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NASA Boldly Goes Nowhere December 5, 2006

Posted by federalist in Energy, Government Spending.

There’s something inspiring in the bureaucratic zeal of NASA’s bid to rejuvinate itself by proclaiming a new lunar project.  I imagine I would feel similar emotions watching a former Olympic medalist, now senile and wheelchair-bound, declaring that he will not only walk again but that he will set a new record.  Part of me would swell up in pride at this manifestation of the indefatigable human spirit, and part of me would want to “put him to sleep” to end the madness.  With tens of billions of our tax dollars on the line, the latter inclination definitely dominates.

We can’t blame them for trying.  After all, there are plenty of bureaucrats, scientists, and government contractors milking our national pride at having stayed in the space race without falling apart like the Soviet Union finally did.  NASA can claim it helped to win the Cold War.  But fifteen years on, American taxpayers have become nothing more than reluctant enablers of a psychotic, bureaucratic struggle for life.

A great technological challenge can be a tremendous force for economic development, technological progress, and national unity.  But what are we doing now?  Every so often the President or some Agency chief floats the idea of getting a man to Mars and back, or establishing a permanent lunar station.  These are gargantuan projects that would require hundreds of billions of dollars in consistent commitments, and returns that are ambiguous at best.  No reasonable person looks at the opportunity costs of such public expenditures and thinks they constitute a realistic vision.

Certainly not now, when there is so much fantastic science to be done on the ground.  Certainly not when near-earth space has been fully commercialized.  And certainly not when the cost of energy — perhaps the biggest cost in orbiting the materiel needed to send manned expeditions out of low earth orbit — is actually climbing.

NASA, like many federal entities, is an overfunded agency with an obsolete mission and no real vision.  There will come a day when we have developed an energy source so cheap that it will be reasonable to push manned space exploration back to the moon and beyond.  Until then, NASA’s latest delusional stirrings make it clear that it is time to put this agency to sleep.


1. federalist - February 7, 2010

Good news: Steven Weinberg explains “Obama Gets Space Funding Right” by cutting its manned space slight program.

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