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Feb 11 2012

NASA Mars program facing steep budget cuts

CRIRES model-based computer-generated impression of the Plutonian surface, with atmospheric haze, and Charon and the Sun in the sky.

The official budget won’t be released until Monday, but word is NASA’s unmanned program will see big cuts and Mars missions will take the brunt of them. Sadly, when it comes to our budget priorities as of late, we are one screwed-up country:

(CBC News) — The two scientists, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they were briefed on the 2013 NASA budget. NASA’s planetary science budget, currently $1.5 billion, is slated for a $300 million cut. $200 million of that will come from the Mars budget. The current Mars budget is $581.7 million. “To me, it’s totally irrational and unjustified,” said Edward Weiler, NASA’s former associate administrator for science. “We are the only country on this planet that has the demonstrated ability to land on another planet, namely Mars. It is a national prestige issue.”

4 Vesta as seen by the Dawn spacecraft

For starters, money spent on unmanned missions enjoy the full benefit of Moore’s Law and give us the biggest bang for the buck by far. The combined cost of New Horizons to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt and Dawn to Vesta and Ceres — exploring half a dozen worlds we have never seen close up — cost about what we spent on two shuttle launches, and that unmanned money is spread over a decade or more!

And that’s not even the most sickening part. We gave the bankstas who sank our economy about a trillion in cash and trillions more in no interest loans. For perspective, if we gave NASA a trillion dollar no interest loan, just the interest that agency could earn off of Treasury Notes over 10 years would fund both of those missions above with enough left over to cover a veritable fleet of interplanetary spacecraft including landers, floaters, and orbiters.

Say it another way, the amount of money we will save by cutting $300 million out of NASA is 0.3% of what we forked over to the very same losers who created the most toxic debt instruments in history. Which, incidentally, are the same assholes who now presume to lecture the entire nation on things like financial responsibility and proper deficit management. Imagine what we might have missed if those ass wipes had tanked Cassini-Huygens or the Hubble Space Telescope!

Yeah. Bandwidth prevents me from featuring even a fraction of the exquisite images, not to mention enough hard science, from cryovolcanoes to Dark Energy, to keep an army of astronomers busy for years.

Odds are the cuts are partially in response to the pressure from the manned program, sort of on life support for now. The utility of that is debatable, unmanned missions deliver the goods. Then again, manned spaceflight compares rather favorably with spending a single goddamn month in Iraq getting shot at chasing down phantom nukes. But if we are going to pursue it, there are dozens of emerging, private sector Newspace companies chomping at the bit to provide every kind of vehicle and service you can imagine for substantially less than the going-nowhere-fast SLS pork barrel handout masquerading as a manned space program preserved to garnish a few congressional districts.

The scariest part, this could be the tip of the iceberg, merely the beginning, of our great national descent into cosmic mediocrity. I think I’m going to fucking throw up.

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  1. 1
    Trebuchet

    Never fear. Once Saint Newt is annointed president, the Magic of Free Enterprise, freed from all those job-killing regulations, will magically provide us with a moon base.

  2. 2
    Randomfactor

    And Heinlein already told us what it’ll be used for.

  3. 3
    Drolfe

    You know what’s funny is … you could cut $300 million from the “defense” budget and probably not even notice it. We could cut billions from defense and still out spend the entire world combined. So, there’s that.

  4. 4
    Drolfe

    No wait, I think I might be getting the numbers wrong, you could cut billions from the defense budget and we’d still outspend our closest rivals by a few billion, but I think the whole world combined number is a little too close. CBA to look up the latest numbers. :-\

  5. 5
    unbound

    Drolfe – somewhere in the middle. We outspend the next 15 top spenders combined. We could cut $50 billion and still maintain that spot. We could cut 1/2 a trillion and still be number 1 by a pretty wide margin.

  6. 6
    llewelly

    The anti-science people know these projects make science advocates out of children and young people. Their goal is not saving money; it is destroying what their enemies love.

  7. 7
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    Awful situation. Good post about it.. Thanks I guess.

    So much I want to say about this – but most of it is obsecenities & I’m notsure you’d allow it. :-(

    To say this sucks and stinks and is dangnabbed flippin’ terrible is an understatement.

  8. 8
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    @1. Trebuchet says:

    Never fear. Once Saint Newt is annointed president, the Magic of Free Enterprise, freed from all those job-killing regulations, will magically provide us with a moon base.

    Newton Gingrich is NO saint.

    But he is the only one I see offering even a faint glimmer of hope on space policy and vision for the future.

    And words can’t even come close to expressing how much that … arrrrghhh .. cheeses me off & flippin’ gireves me but, I think, its true.

  9. 9
    Drolfe

    StevoR,

    Right but again his space “policy” such as it is, is destroy NASA (at least the half not funded by DOD) and somehow incentivise private industry to colonize the moon. Is that really “space policy” at all? Sounds like boiler plate free-marketism just applied to space tourism, resource recovery and low-g manufacturing. China has a more visionary space policy. Root for China, not Newt.

    As far as I can tell free-marketeers love frontiers not for the reasons that “science geeks” do. Space is perfect in this respect because it’s sort of like robbing the commons while at the same time it’s like a land grab but without all the messy genocide of the natives. You know, that romantic notion that the sky belongs to all of us, ha, but we get to strip mine it anyway.

    If you don’t want to take it up here though, you can join me back at PZ’s and tell me WWNdGTD.

  10. 10
    Trebuchet

    Drolfe: Exactly. I used the word “magic” for a reason. Newt’s space “policy” is magical thinking and nothing else.

  11. 11
    Captaintripps

    Sounds like Phil Plait’s prediction that saving the James Webb Space Telescope would likely result in drastic cuts elsewhere in NASA’s budget is coming true.

  12. 12
    Stephen "DarkSyde" Andrew

    The JWST is an interesting topic. If it works it would be a big step forward for astronomy. I think that’s part of the reason some in NASA are so gung ho, they saw the PR success of the Hubble and hope the JWST will produce a similar coup. But it is a BIG step forward, lots of new technology, very expensive and experimental in deep space, and once deployed it will reside far beyond our present capacity to reach and repair the way we’ve been able to service Hubble. I have spoken at length to well informed sources who privately express great concern about the technological and financial viability of JWST.

  13. 13
    The Lorax

    I’m all for manned space travel; but I don’t think science should be the goal. Yes, humans are more intelligent than machines, but machines don’t require oxygen or food. Let’s let the machines do the science, and let’s focus our manned missions on colonization. I think it’s high time we got around to that. Either on the Moon, or more preferably, Earth orbit or Mars. The Bigelow inflatable habitats could easily be linked up to form an orbital colony, and there are in-situ resources on Mars. We have the technology, we have the drive… we seem to be lacking the funds.

    And before anyone says, “But humans are better explorers than robots!”, let me qualify here that yes, they are. But pound for pound, humans are inefficient. You’ll get more bang for your buck with an 8 year long rover mission than a 1 month long human mission.

    If I were to propose a direction for NASA, I would say to focus on orbital habitats to test the technology, and unmanned Mars probes with the express purpose of determining whether or not there is any life there. If there is no life on Mars, then we send the life support tech there and begin colonization. If there is life there, then that would be the biggest discovery… ever.

    Don’t get me wrong.. I like geology and chemistry and physics, and I like science for science. Research for the sake of research is important, even necessary. But after a while, you gotta stop saying, “That’s pretty” and start asking, “Can I has?”

  1. 14
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