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NASA Government The Almighty Buck Science

NASA's Competition For Dollars 78

Posted by Soulskill
from the all-about-the-benjamins dept.
An anonymous reader writes: We often decry the state of funding to NASA. Its limited scope has kept us from returning to the moon for over four decades, maintained only a minimal presence in low-Earth orbit, and failed to develop a capable asteroid defense system. But why is funding such a problem? Jason Callahan, who has worked on several of NASA's annual budgets, says it's not just NASA's small percentage of the federal budget that keeps those projects on the back burner, but also competition for funding between different parts of NASA as well. "[NASA's activities include] space science, including aeronautics research (the first A in NASA), technology development, education, center and agency management, construction, maintenance, and the entire human spaceflight program. The total space science budget has rarely exceeded $5 billion, and has averaged just over half that amount. Remember that space science is more than just planetary: astrophysics, heliophysics, and Earth science are all funded in this number. Despite this, space science accounts for an average of 17 percent of NASA's total budget, though it has significant fluctuations. In the 1980s, space science was a mere 11½ percent of NASA's budget, but in the 2000s, it made up 27 percent."
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NASA's Competition For Dollars

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  • Prize awards have high leverage on private investment. Moreover, prize awards aren't spent only for the desired returns -- thereby relegating risk management to the private sector where it belongs.

    Oh, I forgot, NASA's money comes largely from political considerations about which districts get how much government pork.

    Never mind.

  • by HangingChad (677530) on Saturday August 30, 2014 @03:37PM (#47792057) Homepage

    How can SpaceX come up with innovative rocket designs for a fraction of what it costs NASA? And they can produce those designs faster. SpaceX soft landed two boosters into the ocean, it would have taken NASA 10 years and $20 billion dollars to replicate that development.

    I spent years in Titusville to cover the end of the shuttle program and walking away my opinion was that NASA is a flock of risk-adverse mid-managers flying in formation with a rusting theme park endless replaying clips of their glory days. There are some really good people there, some of them doing amazing things, but they're handicapped by a management structure that's too fat and doesn't have an aggressive vision for the future. NASA depends too much on contractors that can't produce anything on budget and there's no penalty for not performing. Some of that is political, not all their fault.

    If we're going to explore space then we have to face the fact that it's unlikely we're going to get there with NASA as it exists today. And we have to find a way to fund that exploration so it's more insulated from politics. Otherwise we're stuck on this rock until a giant comet, asteroid or neutron star wanders by or we get fried by our own sun or a gamma ray burst.

    • If you are a contractor that can get a huge contract and can get paid even more for delays and cost overruns, what is your incentive for delivering quickly and cheaply? Plus the various limitations of having to source stuff off every state that has abusive (or others would say competent) congressmen, plus all the middle management and red tape and there you go.
      People like to point out how SpaceX et al. are benefiting of all the NASA research, however that is not relevant to the question of why NASA itself
    • Well, if I remember correctly,first theyor other private corporations fight the government on whether they should be allowed to have propellant; then they have to fight the government on whether they should be allowed to launch. Then having proved their technology they have to fight the government on what new paperwork they have to fill out to sell US-made rockets to the government, rather than buying from the standard graf^H^H^H^Hgovernment contractors like boeing that illegally buy Russian rockets, mark t

    • they're handicapped by a management structure that's too fat and doesn't have an aggressive vision for the future. NASA depends too much on contractors that can't produce anything on budget and there's no penalty for not performing.

      NASA is not supposed to have vision - they're a branch of the Executive Department and carry out the policies of the Executive as funded by Congress. Ditto for contractors, NASA has always relied on contractors.

      If we're going to explore space then we have to face the fac

      • by khallow (566160)

        NASA is not supposed to have vision

        Bullshit. The law [nasa.gov] authorizing NASA directs NASA at numerous points to plan and promote things that fall under "having vision". For example:

        Congress further declares that such activities shall be the responsibility of, and shall be directed by, a civilian agency exercising control over aeronautical and space activities sponsored by the United States

        he Administration seek and encourage, to the maximum extent possible, the fullest commercial use of space

        The development and operation of vehicles capable of carrying instruments, equipment, supplies, and living organisms through space.

        The establishment of long-range studies of the potential benefits to be gained from, the opportunities for, and the problems involved in the utilization of aeronautical and space activities for peaceful and scientific purposes.

        The most effective utilization of the scientific and engineering resources of the United States, with close cooperation among all interested agencies of the United States in order to avoid unnecessary duplication of effort, facilities, and equipment.

        Later on, there's:

        plan, direct, and conduct aeronautical and space activities;

        That's the vision mandate. It's worth remembering here that Congress isn't the experts on space exploration in the US government, NASA is supposed to be. Nor does Congress have responsibility for promoting and insuring that the US has viable and useful NASA activities. Once again, that's NASA's particular responsibility.

