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What do you think about NASA?

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It seems like every single blogger on the internet has an ode of some sort to the downed space shuttle. Not all are positive -- my friend Laurel (http://www.rationalmind.net/economistress) things that it's time to privatize (i.e. close) NASA because it's a waste of taxpayer's money. I think it's important not to confuse the spirit of discovery that allowed man to go to space, and the particular method by which that is being done today.

The International Space Station, (whose massive cost overruns may well have caused maintenance failures that caused Columbia to blow up) is a perfect example of the wrong approach to take to space exploration. The ISS is a typical result of multinational bureaucracies trying to make a political statement (under a scientific cover) and I could have told you with near certainty when this plan was just an idea that the true cost of the ISS was wildly underestimated. In an age when space tourism has become practical (as the Russians have shown) and commercial satellites are launched on a regular basis, a government-run space agency should stick to military applications, and leave the space exploration to businessmen. Skeptics will complain that there is not enough research money for a private version of the ISS, but I bet if the government allowed private enterprise to decide which areas research should go to I am sure that the results would be much better, even if a private ISS takes longer to build.

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Guest NeoRand4774

I think that if we lived in a completely laissez-faire society, there would most definitely be a very high market for space exploration. However, the reason why our government still funds NASA and will most likely continue to do so for a long time, is because the space program symbolizes are highest and greatest achievements. As anyone can clearly see, when the space shuttle Columbia exploded, while there were only 7 deaths, the public reaction to this tragedy was close to that of September 11th. Why? Because the crew of that shuttle was our best and brightest, the most excellent of men and women that our country, our world, had to offer. They symbolized the highest aspirations of man, and in one swift blaze of fire those aspirations were struck down for a moment. I think that the government would not want to privatize NASA after this tragedy, for fear of risking the complete annihilation of the space program. In this time of terrorism, many countries obtaining or trying to obtain nuclear weapons, impending war, etc, our space program symbolically extends above all of these things as the highest aspirations of man.

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The problem with NASA is simple, since the moon landings Congress has deverted monies from NASA and it's eventually goal of human colonization of outter space (which NASA plays down in the media to avoid sounding crazy) to the Military. This led NASA to attempt to cut back on expenditures. The ISS was built internationally for two reasons, 1) NASA wanted a permanent outpost in orbit, so it's planned lunar and martian outposts won't seem farfetched, but Congress would not fund it solely. I remember when I was younger when Space Station Freedom was a US-only operation that was desperately trying to convince Congress to give it money. I remember when the ISS was established as a compromise that included the EU and Japan, then later on the Russians. 2) he US Congress wanted to move the financial burden of Space to other countries for both fiscal and political reasons.

I believe that one of two actions need to be taken, either Privitization so NASA is free to launch a broader number of Commercial satellites without having to bow down to the Military's demands. Privitization would also allow NASA to move to more cost-effective methods that are hard to do as a government agency. (ie adoption of some foreign rockets, building of sites outside of the US, removal of bureacracy) The only other way to fix NASA is to give it more money. However, the Gov't is clear in that NASA will only be cut back more in response. The "Better, Faster, Cheaper" policy that has been in effect since the Challenger mishap has been a clear failure, and further budget cuts will only make NASA's performance worse.

If NASA is about the highest aspirations of men, then the Gov't should work on having a well-functioning AND well-funded agency that has all the resources it needs.

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A former top NASA official came to speak to a natural science group here at UT recently. In his speach he talked about how it seems proper to him that NASA's goals have shifted more to political than scientific. Truth is a large part of the NASA budget has been spent on projects with little scientific merit. For one thing manned space exploration is a pretty silly venture (for now, and after the first one or two times). Its much more expensive...if you are interested in the scientific goal of understanding the solar system and other stars and such the focus should be on unmanned craft.

Tim Bender

PS: heres a link to the astrophysicist Lawrence Krauss' congressional testimony on the subject, in which he discusses space exploration. http://www.house.gov/science/space/apr03/krauss.htm

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Guest Guest_Heather

I agree that space exploration represents the highest in what man is able to accomplish. But when it's funded by the government, it's usually pretty evident that you'll get crap for the amount of money that was spent. But until private business takes it over, until sending humans to Mars is profitable and no one is risking loss except those who invest in the experiment, no more should be done.

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