at the European Space Agency. Although ESA is a completely different entity from NASA–it is not politically-driven (although some leaders want it to be), it is a consortium of many nations and its budget is smaller than NASA’s–its outlook for Europe’s efforts in space are far more optimistic. Rather than trying to cut funding to save money, ESA appears to have a renewed vigour toward using space exploration as a means to stimulate the economy:

These decisions have particular relevance at the present time, showing as they do Europe’s determination to invest in space as a key sector providing for innovation, economic growth, strategic independence and the preparation of the future.ESA press release

To avoid any regrets in space policy, the upcoming US administration needs to look hard at ESA’s motivation. Investment in space provides independence, economic growth and preparation for the future. Alas, by making cutbacks to the Constellation Program, the US will start depending on Russia for manned access to space (if a commercial alternative isn’t available in time), economic influence of a manned space program will be cancelled out, and as for the future? Well, we’ll just have to hope for the best.

Sources: Seattle PI, FOX News, ESA

55 Replies to “What About the Space Exploration Crisis? NASA Budget Could be Cut to Save Money”

  1. The Lucifer Project will be NASA biggest bet. If they don’t do it, some other country will. Like China.

    Enjoy our new Sun in the sky!

  2. Even with budget cuts , the US is so far ahead of China et al , they will take decades to catch up thus increasing the temptation to cut.

    One guarantee of a reduced budget is Griffin’s (if true) childish behaviour.

    If he genuinely believes that only he is capable of describing what is under the bonnet , the men in white coats need to get round to his office pdq.

  3. NASA Budget: $17.3 billion

    U.S. Military Budget: $515.4 Billion!!!

    Cutting NASA’s budget will not save much.

    There are bigger agencies out there to pick on.

  4. Very well said … I agree that our politicians need to realize that we are at a point in time where we will either continue to lead in space exploration or give up that position to others.

  5. It was going to take us almost decade just to rebuild the capability we lost after the collapse of Apollo.

    …I don’t care to fathom how much damage could be done now if both the Shuttle and Constellation fall through.
    Sounds alot like Game Over.

  6. “[Stern’s] words came when NASA announced it would be removing a sample storage box from the Mars Science Laboratory after it had been developed and constructed (thereby throwing away $2 million), then followed by an announcement about a two year postponement of the mission. Needless to say, Stern is highly critical of the mission…”

    I’d just like to point out that the sample cache was Stern’s idea in the first place. It was slapped onto the rover without discussion with the scientists on the mission. It was poorly designed, and did not fit with MSL’s objectives, and nobody wanted it in the first place.

  7. How about all churches in the World ,and mainly in this country,.and all players and of Sports teams, and all Casinos in Vegas and all around this country and the world, every entertainrnent centers, TV, rsadios,theaters, magazines,.luxury items vendors and costumers, Musical groups, artists of every kknd come forward and collect and give money for the space exploration of every agency in the world, and mainly now in USA.? Churches have a very good position and oportunity for that in this country. Lets pray for that !,…Don’t you ?

  8. I would be upset if the Pheonix actually was not a waste of even more money. NASA dropped the ball on that one..

  9. I know it would take many years to rearrange priorities given the money already invested, but in the long term… Couldn’t NASA do more and better science, with less money, if we reduced our fixation on manned space exploration?

