26 October 2009

Manned space flight is a white elephant.

Ars Technica | John Timmer | Mars can wait; NASA should try landing on asteroids first:

The final report on the future of NASA's human space flight committee has been released, and it concludes that there's a complete mismatch between the agency's current plans and its budget. To get things back on track, it suggests revisions to the Ares launch program and a new set of missions to the Lagrange points and asteroids. [...]

The committee has concluded that NASA now has plans that don't reflect any sort of budgetary reality...

The committee is unsparing in its view of the US manned space program, from the first sentence onwards: "The US human spaceflight program appears to be on an unsustainable trajectory. It is perpetuating the perilous practice of pursuing goals that do not match allocated resources." [...]

NASA has also failed to budget any money for the actual act of deorbiting the ISS, although that's probably not the worst of its problems. The ISS has only just reached its full habitation capacity, and further additions are still planned. That means we may end up with less than five years of it operating at planned capacity if deorbiting proceeds as scheduled. The committee, in a fit of understatement, calls this a poor return on investment.
[Emph. mine.]

I'm probably in the minority of science geeks who think NASA should shrivel up. They suck up way too much science funding for my taste.

There are pretty much three things you can get a federal grant for in science: things that kill people (defense/intelligence/security applications), things that save people's lives (mostly through NIH), and everything else. NASA eats up a huge chunk (perhaps the majority? — my data is old) of the everything else pie.

I think space is cool and all, and I'd love for us to know more about it, but there are a lot of cool things we ought to know more about. All the other science in the world ends up being leftovers of leftovers of the federal research budget.

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