        NASA is an engineering and scientific agency (with an overlay of flags-and-footprints) and always has been, not an exploratory agency. They do not exist to feed the wet dreams and masturbation fantasies of the space fanboys.

        The above law also has numerous p

        • Bullshit. The law [nasa.gov] authorizing NASA directs NASA at numerous points to plan and promote things that fall under "having vision".

          Only if you're under the influence of sufficient drugs to be having hallucinations, or have a complete lack of understanding of the English language. Given your posting history and complete lack of connection to reality, it's hard to discern which is the case. (Not that it matters, as the end result is the same.)

          Decades is the usual shortest time frame discussed

          • by khallow (566160)

            Only if you're under the influence of sufficient drugs to be having hallucinations, or have a complete lack of understanding of the English language. Given your posting history and complete lack of connection to reality, it's hard to discern which is the case. (Not that it matters, as the end result is the same.)

            It's a good thing then that I actually quoted relevant parts of the law in question to address this very concern. That's the law as written - not my creative interpretation of reality or for that matter, your creative interpretation of reality.

            And if we approach this from a rational point of view, who is supposed to provide the vision for NASA's activities? Congress and US presidents don't have the ability and a host of many other distractions. Presidents can appoint informal special panels to do the vis

  • ...perhaps NASA can do some serious exploration.

    Except we still have the flying boondoggle from the Reagan administration, the ISS, sucking money away from exploration and giving it to the Russian government to launch and retrieve people and stuff from LEO for profit.

    The return on investment for the ISS has been pathetic.

    • Return on investment might be a bit better if we'd actually invested enough for it to be more than a glorified Skylab.

      They should have been adding a new habitable module to the thing every year, or every other year.

      Or more often.

  • by kelemvor4 (1980226) on Saturday August 30, 2014 @03:55PM (#47792115)
    They should create an acid bucket challenge. Participants would get challenged to dump a bottle of hydrochloric acid on their heads or donate to NASA.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Couldn't we have some people, e.g. your average politician, do both?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    This is entirely due to a matter of federal government policy. When President Kennedy made his famous speech to declare his intent to put a man on the moon, he made a massive change to state funding. His intent was to kick-start the U.S. economy by pouring a huge amount of tax dollars back into the US economy by giving it to NASA as the primary recipient at the "top" of a spending pyramid. The idea was that NASA would then award contracts to lots of other companies, who in turn would generate more work with

    • Part of the reasoning was that the scientific developments driven would then flow out into the broader economy, powering the US forwards. It was pretty successful in that regard.

      It was almost entirely unsuccessful in that regard. Despite the efforts of generations of NASA PAO's to convince people otherwise, the reality is that space program is a net consumer of technology and has produced very little that has subsequently made it's way out into the general economy.

      This would entirely be the land of

  • Is there a lack of science classes in the education system? There was a science lab in my seventh grade school, a better one in high school. The teacher should have been working at a college but must have liked working with teen students. Mr. Munson was a genius and the students who could keep up with his work as he filled the room with algebra and geometry equations got a once in a lifetime opportunity to test their limits, no slackers.
  • "We often decry the state of funding to NASA. Its limited scope has kept us from returning to the moon for over four decades, maintained only a minimal presence in low-Earth orbit, and failed to develop a capable asteroid defense system"

    Wow, what a list. I'm surprised it doesn't include unicorn hunts and panda mating.

    > returning to the moon for over four decades

    Why?

    > minimal presence in low-Earth orbit

    Sure, so we can spend all our time learning what happens to people in LEO.

    > failed to develop a ca

    • by TheLink (130905)

      Mars as the next step is a stupid idea. And that NASA also keeps suggest it as a next step proves to me how unworthy NASA is of funding. Same whenever they keep doing stupid studies on humans spending long periods in confined areas (they can always ask the nuclear submariners about it).

      The true next step for anyone serious in making actual progress in space tech is to build a space station with artificial gravity (tethers+counterweights or other).

      Once you have that you can test various animals (rats, food f

  • They will elect the politicians who will make it happen. If not, then NASA will spend the rest of its existence looking for lost change in the couch.

  • It costs an absolute fortune to sent something to another planet (regardless of weight), so why does NASA spend so much time and money designing and building rovers that are only expected to last 3-6 months?

    It's like a person complaining about having a food budget that is too small, when they buy nothing but high-price, pre-packaged, ready-to-eat meals.

  • The real excitement and discoveries are all the result of unmanned missions such as the Voyager, Cassini, New Horizons, MRO, etc. missions (and the fabulously successful rovers). Manned spaceflight is just pork for Congressionally-powerful districts with no scientific return. The SLS (called the Rocket to Nowhere), the Orion capsule, the old shuttles, and the ISS are/have burned billions and do nothing for science....and they endanger astronauts. The problem is that NASA is run by ex-flyboys and the dist

Wasn't there something about a PASCAL programmer knowing the value of everything and the Wirth of nothing?

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