  10. Cuando las elecciones para Presidente hace mas de un mes,..recibimos muchas propagandas por el internet, e-mails de algunas PersonaS. haciendo campañas contra el aborto,… que supuestamente Obama propiciaria,…muy bien, de acuerdo,..pero ¿ Qué tal la del Control de Natalidad Artificial cientifico que la Iglesia todavia no permite ?,…
    Y ahora esto,…¿ Qué tal apoyar contra Obama a la NASA y su budget que corre el riesgo de ser recortado como si fuera un lujo de esta nacion y del mundo ? ,…
    ¿ Que tal campañas en las Iglesias y recogidas de donaciones para ese fin , oraciones, misas, rosarios, y procesiones a favor de los vuelos espaciales y las investigaciones cientificas en todos los ramos y muy especialmente para que en el futuro mas gentes puedan nacer y vivir sin hambre ni miserias, en otros astros terraformados, o con ciudades dentro de cupulas, o ciudades espaciales, de clima controlado, y sin desastres naturales,…?,…
    ( Claro que accidentes pueden ocurrir pero serian mas prevenibles y su evacuacion rapida,..al no estar solas, sino varias cercanas,..pero eso es lateral, tratarlo ahora ),..
    ¿ Qué tal una campaña de ahorro y donacion Nacional para la NASA, encabezada por las fuerzas vivas de la Nacion,….fraternidades, asociaciones de todo,..centros civicos y culturales,..medios de entretenimiento,..iglesias y grupos religiosos,.. artistas, deportistas , teams de deportes,..etc. ?
    Deportistas que ganan millones, artistas lo mismo,…compras de cosas lujusas y suntuosas al delirio,…construccion de nuevas iglesias, y nuevos centros de entretenimiento, etc. que ya hay bastantes,…ejecutivos con aviones particulares que paga la empresa,…no mas limousinas,..y si tanta falta have un avion, algunas veces ( que si, por supuesto ),..¿ qué tal aviones – taxis para éllos ?,..
    No, hay que cogerla con la NASA y el Espacio.

  11. It would be a shame if Obama goes against the grain of investing in science to brighten our future with regards to NASA. Many current innovations owe their existance and U.S. predominance due to space initiatives. If we are not leading the way and bringing home the fruits of these endeavors, you can sure bet somebody else will. That somebody could end up being Russia, China, the EU, or India. Now is a particularly bad time to withdraw. Investing in education is great, but if those minds have nothing to apply their knowledge to they will simply learn a foreign language and generate innovations overseas to benefit a foreign economy.

  12. A lengthy NASA mission typically costs about as much as a few hours military presence in Iraq, or a day or two at the most…..

    Apart from this: World wide co-operation seems to be the way to go. I wish it could all be about advance of knowledge and experience, rather than boosting national prestige.

  13. Surely the answer is to turn to the greatest strength of the United States, its ability to create simple, private, capital driven enterprises. But first, someone needs to go back historically and look at the numbers on the design and construction of the Saturn V. I will bet my right arm there were very few “managers” and the overall project was driven by the engineers and designers. Elon Musk with SpaceX has obviously taken the latter route.

    If you are looking at reducing the overall cost of the government, (which is very clearly way beyond reasonable levels at the moment), then it is a signal part of that responsibility to look at everyone without favour or exception; NASA included. So Mike Griffin should be glad of the opportunity to press his case and any instinctive negative reaction to that process must be suppressed.

    The long term solution is to return to funding new ventures from what used to be called Savings Institutions and to bring the savings of the nation back into use as the primary generator of job creation through long term investment into new ventures, such as SpaceX.. Whom, I am sure, will not be fazed by the additional competition.

    It is free, savings based, competitive investment for the long term; that will drive the future of exploration of space. Those that are welded to the government teat will have to get used to having to justify their proposals to sources outside of government for the whole, cost reduction exercise to bear fruit.

    However, there is a parallel responsibility here for the transition team as there is a desperate, and consequential need to recognise that the necessary changes to the existing dysfunctional financial system MUST be made to ensure the private savings are made available. Without those changes, nothing will change and the government driven overspend will just go on and on and on without letup.

  14. We know we can get to the moon, we’ve already done it. To follow the adage that it’s best to complete one project before beginning another, let’s concentrate on orbital projects and especially and earth-to-orbit vehicle that’s more like an advanced shuttle and less like the mercury capsules.

    Once we establish an orbital presence we can build moonships, marships, etc. in orbit.

    Small steps lead to big accomplishments

    (OK, somebody check my spelling.)

  15. Please don’t be overly optimistic about ESA and its prospects[^]. Why? Here’s a few examples:

    (1) The ESA budget is €3.41 billion. Not for one year but for the period 2009-2013! Compare that to NASA’s budget and allow for the fact that there are about as many tax payers in the ESA member states paying for the ESA budget as there are tax payers in the US paying for NASA’s.

    (2) Since a decade or so, NASA has used every given launch window to send a probe to Mars. ESA, in contrast, has in all its history send exactly one and a half probes to Mars (the latter half as piggyback and bound to fail). That was in 2003. The next ESA mission to Mars has just been delayed to 2016! And, as an aside, its budget was capped to a level that bodes ill for its scientific return.

