Friday, March 3, 2006

So Sad

Not long ago, Michael Griffin (NASA’s administrator) promised Congress and the American people that Bush’s ambitious manned space program initiative could be accomplished without sacrificing “one thin dime” of NASA’s hard science budget.

He lied.

The budget, made public a few days ago, surprised many with its drastic hard science cutbacks. Many of the most interesting, most promising science missions were delayed indefinitely — budget-speak for canceled, but hopefully without the negative PR.

From the New York Times:

The cuts come to $3 billion over the next five years, even as NASA’s overall spending grows by 3.2 percent this year, to $16.8 billion.

Among the casualties in the budget, released last month, are efforts to look for habitable planets and perhaps life elsewhere in the galaxy, an investigation of the dark energy that seems to be ripping the universe apart, bringing a sample of Mars back to Earth and exploring for life under the ice of Jupiter’s moon Europa — as well as numerous smaller programs and individual research projects that astronomers say are the wellsprings of new science and new scientists.

This is so sad. As Carl Sagan might have said, billions and billions of dollars are about to be spent on getting a few humans to the moon. There might even be a permanent settlement there (that’s the goal), which I’ll translate into a permanent weight on NASA’s budget, much as the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station have turned out to be.

And how frustrating! The “romance” of manned space missions completely trumps hard science. If you believe the politicians are accurately reflecting their constituencies (an arguable proposition, to be sure), then the majority of the American people would rather spend $40 billion to $60 billion on manned space missions that will do nothing useful whatsoever than spend $10 billion on hard science missions that will greatly expand our understanding of the universe.

I guess it’s just another of the numerous ways in which I’m out of sync with the rest of the world…

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