    (3) With Constellation, NASA is currently developing its second, after Apollo, heavy-lift launch system that will serve human missions to the Moon and possibly beyond. ESA is not even capable to send humans to near Earth orbits (and won’t be for the foreseeable future).

    (4) The total number of present interplanetary missions lead by ESA is three. That’s less than the number of missions NASA had in 2008 at Mars alone!

    NASA seems not doing so bad, after all.

    [^] http://esamultimedia.esa.int/docs/MinisterialCouncil/MC2008Resolutions_English.pdf

  16. Thing is, how much can the constellation project be delayed? 5 Years no independent access to space, 10 years? Can the US afford to push this longer that what it is. The moon is a seperate issue from the access to space one.
    Especially with china working on it’s space technology, Russia will get around to building a new space craft one of these days. If they kept soyuz going when they had no money, now that they are doing well again, it’s perfect time to move forward.
    Will the US accept this, especially for the small amount of money it actually takes.

    If I was russia, and the US was putting space on the back burner, i’d ramp it up, go to the moon and stay while america is earth bound.

    Also COTS.. is that thing actually ever going to deliver anything? Or just putting money into research that won’t deliver anything?

  17. I don’t understand that this being a world wide recession, how the rest of the world can maintain their pace of exploration. Surely they have to be experiencing their own cutbacks which will slow them to our pace.

  18. Unfortunately, the exploration of space is often viewed as a luxury rather than a necessity

    Imagine that! And does it still count as exploration if you’re just planning on doing the same thing you did 40 years ago?

    NASA has always led and the world has followed.

    Well, except for the first satellite in space, the first animal in space, the first man in space, the first woman in space, the first space station in space, the first space walk…

  19. The difference between military budgets and space exploration budgets is that war buys things politicians can understand.

    Looking back to the 60’s: If we had lost the race to the moon it would have been a blow to national pride… where as if we had won the Vietnam war it would have had positive effects in Asian (and one could argue African and Middle east) politics through to today.

    The full effects of a failed Apollo wouldn’t have become apparent until decades after, when Russia would be left as the unquestioned space power.

    Likewise the loss of the shuttle and possibly constellation as well wont have serious detriments until well after Obama has left office.
    The program is happening over too long a time scale for the new administration to benefit from, so they are probably weighting the trouble of dealing with it VS the benefits of “finding” a few billion dollars for education.

    The money is too little to effect the massive social program budgets, but it looks real good in the press.

  20. U.S. Military Budget: $515.4 Billion?

    I believe thats about the price of a manned mars mission.

  21. Exactly what positive effects would there have been if the US won the vietnam war? It’s not like the domino theory actually turned out to happen.

  22. I lve iin Michigan…….. a State which has been in a recession since June of 2000. That’s nearly nine solid years in a row that Michigan has been in a recession. As big a fan of the space program that I am, I realize that President Obama will have to make huge budget cuts to prevent our Nation from sliding into a total depression. I hope he doesn’t have to slash our space program too badly.

  23. The Bush plan to return to the moon has never had a solid political foundation and was always unrealistic. Bush underfunded it and barely spoke of it after that initial speech, which was designed to earn him votes (2004 being an election year). Bush was not a space supporter. Obama could be, since he is not an idiot and might be convinced of its value.

    Griffin needs badly to get a clue. His refusal to cooperate with Obama will mean merely that he will be relieved of his post. Instead of throwing a tantrum, Griffin ought to be working with Obama’s transition team in order to sell whatever he can of existing programs and/or alternatives that take into account the existing political and economic environment.

  24. This is the funniest thing i’ve seen all day. You have a little angry picture of obama and it seems the kool aid doesn’t taste as good. You morons loved him so much that you got him elected, now you can just suck it up and bend over.

  25. maybe it is time for NASA to move away from being a government controlled entity and privatize. I would certainly invest in NASA stock. I would bet that more funding could be gained through going public than hoping for a program budget with this government. I wonder how much money could be gained through corporate sponsorship. Would it really be so bad if Coke or Pepsi was written on the side of the space shuttle?

  26. Dominion
    i totally agree that its about time nasa stopped being run on government handouts getting smaller and smaller,commercialize is the way to go,i think a rocket would look great with coke or levis on the side and i think that the would be far more investment in space than any one country can put togeter.Although im a uk citizen i am a avid fan of nasa and the exploration of space,commercializationexploytation and colonization is the way to go.,

  27. NASA represents the perfect opportunity to invest in our nation’s infrastructure. The case is so self-evident to this humble observer that if anything the budget for NASA should be increased to the maximum practical extent in line with the new administration’s other efforts to stimulate the economy and strengthen our industrial, educational, and technical base. Duh?

  28. I don’t think Obama actually -wants- to cut NASA budgets, but if he has to do that [temporarily] in order to save the economy, then so be it.

  29. The logic behind cutting NASA funds escapes me. Granted, I am in no way impartial-I firmly believe that space exploration, and exploration of all kinds, is what makes life worth living. But where’s the sense in slashing funds to NASA? An unnecessary luxury? The answer is to increase the funding-many times over. Think about the economic benefits of a robust, vigorous space program. Think about all the jobs this would create. If we had leaders that truly possessed vision and imagination, and a will for change, this “crisis” would only be an opportunity for great things.

  30. In my experience, it’s crucial to be well informed in this area. Watch the last MSL NASA news conference. Talk to the people actually working in this industry. The media and politicians will jump on any story (like the one about Griffin) in an attempt to steam people up so no one can think clearly anymore.

  31. I hope Mike Griffin wins this discussion or debate. If not, then he should go down fighting for what he thinks is right and defending NASA. If Obama wants to cut funding for NASA, then he has no clue how the funding of science and NASA benefits the U.S. and our economy. We need to stay on the cutting edge of technology. We can’t compete with China and India in low-tech, labor intensive industries unless we want to match their wages, which we don’t.

  32. Alan, Dominion;

    NASA is a research and development agency. Part f its reason for being is to do basic research and engineering in pace and aeronautical areas that *don’t* have a payoff so obvious that the private sector might already be doing them. Right now, there’s no clear commercial reason to go to the Moon, and if there is, the technology to get there economically enough doesn’t exist yet. (And Orion sure isn’t it, either.)

    That kind of basic science and high-risk technological development, with the goal of transferring what pays off (as well as the lessons of what doesn’t) to the private sector, is the proper role of government. It doesn’t lend itself to privatization. Now, what the agency does is valuable (though we can debate how *well* it’s doing it, which was the point of this story) but no business case can be built around it..

    Do you really think putting corporate logos on NASA launchers (as opposed to current private launches which can already do what they please) is going to raise anything like the current funding?

    Even NASCAR sponsors know that that kind of exposure brings them very little additional income as a kind of advertising, but they judge it to be a desirable thing anyway, mostly for public relations reasons.

    And NASA isn’t even *allowed* to do self-promotion.


    This isn’t simply Mike Griffin trying to hold back the barbarian hordes. If the specific architecture he promotes, with no room for criticism (mostly from those who WANT to go back to the Moon, but who don’t see THIS as an efficient, sustainable [or safe] way to do it) is the best he has to offer, then US manned spaceflight is in trouble, whether he ‘wins’ or not…

  33. Hi all again,i know it sounds a bit far off but to get industry truly involved with advertising and actually being part of a great name as Nasa would be a hell of alot more beneficial to exploration of space and the economies of the world if as many as possible countries and companies were involved.We in the uk are only part of Esa because its the cheepest option because our leaders dont have much vision either ,i just hope your new president thinks alot about what he`s going to do with Nasa`s buget befor he does anything,on going to the moon AGAIN waste of time and resource’s ,best to focus on earth return vehicles so when humans finally do go to mars it will be in an advanced modular delivered to space by a shuttle type ship and assembled in orbit .

  34. @ Frank Glover

    I’m not saying that NASA can’t be improved. I think they should do more with the funding that they currently receive – as should all government agencies. I don’t think they will do more with less funding, and that seems to be what the debate is about: the same level of funding for NASA or less; not whether he allows criticism.

    I like Mike Griffin because he seems to be very competent, and he is obviously passionate about NASA and the future of their work. I say give’em hell Mikey!

  35. Paint can chip in space, but inside the ISS is another story. Coca-Cola and Pepsi T-shirts will look great on the astronauts!

    But, on a serious note. The NASA budget is not even 1% of the national budget. If the moon is the direction that NASA is taking, then it is in the interest of the US that they be first to settle on the moon whether or not it is for scientific reasons.

    Have faith in Obama don’t give up on him before he is officially the President.

  36. I thought the article was an excellent summary of space exploration as it fits in with the political-economic picture. There aren’t easy answers. A lot of my friends are dealing with pink slips or slashed hours. I’ve talked with numerous colleagues who already note disturbing trends re: income vs. operating costs, etc. Maybe NASA can help provoke some morale improvement…God knows it’s needed where I am…lots of tired people, worried and worn out from worrying. Pensions toasted, etc. But the more I type and even though I’m a huge supporter of all things science, I can’t shake the faces I keep encountering. Some have no idea where their next paycheck is coming from. People and social justice MUST come first….not to mention this obsession (at least from a spending point of view) with war. I’ve had it with abstract discussions about bailouts, rescue plans and budgets that don’t address the needs of people who have already lost their jobs, pensions, etc. Maybe there’s a radical new idea out there where NASA could be funded to the point of creating new jobs, etc.

  37. “Exactly what positive effects would there have been if the US won the vietnam war? It’s not like the domino theory actually turned out to happen.”

    What? — The US’s willingness to fight communism in Vietnam — even if the US loses — sent a message to the USSR. It was a stategic victory; communism did not spread in SE Asia.

  38. Michael Says: “I want to show what a redneck repubtard I truly am by making the stupidest comment on this page”

    Michael, I am laughing and dancing right now at the fact that you are still a whining looser limbaugh goat sucker. I love the fact that even a simple image of Obama can set off idiots like yourself, raising your blood pressure; hopefully to a level that causes you to have a heart attack without health insurance.

    And don’t forget to go to church on sunday you good little rightwing nutjob! LOL

  39. As I said before. Make interesting. Re-release all those crummy, rigged, blurred, unenhanced pictures with questionable items on the Martian surface. Forgodssake. You have the capability of doing this, do it, put a will on your abilities.

    NASA has the most beautiful, enhanced, crystal clear pictures of moons much farther away, why you feed a truth-hungry audience of admirers this pile of crappy pictures.

    Go back to your archives, fix the crummy pasting, enhance the pictures you keep in the dark, and you will see a revolution of interest in space all over the world.

  40. Joe The Plumber – Please flush the vitriol. You’re not advancing the discussion. Try sticking to the subject.

    That said…

    There must be a space advocacy group that can organize an email writing campaign in support of NASA. Politicians will listen if our voices are loud enough.

  41. Science
    In the past, government funding for scientific research has yielded innovations that have improved the landscape of American life — technologies like the Internet, digital photography, bar codes, Global Positioning System technology, laser surgery, and chemotherapy. At one time, educational competition with the Soviets fostered the creativity that put a man on the moon. Today, we face a new set of challenges, including energy security, HIV/AIDS, and climate change. Yet, the United States is losing its scientific dominance. Among industrialized nations, our country’s scores on international science and math tests rank in the bottom third and bottom fifth, respectively. Over the last three decades, federal funding for the physical, mathematical, and engineering sciences has declined at a time when other countries are substantially increasing their own research budgets. Barack Obama and Joe Biden believe federally funded scientific research should play an important role in advancing science and technology in the classroom and in the lab.

  42. Making budget cuts for the military in order to better fund education and technology (NASA) is the most logical choice.

    Because it is better to have smart kids than smart bombs.

  43. I am not as educated as I would like to be but one thing I do know -We must lead and not follow- We must set the example and push ourselves and strive to become a better nation. Better society through better education for ALL! In all fields and technologys. If we can come up with money for bailouts we must come up with money to support new arts and science.Nasa enables us to dream without dreams what do we stand for as a nation? We must have goals and hopes and dreams.

  44. Space exploration and military interests are too closely intertwined to simply hack one budget apart with a machete and figure it wont affect the other.
    Especially when both entities share launch systems.

    I think what aggravates me more is the idea that soldiers and astronauts are being held publicly accountable for their spending. Meanwhile congress works tirelessly through the night to write a trillion dollar blank check so wealthy businessmen wont suffer the consequences of their own actions.

    Auto-makers were on the verge of taking home more money than NASA’s entire budget… and if we play our cards right, they just maybe might build us that electric car they’ve been promising for the last 30 years!

  45. I agree that the U.S. has to lead. There’s no place like first place, but the competition is getting steeper all the time.

    In human spaceflight, the U.S. has gone farther (the only nation to the Moon), but the Russians have the total hours in space. In robotic missions, the U.S. is supreme, with the most missions and the greatest success rate.

    This is the future that we’re talking about. Mars and the Moon. That future is not very far away.

  46. Ian O’Neill’s article on the NASA transition team politics is the best I have seen on the subject. It is trite to say, but worth repeating, that it is a very unstable time for economic planning — in the large, and for NASA. Let’s hope that Obma’s interest in creating an inspiring NASA dominates those economic forces.
    I presented the Society Roadmap to Space. http://www.planetary.org/roadmap to the transition team a week ago. We are, and will be, conducting a grass roots campaign strongly advocating support for space exploration: human and robotic — extending human presence into the solar system. Join with us.

  47. Thanks for another excellent article, Ian.

    In my opinion, Europe will be the economic powerhouse of the 21st century, with the US and China struggling to keep up. ESA is in many ways a much better organised agency than NASA, being based more on intelligent advancement of the European community rather than continually harrowed by politics and economics, like NASA. ESA could well be the agency that leads us to the Moon, Mars and beyond.

  48. RE: “”Exactly what positive effects would there have been if the US won the vietnam war? It’s not like the domino theory actually turned out to happen.”

    What? — The US’s willingness to fight communism in Vietnam — even if the US loses — sent a message to the USSR. It was a stategic victory; communism did not spread in SE Asia.”
    Hush children! we have more important things to talk about. First of all, Laos and Cambodia both fell under Communist control after Saigon fell. The “Domino Theory” was all too accurate. At first, our willingness to fight startled the USSR and the PRC…..and then they discovered they could keep us tied up there cheaply for years. Thanks to the fact that Stalinist or Maoist economics do not work worth a crap, all of SE Asia welcomes US investment and economic interests these days. We could have done much better, either by fighting smarter, or by sponsoring locals to oppose the Red backed locals, or by not fighting at all.

  49. I’m not so certain that the new administration isn’t on the right track cutting back on non-essential programs In light of the current economic pain and suffering of main street America. It is absolutely critical that the United States get back on economic solid ground. Saving a few billion here and there will help speed up recovery. If we fail in this regard, we will be in big trouble and NASA’s present efforts won’t mean a thing.

  50. It looks like Griffin has pretty much insured he’ll be replaced. I just hope he hasn’t done too much damage to NASA on his way out.

    If NASA’s budget does get cut I would put most of the blame on Griffin. He seems to be squandering the chance to work with what could have been the most NASA-friendly administration in decades.

    I only hope Obama replaces him quickly and retains the Constellation program despite Griffin’s foolish antics.

  51. Shaun says

    “ESA is in many ways a much better organised agency than NASA, being based more on intelligent advancement of the European community rather than continually harrowed by politics and economics, like NASA. ESA could well be the agency that leads us to the Moon, Mars and beyond”

    I agree with that statement but its kind of funny to think that a multi-government organisation like the ESA is more united than a single government organisation NASA.

    Further thinking on this is that all past co operative missions also seem to have far better success.

  52. Excellent post and I would like to add the following. It is no surprise that NASA has been having problems receiving the funding that it truly needs. The problem with NASA is that it has been dragging it’s feet for to long. Year after year, and decade after decade, of low earth orbit would make any common American citizen bored of what NASA is doing. If the American citizen gets bored with NASA, then Congress may get bored with NASA. That means less funding. No bucks, no Buck Rogers. The only really exciting science related stuff has come from the unmanned Mars robotic rovers Spirit and Opportunity, which have been enormously successful, and relatively cheap. The problem is only scientists and technical people get excited about Spirit and Opportunity. If NASA wants to gain the backing of the American people, they need to speed up the process of human exploration of space. Back in the Apollo days, we went to the moon within a 9 year period. Today, it can take 9 years just to get a NASA program approved by Congress. At the rate that NASA is going, private enterprise will pass it in terms of getting humans back into space exploration. And if not private enterprise, then China will gladly take the role of
    a global leader in space exploration. For news about aviation and space visit Aviation News – Aerospace Headlines.

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